10 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day

By: Julia Layton & Sarah Gleim  | 

kids showing love for Earth
Get the kids involved this Earth Day. There are lots of ways they can show they care about the environment. StockPlanets/Getty Images

When Ohio's Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969, it was one of the country's most polluted rivers. The city's industrial revolution had taken its toll: The oil and debris clogging the river had ignited nearly a dozen times before, and the river had developed quite a local reputation. Some described it as thick and wreaking of oil and sewage.

But this time, the flaming river gained national attention. This time it sparked an environmental movement that eventually inspired the Clean Water Act and prompted a small grassroots campaign to save the environment into a mainstream movement. That grassroots campaign would come to be known April 22, 1970, as Earth Day.

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Earth Day has been celebrated every year since 1970, and now more than 50 years later, its purpose remains the same: Encourage social and political action by drawing attention to the cause. Every year, around the world, the damaged state of the environment comes to the forefront, and millions of people take the opportunity to pitch in — if only for a day.

If you're one of those millions planning to lend a hand in honor of Earth Day, you may be wondering what exactly you can do. We've got 10 great ways to roll up your sleeves and get to work, whether you have five minutes, five hours or want to form habits that will last a lifetime.

10. Avoid the Car

teleworking
Avoid using your car on Earth Day. You can telework rather than commuting, or carpool if you simply must drive in to the office. Gary Yeowell/Getty Images

Since our cars are some of the greatest sources of pollution in our daily lives, it makes sense to start there. Even if you have a short commute to work, driving to and from your job could still be a major contributor to pollution. Let's break it down: If you drive 10 miles (16 kilometers) each way that means you consume about a 1 gallon (3.7 liters) of gas round-trip — at least.

But that single gallon of gas sends 20 pounds (9 kilograms) of carbon dioxide into the air. That's because 1 gallon of gasoline weighs about 6.3 pounds (2.3 kilograms) and that produces 20 pounds of carbon dioxide when burned. So by not burning that 1 gallon, you'll keep 20 pounds of greenhouse gas out of the air.

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So how will you get around? Consider carpooling, taking the bus or train, teleworking from home for the day, or, riding your bike if feasible. Then you'll be getting healthier right alongside the planet.

9. Skip the Bath

kid playing in shower
Don't take a long shower that will waste tons of water. Or better yet, don't take one at all. It certainly won't hurt you. Chris Tobin/Getty Images

If you consider the water shortages around the world, the amount of water we use to keep ourselves squeaky clean can seem a bit shocking. Consider this: The average American takes an eight-minute-long shower, and the average showerhead uses 2.5 gallons (9.4 liters) of water per minute. That means the average shower uses 20 gallons (75 liters) of water. To fill a hot tub it takes much more.

So on Earth Day, why not skip the long, hot shower and just stay slightly less than pristinely clean. Or at least just skip washing your hair today. You may even find it makes your hair look and feel healthier. Just don't stop washing your hands!

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8. Calculate Your Carbon Footprint

plane shadow
Calculate your carbon footprint this Earth Day. It's probably something you've never done before. Image Source/Getty Images/Image Source

We all leave a carbon footprint. If you drive, travel, order online, have air conditioning, etc. you have a carbon footprint. The good news is you can calculate your carbon footprint and that of your business. Why? It will help you determine how much you and your lifestyle contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Then you can take steps to reduce your carbon output by defining what and where your biggest emissions are. Or you can purchase carbon offsets to help balance them out. More on that next.

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7. Buy Carbon Offsets

lightbulb with plant
Now that you've calculated your carbon footprint, you can learn about, and buy, carbon offsets. Witthaya Prasongsin/Getty Images

So now that you've calculated your carbon footprint, you can consider purchasing carbon offsets. Many companies sell carbon offsets to both individuals and businesses. They basically work like this: You pay for enough clean power (wind or solar, typically) to cover the dirty power you use. People buy them to offset travel, home power usage and any other energy-heavy expenditure. Terrapass, Tentree and 8BillionTrees are just a few places you can purchase carbon offsets for Earth Day.

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6. Send Your Legislator an Email

computer keyboard
Let your voice be heard this Earth Day. Send your legislators an email or letter telling them how you feel about local and national eco issues. JakeOlimb/Getty Images

Writing an email might not seem like much, but it's very much in keeping with the spirit of Earth Day. Contacting your local representatives and senators — those with the power to make large-scale change through legislation — can have some pretty lasting consequences.

To find the name and contact information of your members of Congress, just go to the website for your state or local government. You'll find both email and mailing addresses, and you can call if that's more your thing. Just pick a cause that's important to you like clean water, forest preservation, air pollution or recycling and tell your congressman or congresswoman how you feel. If you know of pending legislation you can weigh in on, tell your representatives how you want them to vote. You never know when your opinion will have an effect. And get your kids in on it too. This can be a great civics lesson.

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Of course, the effect will be even bigger if you get some friends to write letters along with you. Earth Day email-writing party, anyone?

5. Volunteer

family cleaning up trash in park
One of the easiest things you can do to contribute to Earth Day is volunteer with a local organization. LWA/Dann Tardif/Getty Images

If you want to really be a part of Earth Day, there's nothing like joining other like-minded individuals in a common task. If you have the time, there are lots of opportunities out there where you can pitch in.

You can search the web for a list of Earth Day activities in your area. You can get in on cleaning up a park, or, if you have some extra time to get some pledges, doing a walk for a "green" charity.

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Or have some fun but skip the work. You'll find museum programs, festivals, parties in the park and parades on the list, too. Some hands-on fun at a science museum can be a great way to celebrate Earth Day with your family.

Organizations like the Sierra Club, EarthDay.org, The Nature Conservancy and even NASA also have tons of activities planned around Earth Day.

4. Plant a Tree

boys holding tree sapling
Kids love to get involved and what better way than to have them plant a tiny tree sapling that they can watch grow into a massive tree that can help reduce the carbon in the air. fstop123/Getty Images

There's no time like Earth Day to make your world a little greener, literally. Planting trees, bushes and any plant life will not only beautify your outdoor space, but it also will help absorb some of the CO2 from the air. In fact, in 2018 the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report suggests an additional 2.5 billion acres (1 billion hectares) of forest could limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) by 2050.

So why not get a jump-start on that by planting a tree in your yard. It will likely be around longer than you will, and aside from removing carbon from the air, it will also help prevent soil erosion. Just make sure that tree isn't something invasive or one that will require excessive watering. Remember, water's a valuable commodity.

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3. Change Your Light Bulbs

woman replacing light bulb
Something you can do inside your home to reduce your own energy costs is to replace your old, inefficient lightbulbs with energy efficient LED bulbs. Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Earth Day is as good a day as any to replace your lightbulbs with energy-saving light-emitting diodes (LED) bulbs. They're superior to compact fluorescents (CFLs) and can last 10 times longer than incandescents. They emit light in a narrow band wavelength so they're super energy-efficient. LEDs are more expensive than CFLs and incandescents, but they'll last around 25,000 hours (compare that to the 1,000 hours that incandescent bulbs typically last). Some stores might even have CFLs on sale for Earth Day, so make today the day you finally swap them all out.

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2. Start a Compost Bin

compost bin
Want free fertilizer for your garden? Start a compost bin! You can even get your neighbors to contribute. David Freund/Getty Images

Every time you throw out coffee grounds, veggie scraps or grass clippings into the trash, you're just adding to the all the waste going to the landfill. Tons of stuff can be composted instead of trashed — and compost is like gold for fertilizing your garden and yard. And once you set up a composting system — basically a bin in your kitchen to put in compostable waste, and a bin in your yard where it can decay — all that rich fertilizer is free.

Setting up a compost bin takes only a few hours. You can build your own out of wood, chicken wire or even an old trash bin; or you can save time and buy one at any garden or home-improvement store. It's an ideal way to celebrate Earth Day because it's not a one-time thing. You'll be reducing waste and building up your soil for as long as you stick with the program, which shouldn't be hard.

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1. Keep It Going

Earth Day conceptual
Don't make Earth Day one day a year. Keep up your eco habits all 365 days a year to make a big difference. sarayut Thaneerat/Getty Images

It's great to do something nice for the environment on Earth Day. What's even better is to keep it going after Earth Day and beyond.

So if you commemorate Earth Day by setting up a compost bin, make sure you stick with composting. Don't let it be just a short-lived exercise. If you skip a shower to conserve water, make it a habit to conserve water in other small ways, like only running the washer or the dishwasher when they have full loads.

Try to telework at least once or twice a week, or get a carpool together for the days you drive into the office. And don't just replace your lightbulbs, remember to turn the lights off when you leave the room. Make planting a tree on Earth Day a yearly tradition. Volunteer at an environmental organization as often as you can — monthly if possible. The Earth will thank you for it, and Earth Day will have done its job.

Originally Published: Apr 9, 2021

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