I remember watching the Sean Connery film Medicine Man for the first time. I was so inspired by the jungle, by the fight to cure cancer through the miracle of nature, by Dr. Campbell and Dr. “Bronx” that I banded together with my fellow neighborhood young environmentalists and declared the day International Rainforest Conservation Day. We roamed around our neighborhood with our faces painted like the original Medicine Man paints Bronx’s face in the film, wore khaki shorts and hiking boots, and soapboxed about saving the earth to everyone we encountered.
Its funny how when you are young you have no real concept of time – six months is forever and the age 30 is ancient. But even if those lapses in understanding were present on the International Rainforest Conservation Day, somehow my underdeveloped brain processed the crisis of the environment an immediate. As threatening. They are cutting down trees?? Animals are dying? Species are going extinct? My soda can is pollution?
I felt the weight of environmental destruction on my shoulders as I built compost bins with my best friend and pestered my mother for eggshells and coffee grounds with which to fill it.
As I grew older, much of the world of the Lazy Layman’s Urban Guide to Saving the World became routine. Of course there is a blue recycling bin under my desk at work. Of course I turn the water off when I brush my teeth. Why wouldn’t I bring my reusable grocery bags with me to the store? The passion that trademarked the early stages of my relationship with the environment has morphed into a passive companionship. I do my part but never think twice.
I’ve recently rekindled some of the romance the green earth and I had once shared. It wasn’t a statistic about the rapid decay of our resources, or the upcoming release of Disney’s Oceans (a companion to Earth), or even a late night rewatching of the origin of my environmentalism, Medicine Man. It was the realization that my new apartment building doesn’t recycle. Doesn’t recycle? Doesn’t even play its part in the Lazy Layman’s Urban Environmental Action Plan? Doesn’t even passively protect the ground on which we walk? How is this possible? I’m supposed to throw my recyclables in the same bag as real actual waste?
Chicago has a sad history of fake recycling (remember the Blue Bag Program?) but 10 years after the beginning of this millennium, it is criminal to throw bottles and cardboard boxes into a landfill.
Any advice on how I get involve in this fight? Who controls local recycling programs? Who do I complain to?