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My son sees treasure in every bit of trash

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My 4-YEAR-OLD son, Paul, collects everything. He collects leaves and pine cones. He gathers sticks and pebbles. He hoards bottle caps and dead bugs.

One of the reasons Paul collects so many things is that he was taught the concept of recycling by his preschool teachers – and for that I will never forgive them. He believes so strongly in recycling that we are no longer allowed to throw anything away.

Paul has mastered the premise that recycling means making something into something else. But he has trouble with the concept that the "something else" should be more than a plastic juice bottle glued to an empty tissue box.

"Look, Dad!" he says, "I recycled these!"

"What is it?" I ask cautiously. The last time Paul recycled something, I became the proud owner of a popsicle-stick, used adhesive-bandage tie clip.

"Can't you tell?" he asks, rolling his eyes. "It's a juice bottle glued to a box." He holds up an object that looks like the Stanley Cup Trophy, if it were co-sponsored by Gerber and Kleenex.

"What will you do with it?" I inquire nervously.

"I'll put it right here, on the kitchen table, so everyone can see it," he says, beaming.

Now we have the Gerber/Kleenex Stanley Cup for a centerpiece. I look on the bright side and imagine that I'm eating dinner in Wayne Gretzky's dining room.

Paul's recycling is getting to be a problem. Paul is to empty paper-towel- roll tubes what Imelda Marcos is to shoes.

We have so many paper-towel-roll tubes that, if you put them end to end, a gerbil could run from our house in Ohio to Brazil without ever seeing daylight. I could prove it, too, but Paul won't let me touch his collection.

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