Q&A: When you were a little kid, did you recycle?

For the sake of this question, let’s define my being a “kid” as me between the ages of 3 to around 12. You know, no longer a toddler but not quite a teenager… and using this definition we can cover my childhood in three different countries and three different eras.

So we have the USSR era in the mid to late-80s. We have the early 90s in France and then we have the mid-90s in the US.

Let’s be honest though – my memory is spotty for all those early years because, you know, infant, toddler, child. And, of course, one’s approaches to waste management is not something that one tends to remember specifically, at best it’s the habits formed at an early age that stick.

So, first era – the 80s in the USSR. My main memories of waste management at that time were of repair and reuse (in the city) with a side of composting/feeding to the animals (in the countryside). I do know that recycling was in place for paper and glass, there were even jokes about it – like the one about a mother commenting, “what would our children eat if Father didn’t drink?” Soviet humour is brilliantly dark. The joke of course is that you could bring back glass bottles and get a deposit back and feed the children with that since your husband spent all his pay on alcohol (contained in glass bottles). You’d also get money back for the newspapers you brought back, by weight I believe. How much plastic did we have back in the day? I honestly can’t remember. Cans were something completely foreign also (often literally brought from foreign countries) – an anecdote my parents told me is that a friend of my father’s used a Coke can as a pencil holder on his desk, it was the height of sophistication.

Second era, early 90s in France. I have absolutely no recollection of anything having to do with waste management from this era. What did we even do with the general waste? Did our building have trash containers that were taken out at night? Did the city provide any type of container for recyclables? Did those big green containers with the round openings for glass exist already? I have absolutely no clue. I certainly did not care about any of it and I don’t recall ever being taught anything related to waste management in school. I can’t even pinpoint what we did learn in science class – did we even have science class in elementary school? Surely we must have!

Third era, mid-90s in the US and there I remember having a blue bin for recyclables. What could be put in there? Plastic only or also paper and glass? Did I actively put things in the recycling bin? No idea!

In conclusion, recycling was not a priority for me as a child. That said, I was a kid a rather long time ago… and we weren’t taught those things, a shame! (I must point out that the whole composting/feeding (safe) scraps to the animals is basically innate behaviour and the only reason I would ever get a house is so that I could have a garden where to have my own compost pile (and a dog, potentially a cat, and maybe some chicken)).

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