Todd Johnson on Recycling Blues

Confessions from a reluctant recycler.

A few points before the condemnation begins:
(1) I am not evil.
(2) Yes, I do believe in global warming.
(3) I, too, want a lush planet on which our children (and their children’s children) can frolic, free from the fear of solar flares, fluorocarbons, and other nasty things Al Gore says will kill us.

But at heart, I’m a consumer. As in “to consume.” I like to buy things, use things, discard said things when I tire of them, and then buy newer things to replace the old things.

My mom blames herself. I’m the only child of a single mother, and yet even on her meager salary, I never wanted for anything. “I should have taught you to be more frugal,” she grouses every time she visits my home and notices yet another new purchase. The conversation always circles back to my obsession for lighting fixtures. “Honestly, how many different dining room chandeliers does one man need?” she asks, all too aware of the fact that this is my fourth chandelier change in three years. My previous chandelier, with its stately urns and sinuous, scrolling arms, represents my Georgian phase. I’ve since moved on to a more minimal, utilitarian place in life as evidenced by my current George Nelson bubble pendant. I’m evolving. You don’t want to stunt my growth, do you, Mom?

Mom continues to look for further ammo to denounce my wasteful lifestyle. “Look at these aerosol products,” she’ll say. “I’ll bet your windows aren’t energy efficient. And your blue bin—where’s your blue bin? You’ve got to have a blue bin!”

“Blue. Bin.” I repeat the words back slowly to my mother as if she’s speaking a foreign language. (I do the same thing when she says the words “401(k)” or “IHOP.”)

The blue bin my mother so fervently speaks of is the city of Dallas’ new recycling program. Somehow I had missed the news concerning this magical blue bin that would rid the world of all its ailments, and I never got my own. Surprisingly, my life had continued along its merry way, full of sunshine and multiple chandeliers.

That is, until I saw the polar bear.

Yes, that polar bear. The sad, fluffy white bundle of fur clinging precariously to a melting ice cap somewhere that used to be cold like the Arctic Circle or Vermont. It’s been all over the news and the Internet. Al Gore says the sweet bear is a victim of global warming. And overnight I went from eco-unfriendly to Mother Earth’s new B-F-F. Suddenly, global warming had a new poster child, and it wasn’t my organic loving, granola crunching, electric car driving hippie friends who make my house stink of patchouli when they visit. No, now it was one of God’s creatures. (Hippies don’t count. They’re not soft and cuddly.)

So, I got a blue bin and vowed to be more environmentally conscious. At first I was wary. I started slow with newspaper, moving on to junk mail, and eventually plastic bottles and their ilk. Soon I was recycling with a Gore-like gusto which inevitably morphed into a Gore-inspired guilt. I worry about that piece of paper sitting in the regular trash can. (It belongs in the blue bin.) I agonize over whether I’ve tossed a No. 4 or No. 6 plastic bottle in the bin. Fellow recyclers, you know of my fear.

Worst of all, I started second guessing my purchases. Sure, I have already grown tired of my Nelson bubble chandelier and am feeling a little Murano. But do I really need to replace it? After all, the Nelson is a timeless classic. My blue bin was rather full. Certainly, Al Gore would not approve of my wasteful ways.

And then I felt it: Somewhere my mother smiled.

Damn that polar bear.

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