2009 Award Recipient

Richard Valle

Tri-CED Community Recycling

Richard Valle - The James Irvine Foundation Leadership Awards Skip to content

Long before the term “green jobs” was a household phrase, Richard Valle built a thriving business that benefits the environment and provides job opportunities for young people and other workers who face many challenges in securing employment.

Nearly 30 years ago, Richard Valle created Tri-CED Community Recycling, which today processes 2,208 tons of recyclable materials a month, while employing 86 workers, 25 percent of whom are at-risk or formerly incarcerated youth.

Growing up in Union City, Valle saw too many peers succumb to gangs and crime, and he was determined to do his part to improve conditions in this predominantly Latino, working-class community. After serving in Vietnam and putting himself through college, the young sociology student began working with youthful prison populations in Alameda County, aiming to give them the kind of pre-release counseling that could help set them on a new course.

California releases about 134,000 individuals from prison annually, and as Valle soon realized, jobs for them are in short supply. He investigated emerging industries where underemployed populations might thrive. Recycling wasn’t yet widespread, but it had potential, and in 1980, he created Tri-CED. Its initial assets included a $600 beam scale and $150 to buy back recyclable materials. In 1988, Tri-CED won its first municipal contract for curbside recycling. It is now a self-sustaining “social enterprise,” serving Union City and Hayward.

“Going to work every day gives these kids something that they desperately need: a reason to believe in themselves,” Valle explains.

Since its inception, Tri-CED has employed 1,500 young people ages 14 to 24. For all of these young people, Valle acts as a friend and mentor, offering advice, calm support, and an opportunity to turn their lives around when few others have taken a chance on them. Against the odds, many of Tri-CED’s employees earn their high school diplomas, enroll in college, keep their jobs, help support their families, and remain out of trouble with the law.

Valle says, “Our employees are moving in the right direction, but often without a vision about their future. Guidance is critical to their success in life.”

Going to work every day gives these kids something that they desperately need: a reason to believe in themselves.

Richard Valle

With a vision of making an even greater impact on the lives of young people, Valle has been working with the leaders of Chabot College to create a $4 million environmental education center at Tri-CED, which would offer everything from vocational training for community members to field trips for school kids and English-as-a-Second-Language classes. Thirty years into his vocation, he continues the process of developing new ways to help people gain employment that benefits the environment and contributes to a productive economy.

For his innovative approach to helping at-risk youth develop job skills, set positive life goals, and improve the environment, Richard Valle is the recipient of a 2009 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award.

Richard Valle

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Tri-CED Community Recycling


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Richard Valle died in 2023.

The written profile and video reflect the work of the leader(s) the year they received a Leadership Award. Please contact the leader(s) for current information.