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It’s Earth Day 1990, and Meryl Streep walks into a bar. She’s distraught about the state of the environment. “It’s crazy what we’re doing. It’s very, very, very bad,” she says in ABC’s prime-time Earth Day special, letting out heavy sighs and listing jumbled statistics about deforestation and the hole in the ozone layer. 

The bartender, Kevin Costner, says he used to be scared, too — until he started doing something about it. “These?” he says, holding up a soda can. “I recycle these.” As Streep prepares to launch her beer can into the recycling bin, Costner cautions her, “This could change your life.”

Recycling, once considered the domain of people with “long hair, granny glasses, and tie-dyed Ts,” as the Chicago Tribune described it at the time, was about to go mainstream. The iconic chasing-arrows recycling symbol, invented 20 years earlier, was everywhere in the early 1990s. Its tight spiral of folded arrows seemed to promise that discarded glass bottles and yellowing newspapers had a bright future, where they could be reborn in a cycle that s... Read more

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