It is hard to imagine a time when factories could spew toxic smoke into the air or dump toxic waste into nearby waterways without penalty. But this is exactly what was happening before the first Earth Day was founded. In the spring of 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson proposed Earth Day as a way to draw attention to the issue that there were no regulations to protect our environment. He recruited Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Congressman, and Denis Hayes, an environmental advocate from Harvard to help. Pete was a fellow advocate and Denis served as the national coordinator for the first Earth Day. Hayes built a national staff of 85 to promote events across the land. They chose April 22nd, falling between spring break and final exams on the college calendar, as the date. Twenty-two million Americans demonstrated across the US. In December of 1970 Congress authorized the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, mostly in response to the attention that was created by the Earth Day demonstrations. Since that time, it has been celebrated every year on April 22nd. This year’s theme for Earth Day is “Protect our Species.”
The 50th anniversary of Earth Day will be celebrated in 2020. It’s going to be a big deal! Check out Earth Day Network for more information.
People often assume that their small efforts at home will not make much of an impact, but those actions are exactly what makes a real difference. It is through adopting those small changes in our everyday lives that we model for the next generation (or perhaps the current and past generations as well). Most importantly, once you adopt one change the next change always seems less daunting.
Below are 5 behaviors to think about adopting. Just know that you don’t have to do these things perfectly every day and some changes are definitely more challenging than others.
Avoid single use items. Bring your own water bottle, insulated travel mug, utensils, and to-go containers when you are going out. Start with trying to remember to bring your own refillable water bottle or coffee mug to refill when on the go. Then as you are looking for the next step, pledge to use your own cloth napkin or silverware for those restaurants that only offer paper napkins and plastic utensils. You can find a small tote that you can easily carry a set of utensils and napkins with you when you know you are headed out for a meal. I bought my utensil linen wrap and napkins online at Dot&Army
Buy in bulk. When you shop the bulk section, you reduce the plastic packaging that most dry good are sold in. There is a small investment up front since you will need some cloth or fine mesh bags to hold your goods. You can find suitable bags at several online retailers: The Container Store, Baggu, Dot&Army, or EarthHero. Generally buying bulk can be cheaper since you buy only the amount you need and are not restricted to a certain size package when you want to try a recipe for the first time. BONUS: This also means less waste if you decide you don’t like that recipe or ingredient.
Meatless Mondays. The amount of resources required to produce meat-based protein is significant. One quarter pound of beef requires 425 gallons of water to produce, and in return produces the same amount of emission as driving your car 348 miles. This means that opting for a plant-based protein even one day a week can impact the environment. Why Monday? A growing body of evidence suggests that healthy thinking and behavior is synchronized to the day of the week, with Monday being the day people are most open to change. Thus, Monday can be a powerful leverage point in public health promotions to help people stay on track with their health goals. Check out Meatless Monday for more info.
Compost. Organic waste can be turned into fresh nutrient-rich soil under the correct conditions. Starting a small back yard compost pile can reduce the amount of organic materials that end up in the landfill. Gas produced by a landfill is comprised of roughly 50% carbon dioxide and 50% methane. The methane is developed due to the anaerobic (without oxygen) decomposition that takes place deep in a landfill. It is going to be anaerobic because the organic material is buried under many inches of dirt or other debris and not enough oxygen can reach the depths of the pile. A smaller compost pile decomposes aerobically (with oxygen) producing mainly carbon dioxide. Methane is twenty-six times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Thus, if you are sending your organics to the landfill, they are being decomposed into more methane than if you have a compost pile at home.
Read here to get some tips on starting your own compost pile. Some municipalities are starting to create centrally located compost piles for residents to use. These obviously have to be maintained to allow for proper aerobic decomposition to occur. Check out Green Camino Curbside composting to see how this might work in your community.
You can also check out this blog from Zero Waste Chef for alternative uses for your food scraps. I used to exclusively compost all my vegetable scraps but now I make my own stock instead.
Reduce/repair/reuse/recycle. Buy less packaging to begin with, repair the things that you own rather than just mindlessly replacing them, reuse materials a second or third time, and recycle when you can. You can donate gently used items to local agencies like Sans Souci. You can offer items that you no longer find value in to your co-workers or relatives. You can also consider buying something secondhand rather than new. This will save you money, there will undoubtedly be less packaging and sometimes you can even find higher quality items (our ancestors owned some nice things that were built to last).
Wherever you are on your journey to increase your recycle game or reduce your waste, I hope that one of these above tips will inspire you to take that next step.
Get out there, educate yourself and make one small change. There is no planet B.