4 Ways To Celebrate Keep America Beautiful Month

4 Ways To Celebrate Keep America Beautiful Month And Prolong The Wonders Of Our Precious Planet

Because America's more than the Rockies and the Grand Canyon.

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April: the time of new buds on trees, Easter bunnies, cherry blossoms, and new Marvel movies. April also happens to be Keep America Beautiful Month, started by the aptly-named Keep America Beautiful organization. And while we all dream of taking a road trip to Yellowstone or hiking the Maroon Bells, you don't have to go far in order to appreciate American beauty-- in fact, it's usually right outside your window.

​​1. Bird-watching​​

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It sounds dumb. Old-man-like. Yes, I can hear your great uncle Herbert's knee replacement creaking from here. Hear me out. Freshman ecology will tell you migratory avians leave their wintering grounds during April and May. These birds have to stop somewhere, and with a little seed—and a little luck—some will inevitably come wandering your way. While it looks easy, bird-watching becomes more difficult the further you get into it. You'll start to recognize species and those that are common in your backyard, versus those that are only there for a short time. Beautiful little birds like Baltimore Orioles, ruby-throated hummingbirds and larger avians like American white pelicans can all be seen over most of the contiguous United States during spring. And, to help you keep track, the National Audubon Society has even put out an app that allows you to catalog and keep track of your birds.

2. Clean up a public space.

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For those of us in big cities, frequently there are one or two locally-known parks nearby. In Denver, for example, I was on the border between the Washington Park and Observatory Park neighborhoods. In urban and suburban areas, frequently there are already programs and organizations in place that clean up these spaces. For Wash Park, the City of Denver has a volunteer program where you can help public works employees (if you happen to live near Wash Park, you can find that here). In more rural areas, the programs might not be in place. Either create one (how about a park BBQ after a long day of plastic hunting?) or just be conscientious of the trash around you on your next walk. On a four mile run, I once collected so much trash I had to run by the dumpsters twice. Imagine if we all did that!

3. Plant a garden with plants/ trees native to your state.

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This is one of the easier ways to celebrate both Keep America Beautiful Month and Earth Day. By planting flora that are native to your home, you're saving water (this is especially true in desert climates, where Bermuda grass isn't the smartest option), saving the soil (plants tend to gravitate and like specific soils and by planting non-native plants you could possibly be messing up the chemical composition of the dirt), helping the animals (think pollinators like bees and birds that eat seeds) or even preventing an invasion (see: kudzu). While planting on your own property is simplest, helping out a park or even a business get jump-started on gardening can be the first step in freshening up a neighborhood block.

4. Buy local produce.

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In case you haven't heard, the "locavore" movement is alive and well. Buying local supports small businesses encourages smaller-scale farming (which tend less towards large-scale pesticide bombings) and reduces the energy cost and carbon footprints of the food by taking large-scale, long-distance transportation out of the equation. Buying local is buying sustainably. It's not possible to get everything you need from a farm in Minnesota or Kansas or Florida, and it doesn't have to be the goal. Even going to farmer's markets or picking out fruit that you know is in season around you contributes and can help. Remember: it's about the little steps that all add up.

While not all of us will be able to experience the Grand Canyon or the redwood forests or the Aspen trail system—especially during the final exam crunch that is April—these four ideas are easy enough for anyone to do, and a great way to ensure we all do our part to keep our country as pristine and beautiful as it is, and deserves to be.

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Are Plastic Straws Really Killing Sea Turtles?

It's no secret that plastic isn't great for the environment, but how sensationalized is this topic actually becoming?

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When I first saw a video of a sea turtle getting a plastic drinking straw removed from its nostril, I was obviously upset like any other viewer would be. I care a lot about the environment and about animal life and it was upsetting to see that a product of human consumption and ignorant waste was destroying precious parts of our world. I wholeheartedly jumped on the bandwagon of "plastic straws kill sea turtles!!!" but only knew about the issue from this video and what I heard from people or saw on social media. The whole topic of plastic waste into the ocean remained in the back of my mind until the recent pledge of Starbucks to stop using plastic straws in stores by 2020 reminded me of the issue.

As the topic of plastics and their pollution of the environment (largely the oceans) has become so recently powerful I decided to do some research of my own. If I was going to tell people to stop using plastic straws because they were killing sea turtles, I wanted to be sure that I wasn't just repeating everything I heard from social media.

Turns out, plastic straws are hurting sea turtles and other marine life, but a lot of what I thought about plastic waste was exaggerated (at least from what I had heard from others). Sea birds are the most impacted creature by plastic straws, not sea turtles. About 1 million or more seabirds die every year from ingesting plastic straws and choking on them. In research from recent scientific studies, 80-90% of seabirds have some kind of plastic inside of their stomachs. Also, the ecological footprint that plastic straws alone leave on the planet is actually pretty small compared to food waste or fossil fuels.

However, all the buzz about sea turtles may come from the fact that globally 86% of sea turtle species are known to be affected by plastic debris. Overwhelming amounts of plastic garbage in the ocean have caused a steady decline of the leatherback sea turtle over the past several years, so much that they have been placed on the endangered species list. Plastics can hinder eating and consumption, breathing abilities, and even reproductive capabilities of all kinds of sea turtles.

So while plastic straws may not be killing sea turtles in hordes, they are killing sea birds, and plastic overall have caused huge and deadly effects to many sealife species. We have known that plastic is bad for the environment and the oceans for quite a while, given the fact that the Great Garbage Patch was discovered almost 20 years ago, so it's more than time to start caring about the problem. If we can eliminate single-use plastic straws that aren't biodegradable, we can stop using other single-use plastics and make a better effort to reduce our harmful impacts on the oceans. Individually, we can move towards small changes, which can move our society to a more sustainable and healthy place. If you are more interested in this topic, I would suggest reading about how you can make a change or looking at this article and checking out this scientific journal.

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Vinicius Amano

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6 Small Ways To Live More Sustainably

Here are a few easy tips that will help you protect the beautiful planet we live on.

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Living sustainably has been a major focus of my life recently after finding out that it's not that hard for me to do my part. We live on a beautiful planet that contains the resources that help life as we know it to operate. We are dealing with problems that are caused by humans such as smog, trash in the oceans, and polluted waterways. While we can't fix pollution by ourselves, we can do our small part to help keep our planet clean and safe. So here are some easy, tangible tips that all of us can do to live more sustainably.

1. Recycle 

In elementary school, we all learned about reducing, reusing, and recycling. Recycling is one of the easiest things we can do because most colleges and communities already recycle and it just takes a conscious effort to differentiate your waste between trash and recycling.

If your community doesn't have an easy recycling process, you can still put in the extra effort of taking it to the local recycling plant or request curb side pickup. The reason we need to recycle is that trash in landfills can release both harmful chemicals and greenhouse gases into the environment so we are cutting down the amount of trash that ends up in landfills and allowing our goods to live longer lives.

2. Rely on your car less 

Motor vehicles account for most of the United States' carbon monoxide pollution according to the EPA. Some easy solutions to this problem would be to carpool more, drive a car or scooter that get's really good gas mileage, walk or bike to school or work, or use public transportation.

3. Use less water 

This is an incredibly easy change that you can make in your life that will help out the planet. Take quicker showers, turn the water off when you are washing your hands or brushing your teeth, and try not to take baths often. Not only will this limit your impact on the earth's already small amount of fresh water, but it will save you some money on your water and energy bills every month.

4. Buy quality goods 

Whether it be clothes, household items, or equipment for whatever your hobbies are, spending extra money on something that will last you a long time rather than wasting money on cheap stuff that you will end up throwing away after a few months will save you money in the long run and will help you reduce your trash output.

5. Repair your goods 

Extending the lifetime of your items has the same benefits as the prior point. You'll be saving money and you get the added benefit of an emotional connection to an item because you've fixed it and it's been in your life a long time. Whether you're patching up a hole in your coat or repairing the soles of your shoes, you're keeping that item alive and out of a landfill.

6. Get yourself a reusable water bottle 

This one is the easiest out of all of them. Single-use plastics are one of the worst environmental impacts humans are having on our oceans. In 2012 there was a reported 165 million tons of plastic in our oceans. While a lot of is does degrade after about a year, the degrading plastic releases harmful chemicals into the water and more plastic is going into the ocean every year. Marine animals are also being harmed by plastic in the oceans if they try to eat it or are caught in it. Reusable water bottles help cut down on plastic pollution. If you don't like the taste of your tap water, I'd recommend getting a water filter! Plus, you can cover your water bottle in stickers which makes it personal to you!

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