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.