In 1970, after witnessing a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, US Senator Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day to raise awareness about our environment. Back then, there weren’t any regulations on air or water pollution. After millions of Americans had protested in several cities, Congress authorized the creation of an agency that would focus on environmental issues, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Earth Day may have been created out of necessity for environmental awareness but now has become a celebration of living the eco-friendly life.
Living “green” can help our planet in even the smallest way. Below are some ways you can add eco-friendliness to your life.
The average American disposes of 4.4 pounds of trash each day! That’s approximately 254 million tons of trash a year. Quite a far cry from Sweden which has less than one percent of its waste going into landfills. So how can we improve this out-of-control production? Recycling and composting, of course. Many cities have curbside recycling plans which make being green practically burden free. However, in many cities, there are places you can take items that you would usually throw away and recycle them. Things like glass, plastic, aluminum, tires, batteries and even old electronics can be taken to recycling centers. Composting is when you take vegetable and plant matter and allow it to decompose naturally which results into a nutrient rich soil. Composting doesn’t take much effort either. Just make a simple habit of collecting your kitchen scraps and placing them into a composting bin or barrel. There are plenty of ways to create a place to compost.
2. Buy less and use less.
In our society, we have become a disposable nation. Disposable batteries, phones, cups, and the like are all commonly used once then pitched in the garbage. By using less stuff, we could effectively reduce waste, use less energy by not needing to produce so much junk, and reduce emissions from factories that make all of these disposable goods. We could use reusable bags when we go shopping. Buy in bulk to lessen the amount of individual packaging that goes in the refuse. We could even reduce the amount of junk mail that arrives in our mailbox.
3. Reuse or repurpose stuff.
Have something that is too good to throw away? Try finding a new use for the item or transform it into something completely different. As I’ve stated earlier, we’ve become a disposable people, but generations before us knew how to be frugal and get the most use out of something before throwing it in the garbage. Some green-conscious creative folks have started re-using items such as pallets into all sorts of useful things and even art. If you don’t have a use for it, donate it to charity or give it to a neighbor. Remember, the less we use, the less we throw out.
4. Plant more native and drought-tolerant plants.
Water conservation is more important as ever before. With climate change, many states are finding themselves experiencing long-term drought. By planting drought tolerant plants, you’ll use less water yet keep your lawn and garden looking beautiful.
A lesson I’ve learned in the past few years is to plant native species of plants, trees and flowers. Not only do they thrive in their native environment, often requiring less water and maintenance, but they also help fight against invasive and often destructive artificially introduced species.
5. Plant for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Related to planting, be mindful of the type of plants you place in your garden. I always try to plant flowers or other plants that not only attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds but provide other benefits for them like places for nesting or making cocoons. As we are all aware now, there is now a species of bee that are on the endangered list. Be eco-mindful and provide safe, pesticide-free plants for our friends the bees. The Monarch Butterfly isn’t much better off. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that since 1990, approximately 1 billion butterflies have vanished! When I heard these numbers, I started planting Milkweed, a preferred habitat of the Monarch.
6. Carpool, bicycle or walk more.
It’s no secret that emissions from our vehicles cause some pollution. Did you know that nearly 30 percent of all United States emissions comes from our transportation? Even worse, that number will likely rise as the oil industry continues to extract oil from tar sands and shale. If we can use less oil, the better for us and the environment. Share that morning commute with your co-workers and friends. You’ll cut back emissions and save a bit of cash in the process. Or if you’re lucky enough to live close to your job or the shops, why not cycle or walk? Not only does it help the environment, but you get a great boost to your health.
7. Use less energy.
Another way to be eco-conscious is to conserve energy or better yet produce your own. By replacing your standard incandescent light bulbs with led ones, it reduces energy usage and led is also cooler, reducing the burden to cool your home as much. A simple gesture of lowering your thermostat by one degree could reduce your energy usage by one to three percent.
Producing your own energy has certainly gotten cheaper. Solar and wind power are becoming more commercially available. There’s even a new roofing material that is made up of small solar panels. If you live near running water and it is permissible, you could even try a water turbine to generate electricity. The best thing about these sources of energy, they’re free. You just need the equipment to collect all that glorious energy.
8. Grow your own food.
Now, this may seem more like a health tip, but by growing even a few vegetables each year, you are adding plants that produce oxygen, and it reduces the need to shop for groceries as much, which inadvertently reduces your energy bill. This also gives you a chance to grow heirloom varieties which are healthier and naturally created species. By avoiding GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds and planting natural and more native species, it’s a win-win. Natural, healthy plants that thrive in your region.
9. Support your local farmers' market.
If you don’t have a green thumb, an excellent option is to shop locally, as in your local farmers’ market. Here you not only support the local economy but get healthy, in-season food. By getting to know your local farmers, you get to learn how and where your food comes from. And if you really get acquainted, you might even get to see the farm itself. By buying locally, you are reducing energy usage. Having food trucked or flown in from hundreds if not thousands of miles is a huge energy expense in oil. Also, eating a more seasonal diet is kinder to the environment as you are not producing vegetables and fruit that aren’t in season which requires more energy and water to grow. Plus, the farmers tend to do crop rotation which is better for soil health and erosion.
Any of these simple activities may seem small, but if we each did our own small part, the impact could be enormous saving generations from dealing with the damage we’ve already caused by our uninformed and frivolous behavior. Make Earth Day every day, for your children and grandchildren’s future.