Each year on April 22, people from across the world come together to celebrate Earth Day and voice their support for a healthy, sustainable, and habitable future for our people and the planet.
Importantly, Earth Day is so much more than just a title or a formality. It represents a historic win for the goods guys and a continuing opportunity for mass participation in addressing environmental issues and protecting the world we live in.
Before we suggest some things you can do to take action this year, it’s worth taking a quick look at when this important day got started, how it continues today, and what we are trying to achieve by joining in.
History & Purpose of Earth Day
You may not be aware of it, but Earth Day has quite a track record of remarkable successes in pushing local and global action to protect the environment!
Honestly, we at Grow Ensemble didn’t know the half of it, but once we learned about the exceptionally effective, collective, and rapid changes made possible through Earth Day, we had to share.
To start, we have Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin to thank for Earth Day’s beginnings. Seeing the engagement and impact of anti-war protests, Senator Nelson sought to harness some of that energy to demand political action against some of the environmental abuses and disasters the United States faced. He planned to motivate change through public action, announcing a nationwide teach-in about the environment.
Senator Nelson teamed up with Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey of California to put his plan in motion. They also recruited 25-year-old Denis Hayes to coordinate the national event. (Hayes remained involved with each monumental Earth Day effort.)
This led to the first Earth Day celebration in 1970. Rallies and events energized cities, communities, and schools across the country (20 million people at the time), successfully bringing the environmental movement to the forefront of social and political conversations in the U.S. (Thank you, Senator Nelson!)
That same year, politics responded to the outcry with the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which allowed for increased monitoring and enforcement of the Clean Air Act. The Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act followed soon after.
Today, (hopefully) a recycling bin is a staple in every kitchen. But that wasn’t always the case. Recycling got a huge boost in 1990, when Earth Day went global, this time mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries. Ten years later, in 2000, Earth Day expanded once again, as hundreds of millions of people joined together in support of clean energy to tackle the threats of global warming and climate change.
Earth Day’s Theme
2020 was Earth Day’s 50th anniversary, and although many events went virtual due to the pandemic, the need for environmental action is more critical than it’s ever been. The theme for both 2020 and 2021 is (appropriately):
The stakes aren’t hypothetical anymore. We can see the devastation caused by climate change around the world, and this year we can all take our own actions to celebrate the endless potential in a zero-carbon future!
The goal of the Earth Day Network today is to “build the world’s largest environmental movement to drive transformative change for people and planet.” And historically it has done that through effectively “empowering individuals with the info, the tools, the messaging and the communities needed to make an impact and drive change.”
Earth Day is a symbol of unity. Everyone has the aligned goal of preserving our environment, and with everyone’s participation, we can achieve that goal.
Stop Wondering How to Celebrate Earth Day! We Have 16 Easy Options for You…
This year is very different from any April 22nd celebration before. Usually, large events bring communities together to learn, create, and grow the environmental movement. Of course, with coronavirus, the public events have been cancelled, but the celebration is moving ahead in full force.
Plus, for many of us, weekdays and weekends are blurred together these days, meaning that a Wednesday celebration may as well be a Saturday.
Although much of the world will be confined to their homes this year, there are many earth day activities still available to you, your family, and your friends. If Earth Day has taught us anything, it’s that small individual actions can make a big difference when aggregated with the collective efforts being made around the world.
Here are 16 simple ways to celebrate Earth Day this year!
One way to participate in the environmental celebrations on April 22nd is to engage in activities that will help you get to know the ecosystems you live in and allow you to contribute to the health of your surrounding environment.
1. Make a Bird Feeder for Your Yard
Birds play a critical role in our ecosystems. Making a bird feeder is a great opportunity to provide supplemental nutrition for your feathery neighbors and invite some natural action into your yard for many days to come. It’s also just a fun daily activity to track all of the birds that visit your feeder—channel your inner bird watcher.
Depending on how handy you are or how crafty you want to get, there is a range of options in terms of design and setup that will all open up your yard to more frequent visits from the birds in your area.
2. Build Your Garden
If you’re anything like us, starting a garden has been on your to-do list for years. Whether you are looking for an activity to fill the entire day or just an afternoon, this is your chance to start developing that green thumb.
If starting a full garden is a little beyond your interest right now, consider adding life to your existing yard. Step one, plant a tree! Planting trees in your community will benefit the whole neighborhood since trees are so important. Plus, a tree is a great permanent keepsake, representing your presence in your community as it grows bigger and bigger (that’s why we like to give trees as housewarming gifts!).
3. Show Your Plants Some Love and Maybe Share with Friends!
The best thing about terracotta pots? They look great in any room pretty much no matter what. Celebrate this Earth Day by decorating pots with your family—it’s the pumpkin carving of environmental celebrations.
If your plant game is really strong and you have room to be generous, consider sharing some of that plant love with your family and friends. Decorate pots as a gift and promulgate plants thriving in your home.
If this is your plan, let us know. We love plants….and we’re friends, right?
4. Start Composting
Yet another to-do list staple. The benefits of composting are endless. In addition to reducing your carbon footprint, you’ll also be reducing your spending. If you are able to compost a lot of your food waste, that’s less in your garbage, and that means, you can look into reducing the size of your garbage can that’s collected each week (saving you money!). It also means you’ll be able to produce your own healthy nutritious soil from food scraps without having to spend big bucks on the fancy dirt!
And we have good news: getting started with composting is not as complicated as you have been telling yourself it is. In the Earth Day spirit, get yourself, your household, or your relatives in the composting scene. You can get started with something as simple as a compost pile on your lawn with some food scraps!
Kick Plastic to the Curb
5. Invest in a Reusable Water Bottle
Eliminate plastic pollution from our homes, streets, and ultimately, our oceans. Reducing plastic is one of the biggest individual challenges, but its impact is huge! Join the global effort to eliminate single-use plastic and save our oceans by banning plastic water bottles from your house for Earth Day’s sake!
We’ve been fans of Klean Kanteen’s water bottles for a long time (even before we had the privilege of hosting Jim Osgood, former CEO of Klean Kanteen, on our podcast). Steel water bottles are not only better for the planet, but they have the power of maintaining the temperature of their contents—a power not shared by their evil sibling the plastic water bottle. It also gives you a place to put all those cool stickers you are so excited about.
6. Make the Transition to Reusable Grocery Bags
We are all familiar with the image of plastic products layering a shoreline or tragically filling the stomachs of our natural wildlife. At a time when we have been forced to be extremely intentional with our trips to the grocery store, it’s a great time to put the Kibosh on plastic bags since plastic pollution affects humans, our health, and the planet.
We got a set from the Sierra Club for Christmas that we love. Having a few of them means you are never short when making big restocking trips, and there’s enough to keep some in the car at all times so you never show up unprepared. If you opt for a canvas tote, you can turn this into an Earth Day craft activity as you decorate your new favorite grocery store accessory!
7. Stop Buying Plastic Ziplocks
Ziplocks are a kitchen sidekick on the way out! This Earth Day, opt-out of single-use plastic storage (or at least reduce what you’re using). Think of what you will do with all the money you don’t spend on a box of plastic baggies and the time you won’t spend making a grocery store run to get them!
Instead? Introduce your home to a sustainable option like Stasher. All the use of your average bag except healthier for the environment. Pick your color and enjoy your Earth day contribution every time you use them.
8. Volunteer or Donate to a Local Environmental Organization
Even with social distancing in action, some local environmental organizations have been able to continue operating and educating online! One of our favorites in San Antonio, Gardopia, has continued local events in the form of online lessons for starting, maintaining, and harvesting your at-home garden.
Check for any virtual events going on and show support for your local earth-lovers. If events have been postponed, consider donating, or if merch is available, invest in a shirt or a bag so you can promote their efforts all year long!
Reduce Waste Around the House
9. Commit to Water Use Reduction
First, like you already know, don’t forget to turn the faucet off when you brush your teeth and between washing dishes. Maybe this Earth Day you decide to take that effort to the next level.
About two-thirds of the average family’s water usage comes from the shower and the toilet. We aren’t saying you should stop using the toilet or stop showering…reduction is up to you and your family on that. But, for a low-risk, potentially high-impact change, get a shower timer. Something as simple as a 5-minute hourglass timer for your shower to prevent you from losing track of time can make all the difference in the world.
Can it still be an hourglass if it only times for 5 minutes? The world may never know.
10. Go Solar or Light Your Home with Eco-Friendly Bulbs
If you have the resources to get a solar system set up, now’s your chance! Check with your utility company to learn about options in your area.
But if not, what happens if you just choose to use more energy-efficient light bulbs? Well, you reduce the amount of energy consumption, you save money, and you reduce waste. Energy-efficient light bulbs use less energy (meaning they have less environmental impact) and they last longer (meaning fewer light bulbs to buy and fewer in landfills).
This change can make a big difference for the environment without disrupting your life. Why not make the jump? LED lights are also a great alternative! Check out these other tips to save energy at home this Earth Day (and beyond!).
11. Calculate Your Carbon Footprint
We’re not here to shame you, but calculating your carbon footprint is a great way to have a baseline understanding of how many resources you actually use. Carbon emissions are tricky beasts, but every action to reduce them counts! Our friends at Carbonbase have an awesome platform to get you started. Simply put in some data about your current living situation and planet-saving ways, and they’ll help you offset the rest. Carbon offsetting is an excellent tool we have to combat the harmful effects of carbon emissions, so why not do it for everything in your life?
12. Make the Most of Your Recycle Bin
You know that second trash can in the kitchen? Give it some love!
What does it mean to really maximize the use of that recycling bin though? Well, it means getting familiar with, and helping everyone in your home understand, what is actually recyclable. Maybe you just need a quick refresher.
Or, maybe it’s time to make an on the spot cheat sheet visible when someone goes to throw trash away—sounds like a good Earth Day art project to us!
13. Get rid of junk mail
Have you ever even considered it? Why would you!? A quick dump into the recycling bin or trash can has become an almost reflexive pit stop between your mailbox and your counter for most people.
But, what if you took the time to ask those companies to stop sending you mail at all. Reach out and unsubscribe in real life! It’s a tedious task, but well worth it for the environment and your sanity.
Get Intentional with Your Routine
14. Get Familiar with Your Local Farmers’ Market
We love our farmers and their markets! Check out your local farmers’ market and see what you can cross off your routine grocery store list for a farmers’ market replacement. Some of our favorites: produce, yogurts, spices, cheese, meats, kombucha, coffees, and dog treats.
Also bread…specifically jalapeno cheese sourdough bread…we love you, Sol y Luna Baking Company.
15. Go Vegan? Let Me Expla…
It could be a fun Earth Day activity, I promise! Just give it a chance. Look, the West’s high level of consumption of meats and dairy products is contributing to global warming. I’m not saying bail on all meat and cheese, but if there is a vegan alternative that you like, why not enjoy the substitute?
When does the fun come in? Well, you’ll never know if you don’t try: Have a vegan taste test. Lay out a platter or some vegan alternatives and have a group (in your home or virtually) put your food critic skills to work. Best case, you’re able to support sustainable food efforts; worst case, everyone gets to laugh at your “ew I don’t like it” face.
16. Avoid Reaching for the Car Keys
Fossil fuels are among the usual suspects for environmental damage. And Earth day is all about fighting against that harm. When you decide to venture out the door, take a second before you reach for your keys.
Plan beforehand for carpooling or consider a more leisurely mode of transportation like biking or walking. A 30-minute bike or walk is no more unreasonable than a 30-minute car ride. Maybe it’s time to start hanging up the car keys a little further from the door?
Whatever you decide to do this Earth Day, please join the celebration! There is so much work to be done, and that’s exactly why it’s so important to celebrate the wins we’ve already had, commemorate the day, and energize each other for the next steps we will all be taking together.
Co-Founder & Managing Editor, Grow Ensemble
I’m Annie Bright, co-founder of Grow Ensemble. I’m a researcher, writer, and editor with a focus on sustainability, social impact, and human rights.