Since 1970, people in the United States and countries around the world have been celebrating Earth Day with local events and acts of conservation -- but what about the other 364 days each year? The fossil fuels we rely on for energy release greenhouse gases that are linked to global warming and climate change. If things don't change, global carbon dioxide emissions are expected to rise by nearly 2 percent every year between 2004 and 2030, bringing with them floods, drought, disease and extreme weather [source: EPA]. There are small changes we can make in our lives to reduce our carbon footprints and improve the health of our planet. Have fun celebrating Earth Day, but don't let the calendar stop you from celebrating it in your everyday life.
Use Alternate Transportation
With the high rate of traffic congestion, it would seem cars are the only option for getting around town. When was the last time you left your car at home and walked or rode a bike, especially when your destination was only a short distance away? Walking, bicycling, public transportation, carpooling and ride sharing are all ways to green your transportation every day.
Not everyone is able to leave the car behind. Even if you're tied to your car there are actions you can take to reduce your carbon footprint. Consider your vehicle's fuel economy. A well-maintained car (which includes keeping your tires properly inflated) is more fuel-efficient. Driving smartly is also fuel-efficient: Reduce your speed, use your cruise control setting and avoid letting your car idle. Also, see as much as a 5 percent improvement in your fuel efficiency by removing the roof rack from your car [source: EPA]. And when it's time to buy a car, consider a hybrid or car that uses clean fuel.
If you're a typical American, you use more than your fair share of water. A family of four, for example, uses an average of 400 gallons (1,514 liters) of water every day [source: EPA]. While it may seem like an abundant resource -- roughly 70 percent of the Earth is covered by water, 2.5 percent of which is freshwater -- demands for freshwater are increasing around the world [source: The Global Change Program at University of Michigan].
There are simple ways to conserve water around your home, indoors and out. It's not about making drastic changes in your daily routine but many small changes that add up to a lot of gallons. If you choose a short shower over a bath you'll save nearly 60 gallons (227 liters) of water. Run only full loads in your dishwasher and washing machine. Also, don't put off making little repairs around the house, such as fixing a leaky faucet or toilet. That leaky toilet could be wasting about 200 gallons (757 liters) of water a day [source: EPA].
Outside your home, water your lawn and garden in the early morning; be stingy with fertilizers that can make your lawn thirsty; and consider using gray water techniques as another way to keep the tap turned off.
Practice Home Energy Efficiency
Practicing home energy efficiency may sound a bit overwhelming but it can be as simple as turning the thermostat down a couple degrees in the winter and up in the summer.
Other ways to conserve household energy include unplugging unused appliances and remembering to turn off the lights when you leave a room. Additionally, we could prevent carbon emissions equivalent to more than 800,000 cars if every American home replaced one incandescent lightbulb with a compact fluorescent (CFL) bulb [source: ENERGY STAR].
By choosing energy-efficient appliances and products you'll not only reduce your carbon footprint but you'll also save money. Consider that Energy Star and other energy-efficient products can help trim household energy bills by about 30 percent [source: EPA].
Buy Organic, Local and Fair Trade
Organic, local and fair trade foods and products all have a green advantage over conventionally farmed and produced goods. While organic foods can be local and fair trade certified, the three sometimes, but not always, overlap. Here are the differences:
Organic foods are grown under strictly controlled practices that promote healthy soil and water and reduce pollution. Organic methods discourage the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers in farming, and animals aren't given antibiotics and hormones. Look for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic label for foods that are certified organic.
Alternatively, try out locavore living. Locavores buy their food from farmers' markets, local farms (CSAs) and co-ops, and often grow their own gardens. Eating locally grown foods may mean forgoing fresh strawberries in December if you live in New England. It helps support the local economy and reduces the miles your food travels from farm to plate.
When a product is certified as fair trade it means it was produced under conditions that encourage environmental sustainability, fair prices, fair labor conditions, direct trade, democratic organization and community development. You can identify them by their label. Available products include coffee, tea and herbs, cocoa and chocolate, fruit, sugar, rice, flowers, honey and vanilla. Another bonus is that fair trade products are often also certified organic -- more than 60 percent of fair trade coffee sold in the United States fits that bill.
Since 1960, the amount of waste generated by a single person has nearly doubled from 2.7 to 4.6 pounds (1.2 to 2.0 kilograms) each day [source: EPA]. Trimming that weight is going to require daily effort from all of us, but luckily there are effortless ways to reduce, reuse and recycle.
The first step to recycling is to know what can and can't be recycled. Most communities make it easy for us to recycle aluminum, steel, plastic, glass and paper, either curbside or at a community collection center. You may not know that with a little research (do an online search) you can also recycle your old electronics, motor oil and other household waste -- you can even recycle old wine corks. Items not recycled can be reused: rather than throwing away your ill-fitting pants, make regular donations to your local Salvation Army or Goodwill.
Many people think mushrooms have the potential to be environmental game-changers by replacing some plastics, meats and even eating through landfill waste.
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More Great Links
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- "Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs for Consumers." ENERGY STAR - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=cfls.pr_cfls
- "Frequently Asked Questions - Basic." Transfair USA. 2008.http://www.transfairusa.org/content/resources/faq.php
- Gogoi, Pallavi. "The Local Food Movement's Many Faces." Business Week. 2008. http://images.businessweek.com/ss/08/05/0521_local_food/index_01.htm?campaign_id=msn
- "Greenhouse Gases, Climate Change, and Energy." Energy Information Administration (EIA). U.S. Department of Energy. 2008.http://www.eia.doe.gov/bookshelf/brochures/greenhouse/Chapter1.htm
- "Human Appropriation of the World's Fresh Water Supply." The Global Change Program. University of Michigan. 2006.http://www.globalchange.umich.edu/globalchange2/current/lectures/freshwater_supply/freshwater.html
- "On the Road." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2008.http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/wycd/road.html
- "Organic Food." LocalHarveset. http://www.localharvest.org/organic.jsp
- "Organic foods: Are they safer? More nutritious?" Mayo Clinic. 2008. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/organic-food/NU00255
- "Protect the Environment: At Home and in the Garden." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. http://www.epa.gov/epahome/home.htm
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- "Wastes - Resource Conservation - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2009. http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/rrr/reduce.htm
- "What is Earth Day?" Earth Day for Kids. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2004. http://www.epa.gov/superfund/kids/earthday.htm