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Transforming Into a Recycler

2012 November 15

By Greg Gush

I grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania where there wasn’t much talk about protecting or preserving the environment. I was born a few years before the EPA and really don’t remember much of a celebration on the EPA’s birth. Living in an old farm house in the middle of nowhere – with a father that did EVERYTHING himself – I didn’t even know there were professions like mechanics or general contractors. We did and fixed everything ourselves.

Oil changes consisted of the “Old Man” crawling out from under the car with a pan full of tar-black used oil, and instructing my brother and me to take it up our 500-foot dirt driveway and pour it on any weeds or plants struggling to grow in the nearly impervious soil. The near-by dirt road that led to our fishing pond was “oiled” twice a year by the town to keep the dust down. I’m not sure if this was oil specifically for this purpose or just used 10W-30, but it sure kept the dust down!

After a few years, I “escaped” small-town-USA to the US Air Force. Uncle Sam sent me to far-away lands like Ramstein Air Base in Germany and Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii. I learned there were more than the two categories of household waste I was taught in my youth – things that got thrown in the compost and “everything else”…that “catch-all” category of things bagged up and burned for disposal. The Air Force practiced this strange ritual they referred to as recycling where certain items were collected and sent away and magically transformed into other goods that were then reused.

Fast forward to January, 1995. I’m out of the Air Force and looking to leave Hawaii after six glorious years. I had job applications across the eastern U.S. but decided to accept work as the “LAN Lord” for EPA New England Lab in Lexington, Mass. It was there I learned that an even wider variety of items could be recycled and reused.

Nowadays, my hometown of Hudson, NH, has a very strong recycling program and my family generally recycles more than twice what we throw away. I see the direct impact we, as one family, can make and am proud of the “transformation.” Looking back, I guess if ignorance is bliss, that old farmhouse must have been Xanadu, but now I’m glad to be part of the solution and not the problem!

About the author: Greg Gush is the IT Lead at the EPA laboratory in Chelmsford, Mass.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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4 Responses leave one →
  1. Andrew B. permalink
    November 15, 2012

    As we celebrate National Recycling Day on Nov. 15 it is great to hear stories like this that reflect on the major changes that our country has experienced in terms of recycling. Just a few years ago, many organizations and companies had no recycling policies. Today, with increased awareness and better commercial recycling systems, the recycling rates are steadily rising. When I started college just three years ago, there was no recycling bins in either the classrooms or dining facilities. Due to student efforts, there has been a large push to institute a recycling policy across campus, and there has been real progress to divert a lot of waste from the landfill. This same pattern is happening across the nation, and it is quite refreshing to see positive changes. Recycling has even become somewhat of a trend with new hobbies like “Upcycling” becoming popular. Upcycling is the act of creating useful materials or objects from waste products. People have created all sorts of things like bowls from old records, and plant holders from light bulbs. This trend is really indicative of the creative solutions people can come up with to keep waste from the landfill. I am hopeful that we will continue on this positive recycling trend and keep the environment free from unneeded waste for generations to come.

  2. Bombillas led permalink
    November 16, 2012

    I´m really glad that you “think green” now. Recycling and reduce consumes are really important nowdays. I´m happy when i see someone thinking it. I have left a link to my blog where i talk about recycling, and ways to save energy. It´s in spanish, but someone could find it interesting. Regards!

  3. terrence fulton permalink
    November 16, 2012

    living on the streets and see what people discard and other countries would see this discards as wealth

  4. Heidi from permalink
    November 28, 2012

    Though I wholeheartedly believe in Reducing as the first step for a sustainable future, I love seeing how more and more schools, public buildings, shops, and people are recycling and how many more items can be recycled today than even a few ago.

    I’m pretty lucky that I have a garage that is big enough to have a “recycling system” where everything is sorted and then dispersed of when the bin/s is/are full. We have separate bins for glass, metal, strofoamy things, bottle caps that can’t go curbside, batteries, light-bulbs….and on and on.

    I also love the fact that my town (Bend, Or) offers free curb-side recycling. This has allowed me to lower my garbage bill to only $12 month. What a great incentive for people to recycle.

    I also remember my hometown oiling roads to keep the dust down…..yikes! But at the time…..I did love the smell and non-dusty road. Now I know better, but still like the smell ;-)

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