Why Is It So Hard to Get My Mom to Go Green?


My mother, the nice Jewish lady seen here at her box at the Hollywood Bowl,  is among the biggest paper and water consumers in the country. It hasn’t been easy getting her to turn over a new leaf. (Or rather, fewer of them.)


She has a varied and colorful history of helping herself to fistfuls of disposable napkins at restaurants, collecting hundreds of brown paper grocery bags from Gelson’s Market and requiring daily soaks or showers. She’s pretty darn clean, my mother.

“I never, ever get dressed before bathing,” she has always told me.

“What? So you’ve never heard of French cologne?”

Last summer, I played the dutiful daughter and learned Italian to help mom out on our trip to Italy in September. Turns out, the only phrase that came in handy from Rome to Como was piu l’asciugamani, por favore: More towels, please. Uttered even more frequently to the nice Italian chambermaids was piu faccia l’asciugamani: More face towels!

ITALY TRIP 2008 188

If there’s someone out there who uses more wash cloths than my 80-year-old mother, I’d like to meet her. No exaggeration, there were several 3-foot high stacks of  Italian terrycloth squares atop the marble vanity of each hotel we visited. How does one person use so many towels without wiping off their face?

The thing is, she would never use a towel more than once. Some people go through towels but they hang them to dry and use them again. Mom won’t even wear one of her 200 Façonnable print blouses more than once without dry cleaning it. Who knew daily treks to Gelson’s Market could work up such a sweat?

And as far as paper napkins and facial tissues are concerned, I think she associates having ample supplies on hand with being well-cared for.

Yep, that’s how Cherie rolls. I love her dearly and wouldn’t trade her in for anyone (except of course, Joan Rivers, and who wouldn’t?). But I have been frustrated trying to convert her to the ways of the unwashed revolutionaries fighting to conserve resources.

Funny, mom is a dichotomy in some ways; she stays out of the sun, shuns drugs (even aspirin) and sips herb tea instead of coffee. But she can’t seem to get on board that eco bus, apart from abiding by L.A. drought restrictions on water use.

Before he died two years ago, my dad, a real estate developer, considered himself to be an early conservationist.

The logo on his office stationary read, “The environment is our business.” He was  frugal and a stickler about turning off lights, shutting off air, cutting down on sprinkler and telephone use, buying used cars for his kids and only building as much housing as he felt the market required. He was one of the first advocates of a mass transit system in L.A. He swore by solar power and used it to warm his pool starting in the 70s.

UCSB and Shower 015

After dad’s years of chronic scolding, mom did learn to turn off lights and only cranks the heat when she is “freezing to death.”

Yet visits to her McMansion in the Valley become guilt-ridden ones for me and my conscientious kids as we stand idly by watching Nana toss paper and plastic into the garbage. Her gated community even offers recycling and composting bins to be picked up by the waste removal company. The kids and I have explained the benefits of composting to her many times, to which she has replied:

“Why would you throw extra food into a container when you have a garbage disposal?”

In truth, I can’t see her stomaching such a crude process as composting. After all, her breakfast room place settings go into the dishwasher even if no one has touched the utensils. “They’ve been out and so they are dirty,” she informs me. She glares at me with one of those disapproving scowls as if to say that I’m the one who’s crazy.

I forgive her these limitations. Mom is what you call a neat freak. My therapist has urged me not to elaborate.

The good news is that I am making a few inroads with the recycling lectures.

“Now, listen carefully, Mom, when you use a glass jar, let’s say of spaghetti sauce, and you toss it into the trash, it goes into a landfill. Landfills are really full and bad for the planet. If you recycle it, someone can reuse the glass to make something consumers can use.”

For years, she has refused to buy these arguments from me, her youngest. But the other day, when I questioned her about trash disposal again on the phone, she checked in with my older sister who was sitting nearby.

“Do you recycle your trash?” she asked Deb, while I waited patiently for the survey results. “Yes, of course I do,” said my sister. She’s the oldest.

“Oh,” said mom, now seemingly convinced. “I’ll have to tell Mariano (her helper) to start separating the stuff.”

And to think, all it took was a family intervention.

Main image: Visual Panic

Other images: Luanne Bradley

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.