13 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day, Every Day
Earth Day is always a great time to recognize the Earth’s natural beauty — and to start taking steps to reduce your family’s impact on the environment. Here’s a list of simple actions we regularly take in our own family to support the planet. We’re not perfect by any means, but we strive to be conscious of our ecological footprint. If you’re new to environmental actions or causes, you don’t have to do everything on this list all at one time. Start small, and build your list from there.
To borrow from the great John Lennon: “It’s easy if you try.”
- Go outside, dig in the dirt and plant something. A tree, a vegetable, a flower. Start with a sapling or a seed. Have your kids take care of the watering, and watch their eyes light up as their little sprouts grow.
- Start recycling, if you’re not already. Teach your kids about why it’s important to recycle, and talk to them about the items that can be recycled. You can even be all hip and techy and show them a YouTube video about recycling like this one. We’re lucky to have single-stream recycling in our neighborhood, where we can toss all of our glass, plastic, metal and paper all into one container, which is picked up weekly by a service. If your community doesn’t recycle, call them and ask why not. Then, ask again. Take action. Start a petition if you have to.
- Build a birdhouse or a birdfeeder with your kids, then let them paint it. Watch the birdies come. Watch your kids giggle and squeal with delight and scare the birdies away.
- Start composting. You can make your own composter or purchase one. Save your yard trimmings and food scraps (no grease, meat or bones, please) and add them to your compost pile. Give it a stir every once in a while, and in a few months you’ll have the richest planting soil you’ve ever seen.
- Stop using paper towels for everything. We gave up paper towels more than three years ago, and never looked back. We used to go through one of those industrial-sized Sam’s Club paper towel packs every month or so. If we had a tiny little spill? We grabbed a paper towel. Needed to wipe off the counter? Grabbed a paper towel. Wanted to clean the fingerprints off the bathroom mirror? Grabbed a paper towel. It was W-A-S-T-E-F-U-L. Yes, we still keep one roll on hand for emergencies like bacon grease and cat vomit, but one single roll of paper towels now lasts us 3 months or more. We use good-old fashioned dish cloths and a pile of old rags instead.
- Green your clean. Try swapping out all of your chemical cleaners for plant-based or homemade ones. Guess what our grandparents used to clean? Vinegar. Guess what else? It works. It won’t kill all forms of bacteria – keep a bottle of disinfecting bleach on hand for the tough jobs — but for general household cleaning, vinegar mixes do the job. See? Now you have a new excuse to waste time on, er, visit Pinterest.
- BYOB – Bring your own bags. Instead of using those environmentally caustic, sea-turtle-suffocating plastic shopping bags, take reusable shopping bags to the grocery store. Recycle the stockpile of bags you have at home if your community allows it. It’s ok to keep a few on hand for emergencies like cat vomit and bacon grease, but you don’t need to hoard a giant collection of Target shopping bags. Not convinced? Check out the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
- Reduce and reuse. Have your kids help you clear out the clutter. Donate what you don’t use anymore to local shelters or non-profits that could use it. Try to figure out ways to repurpose previously purchased items. Turn that old stack of pallets in your backyard into a hip outdoor couch. That old dresser from your great aunt’s house? Refinish that baby and turn it into your new TV stand. Also, we are active members of Freecycle, a grassroots group of members who donate and ask for free stuff within the boundaries of their hometowns to keep it out of the landfill.
- Take walks in a local park or nature reserve. Talk to your kids about what they see. Teach them how to skip a stone across a pond. Raining? Take an umbrella and let them dance amongst the drops. Let them get muddy. As the saying goes, “God made dirt, and dirt don’t hurt.”
- Buy locally produced food, when you can. In our region, we’re lucky to be surrounded by an abundance of produce, dairy and beef farms. We shop at farmer’s markets when available and purchase locally produced food as often as possible. It may not be as convenient as one-stop shopping at a commercial grocery store, but you just can’t beat the quality of food that comes straight from a farm. Besides, the value of shopping locally when possible cannot be overestimated!
- Skip the big-box home improvement stores, at first. Find out if there is a builder-material-reuse retailer in your area. In Pittsburgh, we have Construction Junction, where you can find everything from doors and window frames to kitchen cabinets and office furniture to toilets and cool-as-heck clawfoot tubs ripped from Victorian mansions. We also have a few local Habitat for Humanity Restores, which sell new and gently used home building materials at a significant discounts; all proceeds from these stores are used to build homes both locally and around the world.
- Stop relying on single-use plastic water bottles. Buy a few nice, reusable bottles like this favorite of mine from Kleen Kanteen. Get your kids using them, too. It’s ok to keep bottled water on hand for emergencies, but stop using them every time you reach for a drink. Not feeling it? Too inconvenient? Revisit the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” in Number 7.
- Get involved in your own backyard. As Ghandi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Not sure where to start? Check out All at Once, a social action network started by one of my all-time favorite singer songwriters, Jack Johnson. There you’ll find a variety of causes that support local food systems, plastic-free initiatives, environmental education, ocean and watershed conservation efforts and everything else environmental that you can think of. If you own a business, consider signing up with 1% for the Planet, a massive network of businesses that is committed to donating 1% of their profits to environmental causes.
How does your family celebrate Earth Day? Share your ideas in the comments below!