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Judith Natelli McLaughlin Headshot

Why I Hate Recycling

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I grew up in the 1970s. I didn't wear a bike helmet. I didn't even own a bike helmet. I am not certain if manufacturers made them for my type of social, local biking. I biked all over town, helmet-free, hair blowing in the wind, thinking nothing of it. My mother, a woman who follows the rules and is known to err on the side of worry, was never even screaming behind me, "Put your helmet on!" Helmets just didn't exist in our 1970s world.

I didn't use a seatbelt either. I'm not sure anyone did. In fact, we had one car that "wanted" you to put the seatbelt on when you entered the vehicle. This car, on the cutting edge of 1970s technology, would make an annoying beep when your butt hit the seat. My mother and I figured out a way to trip up the system. We would lift our butts when she started the car, within seconds we were able to sit down, free of that annoying noise and even more annoying restraining belt too.

Another thing I didn't do in the 1970s was recycle. And again, it wasn't just me, and my family, nobody I knew recycled. And we drank a lot of soda in my house too. Lots of soda equals lots of cans. Pepsi Light was our family's favorite; a bubbly beverage flavored with a hint of lemon. All those cans went right in the trash. Along with our bottles, boxes, newspapers and magazines.

I am a mom now. My children wear bike helmets, and have since the days they were on tricycles. Although as they get older sometimes I find myself screaming the words my mother didn't, "Put your helmet on." It is safe. If you want to ride your bike, you wear your helmet. Period. I wear one too now. (And so does my mother).

My children also wear their seatbelts. It is an automatic reflex. You get in the car and you strap yourself in. I do it. My mother does it. I can hardly believe that I didn't do it when I was my children's ages. Again, it is a matter of safety. Seatbelts save lives.

I have never been a fan of the logic I hear some people my age spew..." I didn't wear a bike helmet when I was a kid and I'm okay." Or, "We never had to wear seatbelts, so I don't make my kids wear them either." That sort of thinking is backwards, unproductive and not smart.

Except when it comes to recycling. I don't want to recycle anymore. I know that sounds awful, so let me rephrase it. I don't want to recycle glass anymore. I will happily flatten my boxes, organize my newspapers, crush my cans and discard my materials in an environmentally friendly way. But can glass go in the garbage? Please?

Why? Because another thing I liked to do in the 1970s was spend hours on the wide New Jersey beaches hunting for sea glass. I would get close to the jetty, where the waves and rocks slammed and tumbled the glass over and over until it became, what I dubbed "sead." In other words, softened, smooth, weathered and frosted. The most elusive color to find was a deep, rich blue. Finding one of those pieces was like winning the gold medal of glassing. Next to that, my favorites were the ice blue pieces, followed closely by a variety of greens and finally anything in the brown family. And special treasures were bottle lips or bottle bottoms. I would come home with a sand bucket filled with glass pieces that I washed and saved in large glass containers. My skin tanned by the sun, (I probably wasn't wearing sun screen, but again, it was the 70s) my heart warmed by my treasures; hunting for sea glass was a day well spent.

Sea glass is harder to find these days. I blame it on recycling. My bike helmet, seatbelt-wearing children, goddesses of the recycling generation, have never found more than one piece of sea glass on any given day. I know, I know, it is good for the world, but I can't help but feel bad for them. Sure, they are part of a generation that is actively working toward saving the environment, but sometimes, I admit it, a little tiny bit of me hates recycling.

Or perhaps I just love the 1970s.

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