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"I do not recycle and I do not feel guilty"

By Daniel G. Jennings
web posted October 21, 2002

I have a confession to make: I don't recycle. I don't check the products I buy to see if they are environmentally friendly and -- guess what? -- I don't feel guilty. Yes, I am not doing all the great stuff I'm supposed to do for the environment, but I don't feel guilty about it. And no, I'm not one of those nasty, short-sighted people who doesn't care about the environment.

I don't feel guilty because I'm living a far more environmentally friendly lifestyle than most self-proclaimed environmentalists. First, I don't own a car. I live in a central city neighborhood and, to get where I need to go, I either walk, take the bus, or ride the light rail. So, I'm not driving around town filling the air with all sorts of poisonous gases from my car engine. Nor am I using large amounts of gasoline manufactured from oil pumped out of the ground. I don't add to the destruction of the environment caused by oil exploration and drilling. My transportation doesn't require large amounts of steel and plastic for the car body or rubber tires, which, in the manufacturing process, requires even more resources and creates even more pollution. Nor do I have to feel guilty about the people who might die in the next war for oil because I'm not burning fuel from Saddam land. In other words, my transportation doesn't destroy the environment or desecrate the Earth.

Another reason I don't feel guilty is that I live in a modest walk up apartment in an older building a few blocks south of downtown Denver. I don't live in a split level home out in the suburbs, my housing doesn't require wilderness or farmland to be sacrificed to sprawl, so I do not need to drive many miles to get to work. That saves more gasoline and resources.

I don't own a house with a large lawn that uses up lots of water. Since I don't own a house, I don't own piles of useless high tech junk made from resources ripped out of the earth, because I have no place to store all that junk. Nor do I have to burn up large amounts of resources to heat and cool my house.

I don't need to recycle because my lifestyle is about as environmentally friendly as you can get. I'm already conserving far more resources than I ever could by separating my cans and bottles or picking out environmentally friendly products at the store. The amount of resources I save and the amount of pollution that I prevent far exceeds whatever I could do by recycling.

The moral of my story is a simple one. If Americans really care about the environment and want to save it, they'll have to stop doing symbolic things like recycling and make concrete changes. That means they'll have to give up their homes in suburbia and their cars or, at least, reduce their driving.

Doing this will mean that a lot of yuppie environmentalists will have to make changes in their lifestyles and put up with a lot of discomfort. How many environmentalist soccer moms want to ride a bus or light rail train in which they might have to share their seat with construction workers, welfare recipients, sweaty old ladies and teenaged punks? How many yuppie environmentalists want to trade in their McMansion for a loft downtown or learn how to ride the bus or train out to their favorite hiking path? Or trade their SUV in for a motorcycle, an economy car, a bicycle, a scooter or a bus pass? The answer, of course, is almost none.

The people who make the biggest point of recycling are the ones whose lifestyle is the worst for the environment. In my neighborhood, the people who religiously put out their recycling bins have two or three cars in the garage of their big house. I never see those people at the bus stop, much less using the sidewalks. The same goes for those who go out of their way to shop for environmentally friendly products. Take a look at the parking lot of the average organic supermarket; chances are it'll be full of SUVs and other new cars while the bench at the bus stop out front gathers dust.

I don't have to feel sorry about my lifestyle because I'm doing my part for the environment. It's time for all the environmentalists out there to put down their recycling bins and take a look at their house and what's in their garage. Maybe if they would do that, the environment would have a future.

Daniel G. Jennings is a freelance writer and journalist who lives and works in Denver, CO. He has worked as a reporter and editor for daily and weekly newspapers in five states.

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