First Environmental Act

About the author: Rob Lawrence joined EPA in 1990 and is Senior Policy Advisor on Energy Issues in the Dallas, TX regional office. As an economist, he works to insure that both supply and demand components are addressed as the Region develops its Clean Energy and Climate Change Strategy.

old sprite bottle on sandy ground While enjoying the countryside near Santa Fe, NM, over the Memorial Day weekend, I came across an old glass soft drink bottle. And it got me to thinking about growing up in Baton Rouge in the 60s and my first environmental action – recycling.

My family had just finished building a house in a fairly new subdivision and my younger brother and I were looking for ways to make some spending money. We noticed that the work areas around the new construction sites were littered with bottles left by the roofers, carpenters and bricklayers. So every afternoon during the summer of 1966, we pulled our red wagons around the expanding neighborhood to gather bottles. On Saturday, we would load cases of returnable bottles into the family station wagon and head to a local grocery store to convert someone else’s trash to our treasure. Together, we made about $600 that summer – not bad when you realize that was over 30,000 bottles at 2 cents a piece. Having seen a sign while on vacation in Arizona that said that returnable bottles there went for 5 cents, we tried, to no avail, to convince our parents that we should drive back and get the cases of bottles stacked behind our house.

I learned a lot of lessons that summer, including that even trash has value if you look for it and applying economic theories to environmental issues can be a worthwhile approach.

What was your first act of environmental awareness?