The Green Thing: An Early Recycling Story

Recycling Green Thing

When I say recycling is a thing of the past, I mean it, but not in the way you think. Modern generations often blame us boomers for not being greener and eco-friendly. Take a look at how we lived back in the good ol’ days. You’ll quickly realize that we recycled and upcycled even before it became a trend.

There is a story going around the Internet about the “Green Thing” and the Good Ol’ Days that I would like to replay and respond to, adding a few photos to illustrate some of my points. This is the truth about how this green thing got started.

The original story is in quotes, my replies are in italics:

The “Green Thing”

“In the line at the store, the cashier told an older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment.”

“The woman apologized to her and explained, ‘We didn’t have the green thing back in my day.’ ”

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“The clerk responded, ‘That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment.'”

Waste Not Want Not

Maybe we didn’t have the “Green Thing” in our day, but caring for the environment was partially taken care of by attitude. We used no more of the resources available than were necessary for rudimentary living. We didn’t clog the streets with our unsorted garbage. Food scraps went to feed livestock. Metals were often melted and poured into new, usable forms. Some were heated and hammered into entirely new objects by our neighborhood blacksmith. What was left over went to the local “dump” where it was picked through. It was put back to immediate use whenever it fitted a need.

Supply of Jars

Milk Bottles “Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles, and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.”

In addition, we had a supply of jars at home into which we sealed each year’s garden produce for use the following year. It wasn’t called “recycling” in our day. It was just our way of living and limiting our demands on, and expense of, new resources.

Motorized Transportation

“We walked upstairs because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store. Furthermore, we didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.”


We couldn’t afford it although some of us might have become more addicted to motorized transportation if we could have. On the other hand, we learned to enjoy the quiet moments that could be stolen while walking whether by ourselves or with a person of whom we were fond.


“Back then, we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts. Wind and solar power really did dry the clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.”

Diaper Service

And we looked forward to those hand-me-downs at Christmas and other times of celebration. Diapers soaking in a bucket and hanging on the line were a source of pride. It meant we had added one more member to our family.

TV Viewing

“Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana.”

Watching TV The Old DaysNothing can ever replace Fibber McGhee and Molly or The Green Hornet crackling through the table set in the dining nook after dinner. Our imaginations filled in the pictures that television would attempt to deliver later. TV pictures have never matched those conjured up in our heads as we listened to our favorite radio programs.

Home Cooking

“In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us.”

Some of us who like old-fashioned home cooking still do.

Mail Packaging

“When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.”

We sent a few packages. Most of them were delivered by hand because they went to those nearest to us. Occasionally we would take a box to the Post Office for mailing. We’d spread our coins out on the counter to pay for it.


“Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working; so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operated on electricity.”

Push MowerTalk about “Green.” By the time I got to high school, I had mowed enough green grass to clean yards, make hay, or fill silos to last a hundred lifetimes. But I was in good physical shape!

Glass of Water

“We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water.”

Or the water hose, or from the pump on the well down by the sheep barn. It was good, cool water from the ground. It probably built up more immunities to more diseases so that our bodies rarely got attacked by some unseen bug.

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Pen Refill

“We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.”

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Nothing has ever replaced the No. 2 lead pencil! Those who were really talented stropped their straight razors and never replaced them. There was no cleaner, refreshing shave to be had

Public Transport

“Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service.”

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