In Jill's Words

I dedicate this site to my mother. She was a columnist and an author with the uncanny ability to find humor in the daily ins and outs of life. She faced every challenge with a witty optimism, including the cancer that ended her life too soon.

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Location: Boise, Idaho, United States

Saturday, April 18, 2015

(RE-POST from 4/22/11) It's Not Easy Being Green: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (Obsessively and Without Apology)

After I spied a custodian at work combine my recycling with my trash, I quit trusting my school recycle bin and started carting all of my recyclable trash home. Here is a blog post I wrote in 2011 about my obsessive, though some would say slightly futile, recycling habits. 
I had no idea that the 3 Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) could be so controversial. I mean, I thought most people would agree that American consumers, in general, are wasteful creatures. We buy what we don't need, throw away what we don't want, and pay little attention to what actually happens to our waste and filth ("As long as it's not in my backyard . . .").

I grew up in a home where empty cereal boxes, aluminum cans, and plastic milk jugs were left out on the kitchen counter. In fact, my father would dig through the trash can just to make sure we hadn't thrown away anything that he deemed recyclable. When I left home, I discovered that not everyone shared these habits and that some people actually had a moral aversion to these practices.

In college, I met people in my dorm who refused to recycle their aluminum cans. So, being slightly passive aggressive, I would sift through their waste baskets whenever I visited their rooms and pull out all of their soda cans. The recycling chute was only a few feet down the hall. It wasn't a matter of inconvenience. They were simply taking some sort of political stance.

"We're not tree-huggers," these dorm-mates said.

"Neither am I," I replied. Then I paused for a moment and added, "At least, I don't think I am."

Every once in a while, I walked by someone's room and heard, "Hey, Becky, look at where my soda can is going!"

Then a can would sail through the air from the top bunk and land swiftly in the garbage, which I would proceed to retrieve from the basket. I would then dash off and throw it down the recycling chute before they could catch me.

After college, I became a bit more assertive.

"You should recycle that can," I told a teenager once as he threw a Coke can into an already overflowing waste basket.

The kid smirked at me and said, "Yeah, and the tuna I ate yesterday wasn't dolphin safe either."

The most opposition I ever received, however, was from a colleague who chased me into my classroom after I had made a snarky, under-the-breath comment about recycling cardboard boxes instead of throwing them away. This colleague waited until our meeting was over which was at least 30 minutes after my (what was supposed to be a) "joke." I guess I had really touched a nerve.

He spent most of the afternoon pontificating about the horrors of environmentalism. I learned all sorts of (biased, out-of-context) statistics and "facts" that apparently dispel myths that the hippie wacko environmentalists have tried to perpetuate. I heard all about some man who predicted that a landfill, 35 miles on each side, could hold all of America's waste by the year 3000. I heard all about how detrimental recycling is to the environment. I heard all about fast-growth tree farms and how we will never run out of virgin lumber for as long as we live.

"Recycling is just there to make you feel good about yourself," he concluded. "So are you still going to recycle?"

"Nothing's infallible," I said. "I'm still going to do my part to reduce my impact on the environment. Part of that is advocating for responsible recycling practices."

That response didn't satisfy him (translation: he kept talking), but luckily someone else entered the conversation, and the subject was changed . . . quickly.

In my home, discussions about the environment take a very different turn. That's why, after describing this encounter to my husband that evening, I wasn't surprised to hear him exclaim, "But I read in an article that some people actually go by the 4 Rs now! Refuse - as in, refuse plastic bags and other wasteful materials - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. You could have said that."

"I don't think it would have mattered," I sighed.

I still promote the 3 (or maybe 4) Rs in my classroom regardless.

One student, who was eating during a lunchtime rehearsal in my room, tried to throw away a juice can in the garbage. I blocked his way to the trash can and pointed him toward my recycling bin.

The next week, during the lunchtime rehearsal, he made his way to the waste basket with a sheepish grin and said, "Don't worry, Mrs. Duggan. I don't have anything that can be recycled."

This year, I taught my students Pete Seeger's “It Really Isn’t Garbage,” and we discussed various ways (including but not exclusive to recycling) to take care of the Earth.

One of my second grade students showed up at school with a huge pile of plastic bags the day after our 3 Rs discussion.

The little girl, obviously misinterpreting our Earth Day sing-along, told her classroom teacher, “Mrs. Duggan said she needed them.”
Interesting "Going Green" Tidbit:
A recent article in NEA Today states, "Green schools are easier on natural resources, on student health, and on the taxpayer’s pocketbook. If all new school construction and school renovations went green starting today, energy savings alone would total $20 billion over the next 10 years."

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