Confessions of a Non-Recycler

I have a confession. There was a time when I really didn’t care about recycling.

I don’t mean when I was young and didn’t understand where trash went — when I was a kid in the mid-90’s I cared a lot about recycling and the ozone hole.

I’m referring to my early 20’s after I got a degree in environmental policy, when I got so wrapped up focusing on systemic change at all costs that I completely poo-poo’d individual lifestyle choices.

I didn’t recycle because I thought it was a complete waste of time. I know. Pretty bad right?

Back then, it was an either/or thought process for me — either I spend every moment pushing companies and politicians to change by grassroots organizing like a maniac OR I waste my time on seemingly useless “personal lifestyle changes” by spending 20 minutes cleaning out the peanut butter jar so I could recycle it or spend a little bit more money on recycled content paper.

I’m not gonna say I’m proud of that time.

To be fair — my mentors at another organization held that view, and I really wanted to be like them. I remember being given a line that sounded super convincing at the time: “If I have to drive an SUV to a rally for higher fuel efficiency standards, so be it.” It was sort of an “all means justify the ends” approach.

But here’s the thing: we kinda seem like hypocrites when we do that.

And I don’t really care about the “hypocrisy mongers” — people who really can’t get past activists needing to use the tools of the system to change the system.

As activist Cherri Foytlin put it, “abolitionists wore cotton undershirts, that didn’t make slavery right. You use what you have as a tool to build something better… I think they call it ‘progress’.”