October 27, 2008 / 1:23 PM / 10 years ago

Green Living: When it comes to waste: The kids are all right

Nick Rosen is an independent columnist and Reuters takes no responsibility for his opinions

By Nick Rosen

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Jan Schlichtmann was an environmental activist long before it was fashionable, but these days that gives him a problem with his garbage and with his children.

Schlichtmann is a leading injury compensation lawyer, and his most famous case in the 1980s was the subject of the Hollywood movie “A Civil Action.” He was played by John Travolta and the movie tells the story of his fight to prove a chemical company was polluting a Massachusetts town.

Back in those days, being an environmentalist meant campaigning against industrial polluters rather than pressing for reduced individual household use of resources such as energy and water.

Schlichtmann still lives in Massachusetts, but now his environmental opponents include his own children. They are not satisfied that their father is doing all he could to help the environment, especially when it comes to recycling.

“You can definitely put me in the pragmatic category,” said Schlichtmann, in his home office near Gloucester, where he still directs numerous public interest campaigns seeking compensation for environmental damage.

“There’s the easy things once can do as an individual and then the not so easy.”

“I would put in the easy category: - getting energy efficient lighting, we’ve done that - although it takes a little getting used to how long the lights take to get the full strength.”

Another move in Schlichtmann’s easy category is a product called Blade, which goes on tailpipe of the car and reduces particulate pollution and fuel consumption.

The “not so easy category” is a very long list says Schlichtmann - including cutting down on travel, and the thing he dreads most - composting and recycling.

“The wife and kids are constantly haranguing me about recycling - and I admit to a complete moral failure,” he conceded. “It’s because I hate the paper bags we use for recycling — the bags are always breaking,. My wife and kids are always threatening to expose me, so I do it but not willingly.”

But he says the rest of the family are very good about recycling, turning lights off and cutting down on water use.

Schlichtmann’s children are 11, 10 and 5, and its clear that these age groups are among the nations leading evangelists for environmental change.

“Going green is all over- television, kid’s games, kid’s activities, kid’s friends (who of course influence their friends), kid’s toys, backpacks, water bottles,” said Barry Spiker, who specializes in business and sustainability at Argosy University, Phoenix.

He said that schools also begin recycling programs, so naturally the kids take that thought home with them.

“Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” was seen by millions of school kids,” Spiker said “Many become frightened into doing something. So, they go home and tell their siblings and parents what the family must do.”

Most of these kids would fall into the 10-14 age group, Spiker said.

Schlichtmann freely admits he has failed to move with the times.

“There’s no more finger pointing at others - it’s all about us, anyone who spent any time in this field recognizes this is an us problem and not an us against them problem,” he said.

Now Schlichtmann is launching his own Internet show, Mingo’s Beach, spotlighting eco-technologies.

“I am constantly trying to find new technologies that will fit my own home,” he says, and the show was born out of his constant failure to find technology that really works.

But for all that, Schlichtmann hates Thursday mornings.

“That’s when the recycling has to be put out,” he said. “We have a very long driveway and until they (the children) get their driver’s license I am the one who has to take it down the street.”

Editing by Paul Casciato

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