Given the current political climate, I should probably be confessing this in a darkened studio from behind a clown wig and a pair of dark glasses, using one of those electronic voice modulators to disguise my identity. But here it comes, anyway:
Up until very recently, I did not recycle. (*brief pause for collective gasp of amazement*) Nope, not one little bit. Like the thoughtless savage that I am, I tossed newspapers, glass bottles, and plastic bags alike in the bin, caring not that I was bloating the world’s landfills with evidence of my own conspicuous consumption. And the cans–oh, the cans! Do you know how many cans a Diet-Coke-aholic can go through in a week? Well, neither did I, until it happened.
We discovered a member of the Green Police living in our very own home.
I remember it clearly. It was Earth Day. Katie returned from third grade that afternoon full of information about environmental conservation, the white hot fervor of newborn activism burning in her eyes. As an assignment, her teacher had asked the class to find one thing they could personally do to help the environment. I couldn’t run. I couldn’t hide. Suddenly, I was cowering in the glare of the spotlight, answering uncomfortable questions like: “How many bags of garbage does our family make in a week, Mom?” and “Why do we throw everything away instead of recycling it?” and “Isn’t taking care of the earth important?” Suddenly, my oft-repeated excuses for not recycling–that our apartment complex doesn’t provide recycling bins, that we don’t have enough room in our small living space to collect recyclables, that a few cans didn’t make much of a difference anyway–began to sound a little flimsy.
I saw my daughter, standing shining-eyed before me, bursting with youthful optimism, completely convinced that even one person’s actions can have an effect in the world–and it made me remember that I believe that, too.
So here I am, a recalcitrant recycler, rinsing out a Diet Coke can (my third today) in preparation for adding it to the stash under the sink. Then, when that bag is full, we will drive it out to the recycling bin in front of the school, where the drop box recycling program brings in welcome extra funds for classroom supplies. I can’t say it’s not a hassle, but it’s not nearly the hassle I expected.
Sometimes I do slip up. The other day, for example, I had gathered up our full-to-overflowing kitchen trash bag and was just tying it closed when Katie appeared and pointed to the aluminum evidence of a couple of my absent-minded infractions. (A pox on those translucent trash bags!) “Mom,” she said in a tone of voice usually reserved for my sole use, “did you forget to recycle those two cans?” Caught. Under Katie’s approving eye, I sheepishly fished them out of the muck and placed them in the proper receptacle.
I admit, I’m still not totally green. I haven’t traded in our dependable Ford for an eco-friendly hybrid vehicle. I use the air-conditioner with wild abandon. And I can’t seem to bring myself to buy 28 reusable canvas bags for our monthly groceries. But, thanks mostly to Katie, I do recycle cans. I’m saving the earth, raising money for education, and getting Al Gore off my back, all at the same time. And I know my kid is proud of me, and of herself, for making that happen, which is the best reward I could ask for.
The faintly virtuous feeling is just a bonus.