Boomer Opinion: recycling guidelines

Here’s something that wasn’t around on a massive scale when we baby boomers were growing up: recycling. But now we’re dealing with it and at least so far, according to Chicago-area freelance writer and writing coach Rosanne Ullman in this Boomer Opinion piece, it’s as frustrating as it is fruitful.

Does it net green?

There were no hashtags when I came up with that question, so #doesitnetgreen never caught fire. But it communicates what I want to know: when I do something that I think saves the planet, am I actually saving the planet? Is it earth-friendly to never accept a plastic bag but frequently launder a manufactured fabric bag? Did we ever settle the cloth-vs.-disposable-diaper dispute? I’m happy to continue the refusing and reusing, the cycling and recycling— if it’s helping. I just want to know.

Rosanne Ullman

“When you get to heaven, you’ll be turned away at the last minute when they see a video of you wasting all of your time doing this.” That’s what my husband predicted the other day as he watched me rinse out the salad dressing from tiny plastic containers that our pizza place provides. In addition to taking time, the process uses up some of the ever-diminishing resource known as water, plus there’s the energy I need to run the tap at a warm temperature since cold water will chap my hands, requiring me to purchase more hand creams in plastic containers, wash those out, and place all of this packaging into a recycle bin that gets picked up by a big truck burning gas.

You get the idea. In the end, does recycling those little containers net green?

My town’s list of acceptable recyclable materials includes confusing specifics. If the plastic is stamped #2, how do I know whether it’s #2-HDPE? If my container does not seem to match any of the 19 bullet points on the list, should I forget about recycling what I want to recycle? Or will another town accept it, and is it worth the drive to deliver it? And am I the only one who didn’t know, until the Chinese finally stopped the madness, that we were shipping our recycled items to them so they could dump them into their own ocean?

Reusable shopping bags.

In his recently published book More from Less: The Surprising Story of How We Learned to Prosper Using Fewer Resources—and What Happens Next, MIT Sloan School of Management science researcher Andrew McAfee makes a case for just throwing plastic into landfills. On the one hand, who am I to argue with an MIT scientist? On the other hand, Huh? I thought this much was determined long ago: good people recycle plastic. In terms of the resources I’ve devoted to being this level of good person, salad dressing is peanuts compared with peanut butter.

I’ve read that each of those cloth bags I dutifully lug around, to justify its manufacture, must be used a thousand times (which I have done, phew). But I enjoy cherries from Chile in winter— is that terrible, marginal, or okay? Is it better to plug into outlets or use batteries? Is glass recycling efficient enough in the U.S. to bother? Nonstop flights, LED bulbs, hybrid cars.

I don’t have time to become an expert. I just need to know: does any of this net green?


Rosanne’s children’s book is “The Case of the Disappearing Kisses.”


    1. Anna, I’m glad I’m not alone! On my Facebook page, a friend is supplying links that answer some of the questions.

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