Today is Earth Day, a day celebrated every year on April 22nd that commemorates the founding of the modern environmental movement. During the first ever Earth Day in 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets to demand greater protections for the environment. This direct action resulted in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the passage through congress and signing into law of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.
Since then, Earth Day has become a global day of celebration of our home planet, and recognition that it needs help. As time goes by, it becomes clearer that every day should be treated like Earth Day, and really, when you live on the Earth, every day really is Earth Day!
Be conscious of your waste
Recycling is an important tool for environmentally conscious action. Many items, like glass and metal, and be recycled over and over again indefinitely. Other items, like paper and plastic, can often only be recycled so many times before they end up in the garbage. And here’s a fact to chew on: every bit of plastic ever made still exists somewhere. Plastic cannot be biodegraded.
So in every sense, recycling is important but it isn’t the cure-all to our problems with waste and pollution. We have to be conscious about the items we throw away before we even buy them.
- Buy items in bulk when you can using reusable containers.
- Remember to bring your reusable shopping bags when you visit the grocer.
- Bring a reusable thermos to the coffee shop, and instead of buying beverages in bottles, visit the source and fill up a growler.
Finally, there’s composting. About a quarter of the total waste we create is compostable. For a some, composting is simply out of reach. It’s hard to do it in neighborhoods that might have ordinances against it or if you live in an apartment. But if it’s important to you, don’t take no as an answer. Take no as a question. Consider organizing with your neighbors for a community composting program, or consult with local nurseries, garden centers, and farms about ways to compost.
Hold your leaders accountable
Politics is messy and sometimes it’s better to leave it alone. But like it or not, Earth Day is a day rooted in political action and your voice is important. 20 million Americans in 1970 proved that without a shadow of a doubt. Make it a point to frequently send your elected leaders a note encouraging them to make the environment a priority. If you are fortunate enough to be represented by people who already prioritize the environment, let them know that it’s the right choice and you support them for it.
If you’d like to take it a step further, start talking to friends and neighbors about organizing around the environment. Host town halls for the environment and invite your representatives to hear from their constituents. And of course, don’t forget to cast your vote on election day for the candidate who best serves your interests.
There’s also always the option to run for office if your representative isn’t doing a good enough job!
We started off this blog with trash and politics. Ew! But don’t worry, we just wanted to get the nasty stuff out of the way early so we can talk about truly fun things like planting trees!
Here at tentree, we love planting trees. We’ve planted 20 million so far! We plant 10 trees for each item purchased in our store, and this month, if you pledge to say no to to paper cups, plastic bags, plastic cutlery, or plastic straws, we’ll plant 1 tree for you. Take the pledge today!
Planting trees has an enormous impact not just on the environment but on our lives as well. In cities, added greenery helps reduce stress and illness and can improve property values. Around the world in developing countries, reforestation often comes with the added boost of getting locals out of extreme poverty and back on their feet. Of the 1.3 billion humans living in extreme poverty, forests directly contribute to about 90% of their livelihoods.
If you aren’t sure where to begin, there are tons of really excellent organizations you can donate to to plant on your behalf. We work directly with Eden Reforestation Projects, Trees For The Future, and Plant With Purpose, and any of those organizations are deserving of your dollars.
Reduce your animal intake
We don’t want to get involved in the great debate over whether being an omnivore, a vegetarian, or a vegan is best. But we are able to look at the facts, which in this area are abundant, and see that farming animals has an enormous impact on the natural environment. Animal agriculture has a large carbon footprint and, depending on how it’s raised, a profoundly negative impact on the surrounding environment.
Your dietary choices are up to you, but we do encourage meat eaters to reduce their intake of meat. Having a meatless Monday, for example, will reduce your weekly meat consumption by about 15%. If everyone did that, it would have the same impact as removing 240 million cars from the road for the year.
Already vegetarian or vegan? You’re not quite off the hook! While we challenge meat eaters to reduce their meat intake, we also challenge you to reduce your processed food intake. While plant-based processed foods have a smaller footprint than meat, it’s still greater than whole foods. So while your omnivorous friends are chowing down on broccoli and spinach on Monday, see if you can commit to an unprocessed food Monday too!
Walk, bike, or use mass transit
This is a tough one, but it’s one that pays off in big ways. Driving less is a good way to use less energy and reduce your carbon footprint. If your company has a carpooling program, consider joining. If it doesn’t have one, try organizing one.
We’re personally committed to this as a company as well. Currently, more than half of our employees walk, bike, or take mass transportation to work. Those who still drive have to pay a small fee to park, which goes toward offsetting the carbon footprint of their daily commute to work.
So think about the places you have to go in a day or in a week. How many of them are within a mile? Is your neighborhood walkable or bike friendly? How’s the bus system? See if you can avoid driving even just one time each week.
Make your home an energy efficient smart-home
If the lights are on, the heat is going, or your air conditioning is cranked up, you’re using fossil fuels. In the United States, a majority of electricity generated is produced with fossil fuels. We are in the midst of a renewable energy revolution, but renewables like solar are difficult for the average family to afford.
Still, there is something you can do: you can make your home into the ultimate, energy efficient smart-home. LED light bulbs have gone way down in price, last so much longer than incandescent bulbs, and use a tenth of the energy. Programmable thermostats can cut your heating and cooling bills by 30%. Pressure-compensating low flow showerheads and faucet aerators can cut hundreds off your electric and gas bills every year and the savings from a low-flow toilet add up too.
Larger projects, like adding a solar-powered attic fan, insulating your walls, upgrading to energy star appliances, and replacing older windows with new, double-pane windows have an enormous positive impact on your bills, and the environment, as well.
If it can be bought, it can be bought used. Well, usually
Alongside recycling and reducing there is reusing, and one way to reuse items is to simply buy them used. Depending on availability, it can be said that just about anything that can be bought new can be bought used. Well, usually. If someone tries to sell you used toilet paper, definitely spend some time considering the purchase before buying!
Ask anyone who’s ever worked for a major thrift store: just about everything you could possibly need comes through their doors and in decent condition too. Everything from appliances to clothes to housewares can be found in good condition and at a steep discount. And when you buy used, you eliminate some of the demand for new goods, which carries with it a higher environmental cost.
New products requires more energy, resources, and in the end result in a larger carbon footprint. Of course, with any item you use, if you’re ready to say goodbye to it, give it a second life by donating to a local thrift store.
There are a number of benefits to choosing to buy local, both environmental and economic. Buying locally keeps your money in the local economy. One study conducted in 2002 found that for every $100 spent at a chain bookstore, only $13 remained in the local economy. Whereas $100 spent at a locally owned bookstore resulted in $45 staying in the local economy. Buying local keeps small businesses open, helps your friends and neighbors keep their jobs, and promotes a sense of community.
But buying local, especially when it comes to food, has a positive environmental impact as well. Food bought in large, chain grocery stores often travels an incredible distance to hit the shelf at your local market. Locally grown food, however, doesn’t have that enormous carbon footprint. Another benefit to buying local is keeping smaller farming operations up and running. When farms go out of business, the land is often purchased by developers to be built up.
Plant native flowers
It’s no secret that around the world, pollinators are in decline. There are a number of reasons why this is happening, from a rapidly changing climate to pesticides. But one reason it’s believed that bees are suffering is due to lack of food diversity. Fields that may have been full of a wide variety of local flowers are being removed and replaced with farms that grow only one crop as well as homes and other buildings.
One way that you can help your local pollinators this spring is by planting a wide variety of native flowers. Bees will travel as far as 3 kilometers to find food sources, so your flowers will likely be feeding many hives.
Finally, one of the best ways to protect the Earth is by simply being present in nature. Experiencing nature frequently instills in us a drive to do everything we can to protect it. Just be mindful of your impact on it. Stay on the trail and pack out anything you pack in. For extra credit, bring a sack with you to fill with litter others may have left behind. But most of all, enjoy the beauty this planet has to offer every day.