By Mordechai Schmutter

My first-grader, Heshy, just had something called a “Recycling Fair” in school. A few weeks ago, he came home with a note saying that his grade was learning about recycling, and that each student’s parents would have to create some kind of project out of recyclable items. Basically, you dump your recycling bins all over the dining-room table and see what you can make out of the pieces. (“Well, what if we take all these ants and put them in the milk bottle?”)

When I was little, recycling wasn’t as big as it is now. I’d heard about it, mostly in the context of the five cents we’d get for returning soda bottles, but I had no idea what the company was doing with the empty bottles. My assumption was that they were rinsing them out and putting in more soda.

I recycle at home. I live in New Jersey, which doesn’t offer a cash incentive, but I do it anyway. Once a week we celebrate something called “Recycling Day” by bringing recycling out to the curb and having it magically disappear while we’re sleeping, one way or another. I have a back porch, and everything recyclable goes out there; once a week, on erev Recycling Day, I forget to sort it and bring it to the curb, and so eventually my back porch turns into a landfill. But once in a while I remember to go out there, and I stand around in the dark and sort things and figure out how to get it all to the curb in as few trips as possible, which takes longer than just making as many trips as it takes.

I recycle in other ways as well. I have a pile of papers on my desk waiting to be brought to the recycling box in the dining room, where they then wait to go to the porch, where they then wait to go to the curb. But while they’re here, I use them as placemats when I eat at my desk, even though when I get up to get the food that I’m going to eat, I pass through the dining room, where I keep (a) the recycling box, and (b) the actual placemats that we paid money for. And the table.

A lot of us use products in innovative ways once we’re finished using them in the way the Ribbono shel Olam intended. Bubble wrap becomes entertainment, shopping bags become garbage bags, wrapping paper becomes wrapping paper for next year’s presents, old mommy clothes are used for dress-up, and old totty clothes are used as rags. (Is this unfair?) And people reuse yahrzeit glasses as drinking glasses, which is creepy, and they’re not really shaped for drinking. You can’t get your nose in there.

The recycling fair seems like a ridiculous concept. Schools are always telling parents to send in things that they never expect to see again; that’s part of life. We’re constantly getting notes that say, “We’re making a fruit salad tomorrow to celebrate Fruit Salad Day. Send in a fresh pineapple.” Or “We’re making a party to celebrate the completion of passuk zayin. Send in eight dollars.” One time my son Daniel was asked to bring in a rock, which is usually not a big deal, except that there was a foot of snow on the ground. (“Keep digging! There’s got to be one somewhere!”) But this time they’re literally telling us to send in garbage. As much garbage as we can, glued together.

I have issues with this, because my big threat at home, when my kids leave their things on the floor, is that I’m going to toss it. And now the school is teaching them that even if I do toss it, they can always take it out of the garbage and build it into something else, and then leave the new resurrected structure out on the floor for me to step on again. (I do watch where I walk, but I have enormous feet.)

And then, after we built the projects and sent them out of our house–again–we had to come in to school and see what everyone else did with their garbage. A lot of the kids made skyscrapers. Basically, they spread everything out on the table and decided the best way to go is to glue it all together. Another popular construction was a robot made of cardboard. Apparently, we’re going to save the environment in the future by building our robots out of cardboard. Some of them will be covered in foil as well, because apparently they’re crazy homeless robots.

It really depends on the kid. Last year, my older son, Daniel, was in first grade, and he wasn’t really interested in the project. We spent weeks giving him suggestions and having him shoot them down, and then, the night before the fair, I glued two toilet-paper tubes together and told him it was binoculars.

But when Heshy found out about the project, he immediately got to work making a skyscraper. He chose to make it out of plastic bottles and cans–as many as he could find–and Elmer’s glue (Who names their kid Elmer?) which is really sold less because it holds things together and more because it’s weak enough to be safe for kids. So we had this precarious tower of cans and bottles sitting in our house for a month, held together by Elmer’s, slowly losing pieces, and by the time the fair came around, it was a small mountain on the floor. So Heshy decided to make a different project. My wife suggested that he recycle Daniel’s from last year.

No, I’m kidding. Actually, my wife suggested that he make an apartment out of one of my enormous shoeboxes. We split it into rooms and used tiny pieces of garbage for furniture, and tiny pieces of toothpicks for mezuzos. We even clipped tiny gedolim pictures out of the newspaper and hung them on the walls. Basically, we had all these bottles rolling around the house, but what we needed was tiny garbage. Luckily, it was right before Pesach. All we had to do was go through the vacuum-cleaner bag.

Our project was a hit, at least as much as any of the ones made by the other parents. (Officially the parents “didn’t have to help,” but we know who made the skyscraper that was taller than the kid who brought it in.) And then the school made the parents bring all the projects back home. Again. Even though I could have sworn I already got rid of these things twice. The school doesn’t want to have to deal with it either.

Speaking of recycled material, my fourth book is coming out next week, on approximately May 8, Jewish time. Because I apparently have so much knowledge that it’s just spilling out into books at this point.

The book is called Cholent Mix, because it’s basically a whole cholent of articles. And, like cholent, it’s good any day of the week, it makes you feel happy but tired, and it’s probably not so good for you.

The title also lends itself to a great practical joke: Every time your wife tells you to buy cholent mix from the store, buy a copy of my book. I don’t know if she’ll appreciate the joke, but I will. You should probably also buy flowers, though, just in case.

Anyway, the book is out just in time for Shavuos, for all the people who are saying, “I need something to do; my husband is going to be asleep for three days.” And for all you men out there, I will say–and I’m sure rabbanim would back me up on this–that reading my book is just like sleeping.

You might need more than one copy, though. So, um, “Don’t forget to pick up cholent mix,” if you catch my drift. v

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of three books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to


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