Concern for the Earth brings more and more people into the environmental movement


October 25, 1990|By Holly Selby

Some Saturdays, Teri Marconi comes home from the recycling center with trash.

"We recycle everything we can -- newspapers, cans and plastics and bottles -- but every time I go, I come home with something that can't be recycled and I have to throw it in the regular trash," the Baltimore County resident says. "It's a little frustrating."

Six months after Earth Day 1990, the details of saving the Earth are settling in.

And as Congress wrangles over the Clean Air Act, as well as the political minutiae of elevating the Environmental Protection Agency to Cabinet status, environmentalists seem unsure whether to be pleased or discouraged with their post-Earth Day progress.

"The level of air pollution over our cities is the same, global warming is increasingly scientifically verifiable. Ozone depletion continues. . . . All the major problems that existed in terms of pollution remain," grumbles Bill Klinefelter, senior representative for the National Wildlife Federation.

And, while concerns about the Persian Gulf crisis may encourage fuel conservation, some environmentalists worry that the more immediate crisis also may steal the limelight from their movement.

"I call it the Earth Day curse," says Dennis Hayes, an organizer of Earth Days 1970 and 1990. "Last time around, we invaded Cambodia three days after Earth Day. This time we have the Persian Gulf. . . . Nonetheless, the impact of Earth Day was felt for years after the first one and so it will be this time, too."

Indeed, says Mr. Klinefelter, "There's hope.

Perhaps that hope can be measured best in recycled soda cans or environmental awareness among children or a burgeoning "green" consumer movement, rather than in monumental changes, says John Kabler, Chesapeake Regional director of Clean Water Action.

"Earth Day was not a magic bullet. It was a visible, public symbol, and cashing in on that symbol is a long, slow process. I think Earth Day itself was the result of a change in thought -- and we're still seeing changes in thought come about."

Baltimore resident Cathy Myro-witz figured change was coming the day her 7-year-old daughter, Rachel, drew a picture of the Earth with the word "recicle" written across it. But she was dead sure of it when Rachel set up a recycling center -- in her bedroom.

"She always asks, 'Should we throw this out? Is it recyclable?' Sometimes 'it' is something really strange -- like a rock," says Ms. Myrowitz.

Small changes in lifestyles and attitudes are occurring throughout society, says T. Herbert Dimmick, musical director at First English Lutheran Church -- and a long-time recycler.

"I used to suggest to church members that we collect aluminum cans and I'd get chuckles or sort of a quiet indulgence, a 'there he goes again' response." Now, the church uses recycled paper products, recycles cans and is experimenting with energy-saving light bulbs, he says.

And new attitudes can be seen across the board from political platforms to school programs. Certainly, Cathy Olson, of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, has seen a change in politicians' outlooks toward environmental issues. "The Sierra Club gives endorsements and [during] this election, candidates were just climbing all over themselves to say that they're environmentalists," she says. "I think we will see the results next year."

Environmental awareness is catching, agrees Baltimore administrative assistant Christine Norman. "It's a lot more inspirational because a lot of people are doing it. I started with recycling and then worrying about using gasoline too much. Now I carry a cloth bag so I don't need bags at all and I watch out for things like buying milk in plastic jugs."

Since Earth Day, Washington-based catalog business Co-op America has gained 13,000 new members and sales have grown percent, says Nancy Miller, marketing director of the company that sells "green" goods.

At the Delicious Green Cooperative in Baltimore -- where membership has tripled since last year -- the hottest item is toilet tissue made from recycled paper, says co-founder Fay Lande. "We're getting people coming to the co-op who we wouldn't have expected. It used to be people who were interested in an alternative lifestyle. Now it's people who don't necessarily want alternative anything -- they're just interested in products tied to a healthy Earth."

And businesses are paying attention, egged on by a pre-Earth Day study conducted by the Michael Peters Group, which found that in the last year 53 percent of Americans had chosen not to buy a product because of concern about its environmental impact. According to another study, the spectrum of "green" products is growing 20 times faster than all other packaged goods.

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