if you were to give me a list of positive words associated with the condition of something what would they be? For example, clean and spotless. Pristine or shiny. Flashy and gleaming.

How about some negative words you’d use to describe an item’s condition?

How about gross or junky. Dirty and grimy. Worn or broken.

The human brain is wired to associate positive words with positive experiences. Adjectives are often inherently positive or negative, it’s how we convey so much meaning with so few syllables. But what do we do when negative words are associated with positive experiences?

Image of the Brain

Let’s go back to word association. I say “garbage” you say…? Dirty and gross. Smelly. Trash. Worthless. Dump.

I say “recycle” you say…? Environmental and smart. Clean. Planet. Reduce and reuse. Responsible.

Recycling is such a positive endeavor. Whether it’s paper or plastic, e-waste or batteries, recycling is a process we strive to expand on and improve upon. Manufacturers and consumers alike are on the hunt for reusable products made from recycled materials, and we intrinsically want to think that a positive endeavor is a clean one.

If you couldn’t tell already, I’m about to blow your mind.

Recycling is a dirty word.

That old CRT TV in your basement has been collecting dust for over a decade.
The battery in your ATV has oil particles & dirt glued to it from changing temps and mudding trips.
The keyboard at your desk has food crumbs, finger oils and lint buried deep beneath the keys.

We are subconsciously wired to think that recycling-this positive, earth saving process-is clean and shiny and that’s ok! It’s ok to think positively about something that is so positive, but it’s also important to face reality. It’s good to acknowledge that this powerful process for good has a dirty side.

Back to word association. I say “garden” you say…? Flowers. Plants. Fresh and local. Beautiful. Dirty. Gardening is a dirty process that results in a clean product.

Gloves with cables and gloves with carrots

Gardening and recycling support our environment, they provide clean resources, and they improve the quality of our planet.

But they both require that we get our hands a little dirty.