5 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day

Proposed by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson in 1969 and first celebrated in 1970, Earth Day has grown from a small, grassroots movement of nationwide demonstrations and “teach-ins” to a global celebration observed every April 22nd with worldwide rallies, service projects, and conferences.

That first Earth Day led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. A multitude of environmental legislation successes also followed, including expansion of the Clean Air Act, amendments to the Clean Water Act, and passage of the Endangered Species Act. An estimated 20 million Americans had taken part, and that number grew steadily, eventually causing the event to go global in 1990, with 200 million people in 141 countries getting involved. These days, more than one billion people in 195 countries participate in Earth Day activities, and the Earth Day Network assigns a different theme to each year’s celebration. This year, the campaign is End Plastic Pollution. Here are five ways that you can get involved:

Credit: Katie Caulfield
Credit: Katie Caulfield

1. Join a Trail Clean-Up Crew

Check out organizations like the Access Fund, Appalachian Mountain Club, Southeastern Climbers Coalition, or whatever equivalent is local to you to see if they’re hosting a trail clean-up nearby, and join the team! Picking up trail trash—which is, more often than not, plastic—not only helps prevent said waste from leaching chemicals into the soil and water and endangering wildlife, but it also makes spending time on the trail or at the crag far more enjoyable. No local crews to team up with? Start your own! All you need are a few friends and some garbage bags. Just make sure you keep the trash and recyclables separated, of course.

2. Host a Teach-In

Get back to Earth Day’s roots and help educate your community! If you’re a teacher, set aside some time the Friday before to start a conversation with your students about the dangers of improperly disposed-of plastics and ways they can be part of the solution. Troop leader of your child’s scout group? Gather up the den, and make sure the kiddos understand the “Five Rs of Recycling.” Willing to teach but not sure where to find an audience? Check in with your local gear shop, climbing gym, or community center, and ask about setting up an information table or leading a discussion on the perils of plastic.

Credit: Edmund Falkowski
Credit: Edmund Falkowski

3. Take Personal Responsibility

For the most part, good things don’t happen on a large scale, unless you work to make them happen in your own little bubble first. So, if you want to see the decline of plastic pollution on a global scale, you have to first cut down on the amount you use in your daily life. You can start by signing Greenpeace’s “Say No to Plastic Pollution” pledge. Once you’ve committed to reducing your usage, make sure you invest in a good reusable water bottle to ensure your hydration levels don’t take a hit as you cut ties with single-use containers.

Consider leaving a heavy-duty tote bag in your car to use when you’re out shopping. And, the next time you shop for beers to quench your post-adventure thirst, try to steer clear of cans that come in those old-school six-pack rings. If you have no other choice, be sure to cut the rings apart before you throw them away.

4. Practice Leave No Trace (Always!)

Each of the seven principles of Leave No Trace (LNT) is important. But, it seems as though people have the most difficulty adhering to the third one: “Dispose of waste properly.” The amount of times I’ve picked up other people’s trash—primarily plastic bottles and food wrappers—on the trail is staggering. Yet, if more individuals were mindful of their actions, the amount of plastic pollution in our wild places and waterways could be drastically reduced.

But, don’t practice proper waste disposal just on Earth Day. Make sure you adhere to LNT every time you head outdoors and pack out your trash. And, if you want to rack up extra karma, get in the habit of designating a pocket on your pack or taking a small garbage bag on your hikes for picking up trash others have left behind.

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5. Get Involved!

Supporting the Earth Day Network’s campaign to end plastic pollution is a noble endeavor. However, it’s far from the only way to celebrate Earth Day this year (or any year, for that matter). Our open spaces, public lands, and National Parks need all the help they can get, if we want future generations to be able to enjoy the outdoors the way we do now.

If you have the means, consider donating to an organization, such as the Access Fund, the Nature Conservancy, or the Sierra Club. Short on money, but have a little time to spare? Look up volunteer opportunities with groups like Wilderness Volunteers, the Surfrider Foundation, or with the National Parks System’s “Volunteer in Parks” (VIP) Program. Short on time, too? Then, simply take a few minutes to sign any number of petitions that have been created to stop the destruction of our outdoor playgrounds. Protect Our Public Land and the Wilderness Society’s Keep Public Lands in Public Hands are good places to start.

 

How will YOU be celebrating Earth Day this year? Share your plans with us in the comments!