How You Can Celebrate Earth Day Every Day
By Tayler Jenkins
The first Earth Day celebration took place in 1970 and 20 million people participated. Ever since then it has been celebrated annually as a day of conservation and consciousness. This year’s Earth Day is a week away (on April 22), but why wait to make a difference? There are so many initiatives you can take that require little effort on your part, yet will make a huge difference in reducing your environmental impact.
According to the EPA, about 80 percent of what we throw away in the U.S. is recyclable, yet our country’s recycling rate is only 28 percent. Recycling is vital for decreasing your impact on the planet because it diverts waste from landfills and also prevents new materials from being created. Better yet, consume less in general. Don’t buy what you don’t need, or buy it secondhand. A fun and creative way to consume less is to try reusing or upcycling your old things. You could turn wine bottles into DIY decorations, or revamp an old T-shirt by cutting it into a tank top. If you need some inspiration, my personal favorite place to look is on Pinterest.
Remember Greg’s article on saying goodbye to plastic single-use items? I want to reiterate that here because it is such an easy way to make a difference and doesn’t take much effort. If you don’t already have one, invest in a reusable beverage container and reusable utensil that you can carry around with you. Ever since I have started carrying my spork in my bag I have come across numerous instances in which I have been able to use that instead of taking a plastic utensil that I would surely throw away. I cannot express enough how easy this is to do and how much it has helped me to reduce waste.
Did you know that 40 percent of our food is wasted? That’s 20 pounds of food per person per month (NRDC)! We can drastically reduce this number by only buying what we know we will eat, saving our leftovers and composting what we won’t eat. Compost is great for your garden, or if you don’t grow your own food you can give it to a friend or neighbor who does.
Speaking of food, there are many more food-related choices you can make to reduce your impact besides reducing food waste. The Environmental Working Group completed life cycle assessments for different types of meat and other foods and found that meat and dairy production have a greater environmental footprint than production of plant-based foods, with lamb and beef having the highest carbon dioxide emissions by far (Read more about their study here).
Kilograms of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere per kilogram of food. From EWG.org
Try making this Earth Day a meat-free day, and if it resonates with you, you might think about shifting it to a weekly ordeal. If you don’t want to give up all meat, consider cutting out just red meat. Minimizing meat intake is one of the best things you can do to reduce your impact on the environment and it also comes with a wide array of health benefits, so consider it a win-win for you and the environment.
Also, pesticides from conventionally-grown food can have negative environmental impacts since they can run into streams and bodies of water. Buying organic food or growing your own food without the use of pesticides is another way that you can support practices that are beneficial to the environment rather than detrimental. Additionally, eating locally is a good way to reduce emissions that come from food miles, or the number of miles food travels to reach your plate.
Growing herbs is a great place to start if you are new to gardening.
Carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels are a major contributor to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which contribute to climate change. This Earth Day, try riding a bicycle or taking public transportation instead of driving to the places you need to go. Automobiles are among the largest sources of carbon emissions, so choosing an alternative mode of transportation is a great way to make a significant difference in reducing your impact (not to mention saving money from going down your gas tank).
Bicycling instead of driving prevents carbon dioxide emissions as well as promotes a healthy lifestyle.
Did you know that your appliances use energy when they’re plugged in, even when they are turned off? This is called “phantom load” and you can prevent it by unplugging electronics when not in use. Another super easy way to reduce your energy impact is by simply making sure you turn off the lights when you leave the room.
If everyone lived the way you do, how many Earths would it take to sustain the human population? This measurement is called your carbon (or environmental) footprint, and you can actually calculate it yourself through an assessment of various aspects of your lifestyle. A great tool for this is the minibuk How Green Am I? which you can find here.
The excessive amount of water we use in cities can be stressing to the water supply, especially in dry climates. I live in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, where we are withdrawing river water and groundwater rapidly, so I find water conservation to be especially important. Little things like taking shorter showers or turning off the water while soaping up or brushing your teeth can save gallons of water every day. In fact, showering with a normal shower head uses 7 gallons of water every minute, and running the faucet in your sink uses 3 gallons of water per minute. That’s a lot of water! Switching to a low-flow shower head reduces the water usage from 7 to 2.5 gallons per minute (Franklin Institute). If you live in a dry climate, you may ponder how much water is being used on your lawn and rethink your landscape options. If you grow food, it may be a good idea to invest in crops that are not water-intensive, such as fava beans or another native desert plant. Most of all, just try to notice when you are using water at times or in places that it isn’t necessary.
Earth Day is next Tuesday, but why limit yourself to only one day per year of eco-consciousness? There are so many ideas listed here that can be done on a daily basis, so choose a few that really speak to you and try them out. It’s all about creating habits—the ones that work for you will stick. Make riding your bike to work a regular routine. Vow to shorten your showers by a few minutes every time until you have them as short as possible. Bring that sleek tumbler with you when you go out for your daily cup o’ Joe, and keep building up that deliciously nutrient-rich compost. This world needs more people who are bold enough to break the status quo. So, let Earth Day be your kickoff point for a long, fruitful journey in environmental awareness. Your actions DO make a difference.