Every day is a day you should care for the planet — but it doesn’t hurt to remind people, either. So, we have Earth Day April 22, intended to generate awareness about the planet's environmental challenges and encourage people to take action.
Now more than 50 years old — the first Earth Day happened in 1970, started by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson in the wake of a 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California — the event has grown into a global phenomenon. In 1970, the event drew about 20 million people in the U.S. It’s now estimated to engage about one billion people in more than 190 countries worldwide. That makes up about 15% of the planet’s population.
No surprise then: if you’re interested in participating, there are probably family-friendly community activities near you — from beach and park cleanups to nature hikes to environmental fairs. Attending events like these can be a positive way for young people to begin thinking about environmental issues. And for adults, it’s a way to meet and connect with people who share your concerns.
But while Earth Day’s impact is undeniable, scheduling a single day in your calendar isn’t going to save the environment from plastic pollution, climate change, mass extinction, and deforestation. Instead, day-to-day action — and true involvement to fight for change — is required. But don’t be discouraged. The good news is you’ll be surprised by how small (and not-so-small) changes in your life and around your home can create a meaningful impact.
Embrace the veggie burger
Other than when we’re hungry, most of us give little thought to what we eat — and even then, it usually concerns our own health. But researchers at the University of Oxford have concluded that going meatless is the single most important thing you can do to help the environment. Yes, even more so than buying an electric car. That’s because cutting meat and dairy from your diet will reduce your carbon footprint by more than 70%.
It’s been well-reported that cows produce the greenhouse gas methane — thank you, cheeseburger — but you probably didn’t know 60% of agriculture’s emissions are due to meat and dairy. Add to this the brutality of factory farms and the cruelty suffered by the animals we consume, and grabbing that veggie burger starts to look less like a choice than a necessity if we want to truly protect the planet.
Seek out sustainable products
Small acts matter — even in your domestic day-to-day routine. For example, you may have read that coffee pods are not as harmful to the environment as you might think. Actually, that hasn’t been conclusively proven yet. So why wait for another headline when you can simply swap out the disposable pods for reusable alternatives instead? You can easily find a brand that is compatible with most single-cup coffee machines and are dishwasher-safe.
Everyone knows the environmental impact caused by plastic straws, so why not pick up some reusable silicone straws? You can find ones made from food-grade silicone that’s non-toxic and BPA-free. When cleaning around the house, swap out disposable cleaning pads for reusable alternatives.
And ahead of laundry day, swap out your plastic jug of liquid detergent, your similarly plastic-wrapped pod of chemicals, or your big box of powder for a safer eco-friendly alternative that is healthier for you, your family, your animals, and the planet.
Kick the plastic addiction
This may sound like an insurmountable task — after all, when you consider the 300 million metric tons of plastic produced every year, it’s easy to think there’s nothing you can do. Never mind the fact that one recent study found that more than 80% of the world’s tap water contains plastic fibers.
So, swap out the plastic water bottle for a reusable one. Carry your groceries in cloth, not plastic. Look for groceries without plastic packaging. Swap out liquid soap for shower and shampoo bars. Almost all shampoo bars come in plastic-free packaging or no packaging at all for the most sustainable option. In the U.S., about 550 million shampoo bottles go to landfills every year. A world without single-use plastic can be achieved — but not without everyone doing their part.
Recycle your electronics
We all know the importance of recycling — but usually the focus is on single-use plastics and recyclable materials such as paper and glass. But have you thought about your old electronics? This so-called “e-waste” amounted to almost 45 million metric tons in 2016, according to a report by United Nations Environment Program.
Your laptops, phones, and other devices consume energy and resources to manufacture, so reducing production is crucial. Don’t throw out your TV or computer if it still works — either donate it to someone you know or seek out a company that will refurbish your devices for resale.
Invest in a green computer
Again, it’s not something that usually comes up when you’re deciding on a computer, but look for one with an Energy Star label — just as you would when purchasing a washer or dryer. Moreover, if you can, opt for a laptop instead of a desktop since the latter consumes much more energy.
Conserve energy and water
Look for ways around the house to cut your energy consumption. With summer around the corner, there are ways to keep your house cool without taxing the planet. Among them: keep your windows and doors closed; ventilate your home either at night or with fans instead; and if you must use AC, schedule a check-up with an HVAC professional.
Applying reflective or sun-control film to south-facing windows can also effectively reduce solar heat build-up and help filter the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Turn off lights when you leave a room — and unplug your electronics when they’re not being used. You can also consider reducing your fossil fuel consumption by investigating solar and wind power options.
It’s estimated the average person consumes about 80 to 100 gallons of water every day. So little things like shorter showers and turning off the tap while brushing your teeth can add up quickly.
Support eco-friendly businesses
As the idiom goes: vote with your wallet. In other words, seek out businesses that embrace sustainability. Do they use renewable energy, reduce waste, or source materials from responsible suppliers? Shopping at the local farmers market is one effective way to reduce your environmental impact — while also putting your money back into your community.
Park it — and stay parked
No surprise: people getting around — whether by car or plane — accounts for almost a third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. So, walk or bike when you can — and if the distance is too great, consider public transportation. If you live nearby co-workers, consider starting a carpool.
Plant trees and gardens
Rest assured: there is a tree-planting activity somewhere near you on Earth Day. But why stop there? Trees provide habitat for wildlife, shade for people, and detoxify the air. Put down roots on your property or organize your own community tree-planting event. Likewise, you can start your own garden — even a small one in your window — or a larger community one to grow fresh produce.
Get active in the cause
This goes back to one of the benefits of Earth Day itself: meeting like-minded people and perhaps being inspired to follow through with larger acts. Have you ever considered joining an environmental organization or attending a rally — and then decided against it? Earth Day can mark the opportunity to revisit those decisions.
Whether it’s writing to your local elected official or participating in an environmental campaign, it’s never too late to act — and April 22 is the perfect day to start.