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If their parents aren't the type who smell like the spice aisle of a health-food store, most kids' environmental awareness begins when some inspirational Muppet, cartoon character, TV icon or anthropomorphic freak of some sort tells them to practice the three R's — reduce, reuse, recycle.

Aside from being taught a general respect for my surroundings by my parents, I first remember receiving a hearty dose of Earth propaganda from good ol' Auntie Litter. She's a woman in green tights, a blue dress and a green-and-white-striped shirt who makes up for her lack in fashion acumen with formidable tree-huggin' knowledge and an ability to relate it to impressionable youngsters. She came to my elementary school in Birmingham, Ala., where her environmental education program is still based and active today.

After discovering our fairly pathetic local and national recycling rates, I find myself wishing someone like Auntie Litter would unleash upon our lands a happy plague of green goodness that might inspire the apathetic and lazy among us to finally feel connected to the greater whole and perhaps redirect an empty bottle to that mysterious bin next to the break-room trash can. (Eureka! It's so ... easy!)

But, as those wacky Earth mascots have instructed: Ultimately, it's up to us.

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