Dear Umbra,

I am a completely eco-friendly person and strive to have my family follow in those footsteps. We have a recycling system — one my canned-beer-drinking dad refuses to abide by. (Not that I’m criticizing canned beer or my father. Both are good.) He refuses to recycle his cans, and I’m a little tired of digging them out of the garbage. Is there anything I could do to change his outlook on his wastefulness?

Rebecca
Mt. Juliet, Tenn.

Dearest Rebecca,

Have you tried the Reasonable Conversation? It’s a good turnabout tactic in certain parent-child relationships. If your dad has sat you down in the past for somber persuasive talks along the lines of, “I know you think it’s the end of the world that I won’t let you get an epiglottis piercing, but listen to my serious adult reasons,” this may be a time to cash in the chips.

Can the excuses for not recycling.

Tell him you would like to discuss a concern with him and you’d like him to treat you with respect; as a member of the household, you have opinions that deserve consideration. Then lay out your argument. Feel free to borrow whatever useful tidbits you can scrounge out of my explanation. (Here’s a bonus fact: One ton of recycled aluminum saves enough electricity to power the average home for almost two years.)

Another suggestion is to set up a motivational system. I’m thinking of financial fees or payments. That’s how municipalities encourage recycling, and it may also work in the home. My guess is that given your father’s utter absence of motivation to recycle and your lack of family power, you will not be able to get him to agree to pay fines for throwing cans in the trash. On to payments. You could offer to reimburse Dad for recycling his cans. A straightforward home bottle bill is an option: Offer him a nickel for every can he places in the bin. If you can’t dig that much change out of the couch, try offering something other than money. Only you know what your parent values most — chores, gifts, errands, promising never to play that Dr. Dre album again — and what you are willing to expend on behalf of your environmental commitment.

Perhaps your father’s problem isn’t resistance to recycling; perhaps he doesn’t have the energy for sorting his garbage at the end of a long day. In that case, you can encourage him to recycle by obviating the need for the long trip to the garbage can: Place handy containers within arms’ throw of the popular beer-drinking spots around the house. You will still need to collect the cans, but at least you won’t have to dig through the garbage.

And today’s last suggestion: Look in the library or on the Internet for photos of bauxite mining. Get some horrid pictures of denuded landscapes, or dead fish, or bauxite mines in Jamaica — anything he might care about that is affected by mining. In a deeply moved voice, let him know that you care about trees/fish/Jamaica just like he does, and that is why you have been pestering him all these years. Love will change the world.

Cannily,
Umbra