Confessions of a Non-Recycler’s Accomplice

Ginny Figlar Colón by Ginny Figlar Colón | July 22nd, 2009 | 3 Comments
topic: Green Living


He threw one beer can in the trash. Then another. Then at least a dozen more. And I didn’t do anything about it.

“He” is my husband’s brother, and it was his trash and his house. My family and I were guests for five days this summer and accomplices to his unsustainable disposal habits.

To speak up or not to speak up?

Back in my Greenpeace days, I would have spoken up loud and clear before the first can hit the bottom of the bin. I used to speak up about a lot of things — tell the waiter how destructive their Styrofoam containers were as I demanded a sheet of aluminum foil for my doggy bag or explain what’s wrong with factory farms while having dinner with meat-eating friends. In fact, an old boyfriend used to call me “Ginny Justice.”

Now that I’m in my late 30s instead of my early 20s, I’ve realized that I probably came across as preachy and a little holier than thou. And I guess I’m old enough now to know that you can’t make people change.

But that doesn’t justify my closed-lip behavior at my brother-in-law’s house. I’m sure there could have been a tactful way to point it out without getting confrontational. It’s too late for that now. But, hey, Christmas is only five months away. Perhaps we can nudge him to get with the recycling program with some easy-to-tote containers.

In all seriousness, do you face the same dilemmas when you’re a guest in someone’s home and witness far-from-eco behavior? Do you feel like you have an obligation to say something, or do you think it’s rude to try to tell someone how they should live in their own home?

Or will you be loading up on eco-gifts to hand out around the holidays, too?


  1. My mom does this, as do most of my relatives. I feel it really isn’t my place to tell someone–however tactfully–what to do in their home. Instead, when they are guests in my house, I politely ask that they toss their recyclables in our appropriate containers. When asked why, I state quite simply that I enjoy doing a small part for the environment as it really is no extra work at all. I think a lot of the problem with people not changing their ways is that we may be suffering from “green overload”. People get tired of hearing over and over again about how we, as humans, are having such a dire effect on the planet. This often leads to people saying hell with it, and tossing cans in the trash, because they just want to be left alone. Rather, if more messages focused on simple tasks with less of an “I’m superior to you” attitude, people like my mom might listen. Then again, she, personally, might not, but someone else could and that would be a step forward.

    Lisa | July 22nd, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  2. I think it’s totally ok to offer to recycle while you’re there. I’ve never had anyone say no ;) An example: “Hey, I’m gonna stick this bag here so I can take these cans home to recyle at the boys school. We earn money for them. ” (while I’m pulling cans out of the trash lol!)

    Just an idea.

    I will admit I’m not always so assertive though. The other day I was talking to a girl about junk mail. She said “I usually just go flip, flip, flip…trash.” I said “Oh. yeah, me too… except I go, flip, flip,flip…recycle.” We both laughed and she mumbled something about “oh, great now I feel bad”… so I apologized. But I hope I made a little impact.

    Elaine | July 23rd, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  3. I experienced a similar event at my brother’s home in a Dallas suburb. He had moved with his family from California, where recycling is de rigeur, to a brand-new subdivision where they didn’t have curbside pick-up. I think I’d asked where I could put my recyclables, and he said, a little sheeplishly, that they didn’t recycle because it wasn’t offered in their neighborhood — in fact, no one he knew in the ultra-red, Bush-loving state of Texas (outside of Austin, anyway), thought much about recycling at all. I commented, “helpfully,” that when we iived on Sugarloaf Mountain west of Boulder, we just collected ours and took it to the recycling center every couple weeks. I may have sounded a little holier-than-thou, but I wanted to at least point out that it was an option. This is a tough one, though, as it’s so easy for environmental consciousness to come across as sanctimoniousness.

    Wendy Redal | October 29th, 2009 | Comment Permalink

Post a Comment

If you want to show your picture with your comment, go get a gravatar!