“We’re just going to throw all that paper away?” I asked, dismayed.
My dad was poised to throw away the thick Sunday newspaper, with its many ad inserts and extra sections. I was a freshman in high school, and this was before the environmental movement was popular, before recycling was a fairly common household-level endeavor.
“What would you prefer I do with it?” he replied. “We can’t keep it. If we do, before you know it our house will be a maze of newspapers and old mail and it’ll look like an episode of Hoarders in here.”
I couldn’t argue with that logic – we could not keep every paper item that came into our house. As I watched my dad throw away the newspaper, I knew there had to be a better way to deal with all of our mail. It felt wrong to watch all that paper get thrown away after it had fulfilled its one, single use. I thought about all the effort that had gone into creating that newspaper – the loggers who had cut down the trees, the laborers at the paper processing factory that had made the wood into paper, the people that had transported it from its source to its final destination, the newspaper staff that had written the articles, the people who had delivered the daily paper. There were so many people and so much work involved in the process that allowed our family to have a daily paper. For that cycle to end by tossing the newspaper into a trashcan, to be forgotten and incinerated at the dump, seemed wrong. So much work, energy, and effort had been expended to make this newspaper that my family would read for an hour and then discard.
Still pondering this problem when I went to school the next day, I discovered we had a Green Team – a student-led group that managed the recycling efforts of the school and had weekly meetings to discuss environmental issues. I attended one meeting and was hooked. The president of the club made environmentalism seem cool, fun, and even better, practical. I found out from that meeting that Anchorage had a recycling center that accepted paper items, cardboard, aluminum cans, and a few types of plastics.
I went home that day bursting with enthusiasm from my newfound knowledge of how to recycle. I informed my parents and brother that we would be a family that recycles, and found some old cardboard boxes for our to-be-recycled items. Anchorage does not have a single-stream recycling program so we had to, and still have to, separate our recycling by type and make the trek down to the recycling center in mid-town in order to participate. It was worth it. Knowing that I was a part of the process to both prevent trash from going straight to the dump and maybe even being made into recycled fabrics was thrilling.
After I cajoled my family into recycling, I wanted to do more to promote being green and to spread all the new information I was learning. I worked my way up to Co-President of my high school’s Green Team so that I could be directly involved in managing the school’s day-to-day operations. I ran the club with my best friend Sarah Mills, who was also passionate about environmentalism, luckily. We directed the daily pick-ups for the recycled paper products in all the classrooms and offices, held weekly meetings revolving around current environmental issues, and coordinated with community events involving stream and street cleanups. I loved being a leader with my best friend and promoting environmental values to the school.
Environmetalism, combined with friendship and leadership, dug its hooks into me in high school and never let go. I continue to maintain my passion for the natural world and am committed to do everything I can to help preserve it.