In April of 1990, we published our second edition of Raising Arizona Kids. The members of our staff (all six of us) were young mothers. We wanted to do everything right. For us, that meant being responsive to what we were being told was a looming environmental crisis.
We printed our fledgling magazine on recycled paper. And we planned our second issue around the concept of parenting with environmental sensitivity.
Our cover story that month was “The Dirty Diaper Debate.” It offered sobering statistics (“18 billion diapers…are thrown in the trash each year”) and talked about options including cloth diapers and biodegradable disposables. Hard to believe — 21 years and at least 378 billion disposable diapers later — but the Arizona Legislature that year was actually considering a law to ban the use of non-biodegradable diapers. Clearly, it wasn’t widely supported.
Another story, “I Can Recycle This!” offered environmental tips for parents and described a Phoenix Clean & Beautiful mascot named Recyclesaurus, who was then conducting school visits. (I’m happy to report that a “Recycle with Recyclesaurus” program still visits preschool and early elementary classrooms, though under the auspices of the renamed Keep Phoenix Beautiful.)
My family didn’t have curbside recycling back in 1990. Now we do. So I guess that’s progress. But I don’t get the sense that disposable diapers are any less popular than they were in 1990. I get discouraged when I buy Costco toilet paper in bulk (hoping to avoid excessive packaging), only to find that both the package and the individual rolls are wrapped in plastic. And while I finally developed the self-discipline to carry cloth bags into the grocery store, I’m as guilty as anyone about using too many plastic water bottles, though I do reuse them several times before I recycle them.
I worry that our focus on the environment goes in and out of fashion depending on whatever else is grabbing our collective imagination and attention. Especially when I go back 21 years to find that nothing much has changed.
P.S. Some RAK “small world” trivia: The baby on our cover in April 1990 was Colleen Burns, then 11 months old. Her mom, family law attorney Annette Burns, was interviewed by Vicki Louk Balint for our January 2011 article and podcast on “Why divorce attorneys stay married.”
Our story about Recyclesaurus was written by former RAK staff writer and editor Lisa Sorg-Friedman, whose husband, Daniel Friedman, took the cover photo of Colleen. After many years with the magazine, Lisa eventually moved in other career directions. Dan left professional photography for several years to pursue public school teaching but is now back on our staff as a writer and photographer.