Why Couldn’t Older Generations Have Been More Aware of the Environment?

You may have seen a version of this tale as a forward in your email or while browsing the Internet.

I feel the lesson here is more relevant than ever. So I present it for your entertainment and edification with a comment at the end.


In line at the store, the cashier advised the older woman that she should bring her own grocery bag because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. The woman apologized to him and explained, “We didn’t have the green thing back in my day.” The clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Former generations did not care enough to save our environment.”

Coke, Seltzer, and Pepsi deposit bottles

He was right, that generation didn’t have the green thing in its day. Back then, they returned their milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed, sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over.

But they didn’t have the green thing back in that customer’s day.

In her day, they walked up stairs, because they didn’t have an escalator in every store apartment building, and office building. They walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time they had to go half a mile.

But she was right. They didn’t have the green thing in her day.

Back then, they washed the baby’s diapers because they didn’t have disposables. They 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.

But that old lady is right, they didn’t have the green thing back in her day.

Back then, they had one TV, or radio, in the house – not a TV in every room. And the TV had a screen the size of a sheet of typing paper, not the size of a SUV. In the kitchen, they blended and stirred by hand because they didn’t have electric machines to do everything for you. When they packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, they used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

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

But she’s right, they didn’t have the green thing back then.

They drank from a fountain when they were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time they had a drink of water. They refilled their  pens with ink or inserted a refill instead of buying a new pen. And they replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But they didn’t have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the bus, trolley or streetcar and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into 24-hour taxi services. They had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And they didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful the old folks were just because they didn’t have the green thing back then?


This piece is sad and nostalgic for me. I have an assortment of memorabilia in my office shelves. They include old Pepsi Cola and Coca Cola deposit bottles, old seltzer bottles (in New York and other cities there were seltzer men who would deliver and retrieve syphon bottles), and some antique refillable lighters; not disposable ones. In other words, I guess I’m part of that generation that remembers when recycling didn’t have name; it was a way of life.