CLEVELAND — Recycling wasn’t all the much of a thing when I was young, at least in my family anyways. I guess it just hadn’t occurred to anyone in the 1980’s that we might eventually run out of space for all of our trash and we should probably start thinking a little more long-term.
In the 70’s and 80’s environmentally conscious people seemed far more concerned about getting America’s littering problem under control than they were about recycling. This was a tall order in and of itself because back then people LOVED to litter.
I recall many a car-ride where I’d watch otherwise decent, sane and respectable adults just throw their refuse out their window with reckless abandon, as if the highway held magical properties that would incinerate fast food packaging upon impact. Beer cans too. Oh the 80’s.
In an attempt to address the situation the government began a national advertising campaign to convey to the American people that it would probably be better for the overall health of the planet if they started throwing their garbage into trash cans like big boys and girls instead of tossing it on the ground like a bunch of cranky babies who have finished eating their cheerios and don’t want the bowl in front of them any more.
That’s where we got the iconic Public Service Announcement featuring a Native American crying after watching someone (probably my Dad) throw litter out of their car and right at his feet. He didn’t deserve that.
This is also the origin of Woodsy Owl, a nature loving Spokesbird mascot who encouraged kids not to litter with his famous motto: “Give a hoot…don’t pollute!”.
Which, as far as I’m concerned, blows Smokey the Bear’s preachy “Only you can prevent forest fires” catchphrase right out of the water. No pizzazz to that one whatsoever. Doesn’t even rhyme. No call to action. It’s just a mildly threatening guilt trip. Especially for kids who take everything literally.
“Wait, only me? I’m the person SOLELY responsible for preventing ALL forest fires? Even the ones in the Pacific Northwest? I’m an 8-year-old in Ohio and I don’t even know my phone number! This is a lot of pressure.”
But all of that educating and guilt tripping sure seemed to work pretty well, because though there will always be litter because there will always be trashy, inconsiderate people who don’t like to be bossed around by owls, things have improved considerably. In fact, according to the nonprofit group Keep America Beautiful, the actual amount of overall litter has decreased 61 percent since 1969. Great job gang!
But of course, there’s always one more thing, isn’t there? And sure enough, once the majority of Americans had finally mastered the art of throwing our trash into cans instead of on the ground, they added still one more step.
For the sake of the environment we were next asked to separate our refuse between real garbage and recyclables. Sounds easy enough, right? Sure, until you find yourself in your kitchen, clutching an empty, oddly-shaped plastic bottle with a big sticker on it, hovering between the trash can and the recycling bin, confused, tortured and wondering how to proceed.
This is the story of a Cleveland suburb that’s trying to come to your rescue by pawing through your trash.
*Editor's Note the video in the player above is from a previous report.