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10 Easy Ways to Make a Difference on Earth Day

Between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans each year, endangering aquatic life such as sea turtles, whales, and even the fish we put on our plates. Credit: Lystek.

Celebrated for the first time in 1970, Earth Day occurs annually on April 22 in 193 countries. Events are coordinated by the Earth Day Network.

That very first Earth Day led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as legislation such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. Today, more than any time before, there is an awareness of how our everyday actions impact the planet.

Even though we mean well, we may not always make the best decisions for the environment. After all, very few people will completely cut out animal products, buy an eco-friendly car, or stop taking showers.

Instead, try these 10 simple things that can make a big difference for our planet:


10. Turn the lights off when you leave a room

There’s always that person who will turn a light on every time they enter a room — and never turn it off.

Maybe it’s a neighbor whose porch light shines through your bedroom window all night long (thanks, Greg). Maybe it’s your roommate, and also your biggest pet peeve. Maybe it’s YOU. Regardless, turning lights off when they’re not being used saves both money and energy.

While you’re at it, you can also purchase energy efficient light bulbs. They reduce the amount of power you use, and save on your utility bill. They also tend to last a lot longer than your standard light bulb.


9. Turn off the water while brushing teeth

Toothbrush and toothpaste.

Brushing your teeth is a mindless habit; if you’re trying to get it done quickly, leaving the tap running is an easy thing to do. However, turning it off when you brush can save five gallons of water per day (equalling 1.5 billion gallons across the U.S.).

Taking it a step further, you can also reduce your shower time, share showers, only wash laundry on full loads, and maybe even forego a dishwasher. Okay, that last one might seem a bit extreme, but just incorporating one of those water-savers in your life makes a world of difference.


8. Adjust the household temp

Different households keep different rules when it comes to the thermostat.

There’s those of us who grew up with thermostat hawks, whose keen eye notices when the dial moves even one degree higher — and there’s those who simply can’t survive a house below 70 degrees.

Regardless, adjusting the temperature lower by that one measly degree can save you 10% on your yearly energy use. Another easy way to accomplish this is by turning off your heating and cooling when you’re away from home.


7. Buy local

Buying local meat and produce is good for your health, local farmers, and even the environment! It reduces pollution from the long-distance transportation of goods.

Moreover, small-time farmers usually generate less suffering and waste than the big names, and it feels good to contribute to more ethical farming practices.  


6. Cancel your paper bank/payroll statements

This can be a hard one for people who like to balance their checkbooks down to the penny. Habits like that are deeply ingrained, and you’ve probably been doing them for years.

But making the simple switch to paperless doesn’t mean you give up control of your finances. If you still want it on physical paper, keep a tally on a notepad (and use it until the last piece of paper). If every American household opted to go paperless, it would save enough money to send 17,000 college graduates to school each year.

Along the same vein, say “no” when vendors ask if you want a receipt.


5. Stay up to date on vehicle maintenance

Credit: Quartz.

There’s a reason they do emissions tests; make sure you’re getting regular oil changes and checks on your vehicle. If your engine is running right, the system can filter correctly, and it will be more fuel efficient. This not only reduces pollution, but saves you money on gas in the long run.

P.S. Taking those extra items out of your trunk will also save on fuel!


4. Use less napkins, paper towels and toilet paper

Americans lead the world by far in over-consumption of everyday products such as paper towels and toilet paper.

On average, we use about 50 pounds of toilet paper per year, or 57 squares of toilet tissue every day. This costs us six billion dollars a year. An easy way to reduce this would be to stay mindful of how much you’re using. Also, if you currently use 3-ply or more, consider buying 2-ply or even 1-ply instead.

For napkins and paper towels, make more use out of household dish and hand towels. They can be washed and reused, which saves you money as well.


3. Donate old items and clothes (and shop second hand)

Don’t throw away things that can still be used. Instead, pack them in a box and take them to your local food bank, homeless shelter, charity or second hand store.

If you bring your clothing to a consignment shop, you even get a percentage of the selling price. Another way to benefit from recycling unwanted goods is to sell them on your own; using eBay, Craigslist or other sites. This ensures that your items don’t end up in a landfill.

You can also buy things second hand. Packaging materials are one of our biggest sources of waste. Most often, the things you buy in stores come with at least one form of packaging — even if it’s just the bag you carry out.

In this way, buying second hand is a great way to help the environment and your pocketbook. It also feels good to know you aren’t helping corporations that pay their workers too little, or even use child labor in other countries.


2. Stop using plastic straws — buy reusable ones instead!

Plastic straws have been a big topic in the news lately, since cities across America have vowed to ban them. Starbucks even promised to stop offering them, along with their iconic green sippers, by the year 2020.

This may seem like it’s come out of nowhere, but many regard the plastic straw ban as an important first step toward banning plastic completely. In fact, plastic bags, utensils and to-go containers are becoming harder and harder to find — especially within big-city limits.

Business Insider reported that the world used 300 million metric tonnes of plastic in 2015. With that math, we each individually create 88 pounds of plastic per annum. Straws are really just the tip of the iceberg.

So, why does it matter? If straws are that small in the bigger scheme of things, what’s the problem with getting one in your coke or frappuccino every once in awhile?

Refusing a straw, or investing in reusable straws like this set for under $7 on Amazon, teaches us that it’s not as hard as we think to reduce our plastic consumption. Think of straws as a gateway drug; if we make the decision to use a straw, it’s that much easier to use other plastics along with it.


1. Cut out plastic water bottles for good

Credit: AquaBlog.

You may be saying: “But I recycle all of my bottles! What’s the big deal?”

What you don’t know is that over 79% of all plastic waste ends up in landfills, or gets trapped in the natural world (i.e., our parks, beaches and oceans).

Even if you’ve made the effort to recycle, another 12% of your bottles will be incinerated, going straight into the atmosphere. Only 9% will actually be recycled and remade into something else.

While recycling was a big move for America in the ‘70s, it’s now time to replace it with the word “refuse”. Simply put: we have the knowledge and resources to do better now. Instead of wasting your money on plastic water bottles, invest in a reusable one (that will actually keep your water cold!). You can get them as cheap as this $2.58 one off Discount Mugs.   

You can even take it a step further and buy travel mugs for other drinks, like coffee and sodas.

“The more you practice doing something, the less effort it takes,” says social psychologist John Bargh.


Happy Earth Day

If you already do any of these things, keep them up! You’ve got a head start, and you’re doing what you can to make the earth a cleaner, healthier place for us all to live.

For people interested in ramping up their environmental protection, check out goingzerowaste.

“Zero waste” is a movement that aims to lessen our impact on the planet by limiting the amount of waste we produce. Essentially, the goal is to reduce and reuse as much as we can, so we’re not sending anything to a landfill.

A final tip: enjoy the beauty of our planet, and catch the Lyrids meteor shower! It’s expected to peak at 20 meteors per hour tonight, and last into tomorrow morning.


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