Dig In and Celebrate Earth Day
Learn the ABCs of Earth Day, test your eco-knowledge and discover some small ways your family can make a difference this spring.
by Melanie Wagner and Ann Hardie
April 22, 2013, marks the 43th anniversary of Earth Day, which began in San Francisco as a day for the world to honor nature and the environment. Celebrate by having a picnic, skipping some rocks or climbing a mountain.
Ride a bike. Only 2.5 percent of American kids who live within two miles of school bike there, but together these children are saving nearly 100,000 gallons of gas every day. Or drink from a reusable water bottle. Don’t contribute to the growing numbers of Americans drinking from 29 billion plastic water bottles per year.
Understand climate change, or global warming. Earth has warmed by about 1 degree Fahrenheit over the past 100 years. Scientists don’t know why, but many think that the things people do like driving cars and cutting down trees may help to make the Earth warmer. For a kid’s guide to climate change, see epa.gov/climatechange/kids.
Cloth or disposable diapers? Turns out both present problems for the environment, especially since the average baby goes through 5,000 of them before moving on to big kid underwear. Disposable diapers sit – and sit – in landfills for eternity, but it takes a lot of water to launder the cloth kind. More and more companies are coming out with disposable products made from more eco-friendly materials, some even biodegradable. Also check out gDiapers.com for the latest hybrid in diapering.
Since Americans own approximately 24 electronic products per household, from TVs to computers, cell phones and camcorders, consider e-cycling when you’re done with them. Find more information on how to discard used electronics and keep the hazardous materials they contain out of landfills at epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/ecycling.
Cut down on toxic fertilizer use by leaving your grass clippings on the lawn after you mow. If families reduced their use of typical fertilizer by 25 percent by switching to “grass-cycling,” they would spare the Earth 1.3 billion pounds of chemical fertilizers.
The Green Book by Elizabeth Rogers and Thomas M. Kostigen. This pretty New York Times bestseller offers hundreds of tips on how to green up your life (many in this article), from how to purchase eco-friendly products such as office supplies and makeup to simple lifestyle changes to protect the environment. Throughout the book, celebrities, including Jennifer Aniston and Tim McGraw, pen essays on the changes they’ve made to go green.
Seventeen car manufacturers now offer hybrid models. Hybrids combine a gasoline engine and an electric motor to power the vehicle and use less fuel. A hybrid vehicle can save you up to $1,500 in gas money a year while sparing the Earth many pounds of pollutant emissions.
Homeowners can help fight global warming and save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs by better insulating and sealing outside walls, ceilings, windows and floors. For tips how, visit energy.gov.
Given all those credit card offers and glitzy catalogs, the average adult receives 41 pounds of junk mail each year. Recycle that junk. Also explore how free sites like catalogchoice.org or fee-based sites like 41pounds.org can help prevent your home from becoming a paper junkyard and save the environment at the same time.
Kids Making a Difference is a nonprofit organization formed in 2000 by a then 8-year-old animal rights activist who raised money to help save endangered manatees. The organization, kmad.org, now serves as a forum for young activists to share projects and ideas about animal protection, including raising money for animal shelters and encouraging classrooms to “adopt” endangered animals.
LEED, short for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is an internationally recognized building rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council that sets standards for environmentally sustainable design, construction and operation of buildings and neighborhoods. For more information, see usgbc.org
In Greek mythology, the phrase “Mother Earth” stems from the myth of Demeter – goddess of the harvest or “earth mother” – and her daughter Persephone, who was captured by Hades and taken to the underworld. Demeter deprived the Earth of a plentiful harvest until her daughter was returned to her, so the story goes.
Cutting down on nighttime power use can lessen next month’s power bill. When you head to bed, turn down the thermostat or turn up the air conditioner two degrees – each degree saves about 1 percent on your heating costs and carbon emissions. Turn off power strips and unplug electronics like your computer and cell phone charger. Standby power (electronics that are plugged in but turned off or not in use) can account for almost 20 percent of home energy use.
Pesticide-free organic food is great for your body but can be rough on your wallet. One way to split the difference is to purchase organic fruits and vegetables that, when grown conventionally, contain the most pesticides. The nonprofit research group Environmental Working Group has identified the most pesticide-rich produce as peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines and strawberries. By contrast, onions, avocados, sweet corn, pineapple, mangos and asparagus are grown with the least pesticides. For more items, see ewg.org.
Plant a tree. Plant some flowers. Plant a shrub. Trees and other plants are this planet’s main source of oxygen. They are on the job 24 hours a day, working to improve the environment by taking in carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen.
Test your Earth Day smarts with this quiz, from the Environmental Protection Agency and CNN:
Q. Which creates more pollution, the average home or the average car?
A. The average home.
Q. What does AQI stand for?
A. Air Quality Index. This daily report details how clean or polluted the air in your neighborhood is. Visit airnow.gov to check your AQI.
Q. How many gallons of water does the average American home consume per day?
A. 50 gallons.
Q. About how many pieces of copy paper does the average 40-foot tree produce?
A. 8,000 sheets.
Q. Which appliance uses the most electricity if run the same amount of time: hair dryer, space heater, computer and monitor, or water heater?
A. A water heater uses about 4,000 watts, more than double other appliances.
Recycle. Enough said. Most of the trash in the United States is made of paper. Every year Americans throw away enough paper to make a 12-foot-high wall that reaches from California to New York. Nearly 80 percent of all paper can be recycled.
Say so long to Styrofoam, which can sit in landfills for hundreds and hundreds of years. Take paper plates on picnics or buy eggs in cardboard containers.
Choose toys made of sustainable wood or organic cotton. These products don’t contain harmful toxins sometimes found in plastic toys, like phthalates, the chemicals that make plastic durable, flexible and transparent. Phthalates are harmful to the environment and a child’s health. Because sustainable toys are more expensive than the typical plastic kind, consider substituting your collection with a few that will last.
Rather than tossing those empty juice boxes and cookie wrappers, why not get paid for them? Upcycling is the process of turning trash into treasures. Companies like TerraCycle – terracycle.net – collect drink pouches, yogurt containers, candy wrappers, office and beauty supplies, and more and turn them into bags, holiday bows, school supplies and other useful items.
Visit one of Atlanta’s natural attractions like the Chattahoochee, Dunwoody and Elachee nature centers, Autrey Mill Nature Preserve and Kennesaw Mountain. Or learn about exotic and indigenous plants at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Or you may want to take in the beauty of Georgia’s state parks – visit gastateparks.org for a complete list.
Water, water everywhere, but only 1 percent is available to drink, whereas 97 percent of the Earth’s water is salty or unfit to drink and another 2 percent is frozen in glaciers and polar ice caps. Save this precious resource by turning off the faucet while you scrub dishes, brush your teeth or shave. Of all household water uses, a 10-minute shower uses the most: 30-50 gallons! Washing a load of clothes uses between 25-40 gallons, and flushing the toilet takes 2-7 gallons.
If you had X-ray vision, you would see billions of dirty particles polluting Atlanta’s air. The average adult breathes in more than 3,000 gallons of air every day, and children breathe in even more per pound of body weight. Prevent irritation and health problems related to the harmful pollutants in the air by checking your community’s AQI before playing outside.
Have a yard sale! Don’t throw your unwanted junk away. Recycle it and make a little money.
Kids will be fascinated calculating their family’s “carbon footprint” – or how much greenhouse gas they emit. By answering whether they walk or ride to school, how many bags of trash their family takes out each week, or the types of electronics in your house, kids can see how many Earths it would take to support their lifestyle if everyone on the planet lived the same lifestyle.