In 1970, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson decided to create a national day to focus on the environment. After observing oil spills, inefficient vehicles crowding the roads, factory pollution and more, he realized how a polluted environment would affect human health both at the time and into the future. He assembled a team, and together they rallied the nation to celebrate the first ever Earth Day.
Fifty years later, environmentalism is something that has emerged from the shadows and is now celebrated daily rather than one day each year. We have seen firsthand the damage done by single-use plastics, chemicals released into the air, deforestation and much more. Celebrities have begun using their platforms to advocate for change, state and federal governments are creating new regulations, students are climate-striking from schools, and corporations are beginning to proactively take steps to become carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative.
In fact, all you need to do right now is search online for "environmental benefits of coronavirus" to find a silver lining during this pandemic. Greenhouse gas emissions have been slashed with the reduction of factory output, road traffic, air traffic and more.
So, what can we do as individuals, both right now and into the future? There isn’t much room to start another environmentally-focused holiday like Senator Nelson, and it can feel tough to make an impact when you’re only one person. Well, have you ever heard the phrase “the plastic straw that broke the camel’s back?” Okay, maybe the original saying doesn't feature a plastic straw, but you get what I'm saying. Eventually, if each person contributes to the same cause, the desired outcome will be achieved. This Earth Day and every day, here are some steps you can take to change the world.
- Skip the plastic bag. Single-use plastic bags that stores typically use to package up goods are detrimental to the environment. When thrown out, they end up in landfills and take time to decompose. Animals may attempt to eat them or get caught in them, both of which are harmful. Invest in a few reusable bags. Keep them in your trunk and carry them into the store with you. It’ll eliminate the use of the plastic bags you would have needed, and some stores even provide a discount for those who bring their own bags! An added bonus: you don’t need to worry about the bag tearing with heavy contents and shattering your jar of marinara sauce in the driveway. Right now, many stores are banning or limiting the use of personal bags to limit potential contamination. In that case, save the bags you receive at the store and find creative ways to recycle them—paper bag puppets, anyone?
- Use reusable dishes. As I've been doing my part in this pandemic and staying at home as often as possible, I've come to realize something: I have never washed so many dishes in my life. Eating every meal and snack at home has resulted in a mountainous pile of dishes by the end of each night, and washing dishes isn't exactly the most fun task. However, it's important to utilize reusable dishes instead of disposable ones. Single-use plastics take energy to make, and they typically aren't recyclable. Spending a little extra time to wash dishes each night is worth the waste you're saving in the long run.
- Avoid taking a car when possible. Obviously, none of us are doing much traveling these days. But hopefully that will pick up again soon and we'll be permitted to leave our houses for more than essential travel. When that does happen, try to avoid contributing to the emissions levels that will undoubtedly begin to rise again. Instead of harming the environment by driving a car, consider alternate ways of transportation. Walking and biking are both healthy and cost-effective options for getting to a nearby destination. Depending on your location, public transportation may be another viable way to save on emissions. In some situations and locations, the only logical option for transportation is using a car. In these instances, consider whether you can carpool with others to cut down on the amount of cars being utilized to reach the same destination.
- Be mindful of the products you buy. Do they use harmful chemicals? Were they made by a company with a large carbon footprint? Did they require excessive resources to be manufactured? For example, creating fabric for “fast fashion” brands typically generates exorbitant amounts of greenhouse gases. By doing a little research and becoming more conscious of how companies operate and how products are made, you can do your part in supporting carbon-neutral companies and purchasing ethically sourced and produced products that aren’t harming the environment by being manufactured.
- Use less paper. 40% of the world’s commercially cut timber is used for the production of paper. This website has a real-time counter to track the tons of paper produced every second, and the numbers are staggering. Consider all the places in your life where you could cut back on your paper usage. With the digital revolution, many have begun utilizing digital notebooks to write notes. Consider how your technology could replace the ways you currently use paper: taking notes, sending messages, etc. Cut back on printing documents when they can instead stay on your screen. Many companies like utilities, internet providers, cable providers and more are now offering the option to go paper-free and receive bills solely online instead of in the mail. Making this switch is a great way to use less paper in your daily life.
Although bringing a couple canvas bags to the grocery store or biking instead of driving might not feel like it’s making a difference, imagine how the world could change if everyone did the same. Each of us has the power to make a difference, and if we all work together, we have the power to change the world.
Happy Earth Day!