Earth Day was born in 1970, to help Americans to understand that taking care of the environment was not just a fad invented by hippie culture. In 2009, the United Nations designated April 22 as International Mother Earth Day, and it is now celebrated by nearly 200 countries. Whether you set aside some time to enjoy nature to take part in clean-up efforts or other sustainability practices, you’ll end the day with a greater appreciation of the planet. Your efforts, no matter how small, make a difference.
Here’s how you can celebrate Earth Day this year, both in person and online.
In recent years, EarthDay.org has started taking Earth Day’s 50 years of existence in a slightly different direction with virtual toolkits that will help families understand climate change and sustainability. Similarly, the #DoJust1Thing campaign by Earth Day Initiative goes virtual to ask you to pledge to do just one thing to help stop climate change.
Head to the park
It just so happens that Earth Day is in the middle of National Park Week. That means that from April 17 to 25, national parks usually host a variety of events and activities. All entrance fees are waived on April 17. Parks will have activities for all ages, including Junior Ranger Day on Saturday, April 24. The NPS Kids Portal can help you discover nature with your child. You can share your Junior Ranger discoveries or memories of your favorite National Park on social media using #EarthDay and #FindYourPark or #EncuentraTuParque.
The National Park Service is following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and is modifying its operations for healthy and safety reasons; those modifications can vary widely according to the location. Check with individual parks regarding changes to park operations.
Do not go to a park of any kind without checking the current guidelines on gathering, as well as any changes or closures of parks and park facilities in your area. The NPS website states: “If you choose to visit a national park, please ensure that you follow CDC and state and local guidelines to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and practice Leave No Trace principles.”
Alternatively, take your celebration to the backyard. Pack a picnic lunch and pull out the old blanket for a lounge in the grass. Spend some time getting to know the plant and animal life that exists in your very own backyard.
Adopt the road or street in front of your house and pick up litter. Take a grabber tool with you, or put on on gloves and collect the trash that is dropped or blows into your neighborhood. Call your city hall and ask about organizing a clean up of your local park or downtown area. Recycle aluminum cans or separate recyclable items. Create your own community version of Vermont’s Green Up Day and make your piece of the world a little healthier. You can still make a global statement while staying home.
Change your containers
Take a look at your kitchen cupboards. Can you buy some often-used products in bulk instead of purchasing smaller packages that will eventually go to the landfill? Buy local and take your own container – have the container weighed and marked at customer service or at the cheese or deli counter, and the checkout clerk will take off the weight of the container. A glass jar can be used for anything from milk to honey at a local coop, and reusable grocery bags are welcomed at farmer’s markets. Call your favorite grocer and ask about their current guidelines for reusable bags or containers.
Celebrate with others
Many cities and towns used to celebrate Earth Day by holding festivals or community clean-ups. The year 2020 was a bit different, and required a different action plan. In 2021, Earth Day will still be going digital, so be a part of the global party by checking in to Earth Day Live on April 22, 2021.
Give it up for the cause
Donate used items to a resource center instead of taking them to the landfill. ReStores works with Habitat for Humanity to build affordable homes and help others have better lives. The Deconstruction and ReUse Network focuses on taking apart and reusing building items to use in other projects. TimeBanks USA uses hours as currency to improve lives and build community. Freecycle is a network that allows members to give items for free instead of sending them to the landfill; Buy Nothing groups on Facebook are similar. Use distancing and cleaning guidelines if you receive or give items.
Invest in a water bottle
Plastic water bottles can be replaced with a reusable bottle and a water filter, and will help reduce the tons of bottle waste every year. Contact your local government office for information on available recycling programs.
Flip the switch
Use Smart Strips for electronics and reduce the amount of “trickle” energy usage. We all know that lights should be turned off when we leave the room, but how about unplugging other appliances, like coffee makers, toasters or radios? Try designating Earth Day as a day without television or video games. Leave your car in the driveway and never idle the motor while waiting – it wastes more gas and money than restarting the car. Brush up on your biking skills – or take out those ’70s roller skates for a roll down the boardwalk.
Ditch the straw
Like sipping through straws? More than 500 million plastic straws are used and tossed every day in the United States, littering landfills and finding their way into our waterways and oceans. Consider going straw-free. Cities including Miami Beach, Seattle and Malibu have implemented a ban on plastic drinking straws to combat the problem. Get a reusable stainless steel, bamboo or glass straw with a carrying case if you prefer to sip.
Bring your own cup
Most coffee shops and places with fountain drink machines allow you to fill or refill a personal reusable cup. Keep an extra clean reusable cup in your car for those times you forget. Think about all that paper or (shudder) styrofoam you toss every week; you can stop a garbage bag of waste going to a landfill simply by carrying a reusable cup.
But in 2020, the focus changed, and many companies like Starbucks and Dunkin’ paused their reusable container services. If your location is still taking these safety measures, take the cup you’ve been given and ask for a paper one if possible. But don’t toss it in the garbage bin after you’ve emptied it; think of creative ways to reuse it. Wash it with soap and water, dry, and stack for use at home. Fill with soil and plant seeds, or cut apart to use as seed markers or cord labels.
Leave the plasticware behind
Most of us have been ordering a lot of take-out lately. If you order a meal from your local restaurant, ask that they do not include plastic flatware, paper napkins or packages of condiments. Instead, use what you have at home, and reduce the waste.
Dress for the planet
Share clothing or shop thrift shops for items to add to your wardrobe. Take the initiative and start a clothing swap of your own in your neighborhood or among family members or schedule an online swap with friends on Zoom or other digital meeting places. Now is a good time to learn to repair your clothing by mending rips or tears, replacing lost buttons, or even fixing floppy soles on sneakers. Choose clothing made from earth-friendly materials instead of micro-fiber or other synthetic fibers. Use planet-friendly hair ties, or wear clothing from eco-conscious companies such as these. Better yet, make your own hair ties from those lonely socks without mates.
Learn and grow
Find a class to learn more about the planet. The Farm Bureau offers master gardening or urban forestry classes in almost every state. The Smiling Gardener’s free course will help you grow your own food. Victory Gardens are surging back, so think about starting a small garden if you have even a little space. Take other free online sustainability courses here.
Read out loud
As the Lorax said in Dr. Seuss’ book of the same name, “I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues. … Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Reading books can help children learn about the earth and the importance of our stewardship. Reading for the Earth is a nationwide program for grades K-8 that promotes reading of environmentally themed books during the month of April. Read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring; published in 1962, the book helped raise awareness about the plight of the planet.
Make sure to check out your local Living on the Cheap network site for other ideas.
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