Greening Your Parents

 

by Kelsey Schur
Going home after spending three quarters of the year at Tufts can be confusing. Your parents repainted your room “mauve” while you were gone (what the heck is that color supposed to be anyway?), your sister took up the bagpipes, and Mom began practicing Buddhism. This is a lot to deal with, but there’s a basic change from the Tufts lifestyle that I don’t think I was alone in encountering while visiting home. It’s a change that makes the first few days at home very confusing. I was standing in my parents’ kitchen when my brain stalled upon finishing a Coke. What do I do with this empty can? There’s no convenient recycling bin here! In fact, my parents don’t recycle at all! I brought it up my family’s lack of recycling at dinner, and what was their supportive response? Well, my mother said something like, “Oh, honey, we just don’t have time. You have to wash everything when you’re done, and you know how we’re always rushing around,” and my father mumbled something about how little difference it makes if one family recycles or not. Well, this would not do. How do you go about changing the attitudes and behaviors of your own parents? Depending on how your parents respond to being challenged by their kids, try a few of the things I came up with. A good attack is a mixture of information spreading and direct action. My parents are used to aggressive action by me when I’m dissatisfied, but yours may not be, so take care not to insult.

Information is the first and easiest thing to deal with. First of all, many of our parents’ generation think that recyclables need to be perfectly clean to be sent in. This is not true! Everything is broken down and separated at the facility. You don’t need to pull the spines out of your old notebooks, cut out plastic windows in cardboard packaging, rip labels off of cans, or in most cases, remove caps from bottles. As for leftover food, yes you should wash it a bit if it’s a can with bits of catfood or something else that might rot nastily (mostly for your own health), but metals and plastics are put into an incinerator or other process that has no problem dealing with food scraps or a few drops of sticky soda.

Many towns have recycling programs. You should be able to find out how recycling works in your town either through the town website, town hall, or the department of public works. Make sure to find out if your town provides outdoor recycling pick up bins, what day your town picks up, and if there are any special procedures, such as whether you need to bundle your cardboard. Recycling pick-up day is not necessarily the day your trash is hauled away. If you live in a rural area, as my parents do, you may need to drive your recyclables to another facility. The upside to this is that you often get a return for every bottle or unit of paper or cardboard you bring. It’s very easy to bring home $20 for a carload of recyclables!

So now your parents know how to recycle in your town, and they have the right bins. But sometimes information isn’t enough to motivate people. Maybe they’re just too lazy to take things outside to the recycling bins several times a day, or they dislike that landfill of cardboard and cans building up next to the kitchen trash can. Buy them two recycling bins, one for cans and bottles and one for paper and cardboard. Yes, this is money out of your own pocket. But honestly, a trash can from Bed Bath and Beyond is only $5: Mesh Metal Trash Cans Two of these makes $10, which is about the going rate for a pizza around Tufts. Can’t you spare one pizza for the environment? (Alternatively, if you are rolling in money, enjoy superfluous technology and consumerism, or are terrified of soiling your hands, you could invest in this “touchless” recycling wonder: iTouchless Sensor Recycle Center.

 

 

Another practical, unasked-for, and inexpensive gift for your parents is a set of reusable grocery bags. Stick a few in the family car or near the grocery list. (The author has found the Hannaford type to be superior – they fold up and snap into a compact 6″ by 4″ rectangle that neatly fits into a purse or glove compartment.)

By far, the best way you can encourage your family to recycle is by setting an example. This is also known as guilt-tripping. (You could also attempt to create a guilt trip by showing them sad pictures of birds with six-pack wrappers around their necks, but unfortunately for PETA, shock value doesn’t always translate into action.) If you bought those recycling bins and reusable grocery bags, make sure that you’re using them! Offer to take out or deliver the recyclables. And while you’re at it with the example-setting, how about biking to town? Okay, if you live in a rural area, fine, I understand if you don’t want to bike twenty miles to work everyday. But if you live in an urban or suburban area, at least try it! You’ll get in shape, work on your tan, and save a ton of money on gas. With this summer’s gas prices, you’ll more than make up for the money you spent on recycling bins and reusable bags (and maybe even afford that touchless recycling bin you’re lusting over…).

So how did it go with my family? Well, I’m not sure how the effects have lasted, that will have to wait until I visit again. Eventually, I was forced to don rubber gloves and go through the kitchen trash to pull out all of the recyclables. It was more than half of the trash! My parents were sufficiently embarrassed by this aggressive example-setting, so I believe they have started recycling. Even if they’re just doing bottles and cans, or just paper and cardboard, when I visit home again, it will mean we made progress. This can be a tough lifestyle change, so if you just tackle one aspect at a time, you will slowly reduce your family’s impact on the environment. Enjoy your time at home this summer, and good luck!