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50 Earth Day Activities and Ideas
Since the first Earth Day was held in 1970 in the United States, it has grown into an internationally celebrated event in more than 200 countries across the globe. It’s the perfect time to remember to appreciate Earth and commit to making changes big and small to protect it.
What Can We Do at Home?
- Switch to Energy-saving Light Bulbs - The Environmental Protective Agency reports that if every household in the U.S. replaced just one standard incandescent light bulb with an energy-efficient one, the nation would save about $600 million annually in energy costs.
- Eat More Food from Local Sources - Visit a farmer’s market — or even a local farm — and plan a family dinner using locally sourced ingredients.
- Lower the Temperature on Your Water Heater - Set too high (140 degrees or higher), water heaters can waste up to 5 percent on your heating costs and use. Talk to your kids about timing their showers while you’re at it.
- Fix Leaks - A leak of one drip per second can waste 259 gallons of water every month, according to the Department of Energy. Do a water audit with your kids and teach them how to tighten up the faucet.
- Start a Compost Bin - Composting is an excellent way to feed the soil, organisms in the soil and plant life while reducing waste. Teach your family about composting by setting up your first bin together.
- Keep Reusable Shopping Bags in Your Car - Being prepared with reusable bags is key to reducing a major source of waste — plastic. Have your family buy some plain canvas totes and decorate them with fabric paint to make saving the planet more fun.
- Use Earth-friendly Cleaning Products - There are so many more cost-effective, green-friendly options to choose from today. Go through your current cleaning supplies with your family and then go shopping for some earth-friendly supplies — or make your own from ingredients in your own pantry!
- Turn It Off - It’s not just about saving money on your electric bill (although that’s a nice perk, too). Remember to recommit with your family to turn off lights and electric appliances when not in use. Consider charging family members a quarter (or smartphone time!) each time they forget and see how much quicker they develop the habit.
- Have a No TV Day - Encourage more time in the fresh air. Plan a family picnic in the park, go for a walk or plan some outdoor games. Think about making it a weekly family tradition!
- Plant a Vegetable Garden - Start simple by planting some fresh herbs or container plants such as tomatoes.
What Can We Do at Work?
- Power Down - Make sure that everyone who is away from a computer for more than two hours shuts down completely. The surge of energy needed to power up is still way less energy than keeping the computer running for long periods of time.
- Commit to a Reusable Coffee Cup - Saving five cups and lids over the course of a week amounts to nearly 300 during the year. Multiply that times the number of people who work just in your office, and it quickly adds up. Give everyone in the office a company-branded mug on Earth Day to reinforce the message.
- Add More Recycling Bins - Studies show sizable increases in recycling participation with more bins that are easily accessible. Send a note to co-workers to make sure they know where the bins are located.
- Host a Drive to Collect E-waste - It’s estimated that only 12.5 percent of e-waste (tech hardware like old computers) is being recycled today, and that e-waste represents more than 70 percent of the toxic waste in landfills. Get your entire office park or building involved for good measure.
- Use a Recyclable Water Bottle - The U.S. alone consumes more than 50 billion plastic water bottles annually. Get rid of plastic cups around the office water cooler. Hand out company-branded water bottles if you want to help the cause even more.
- Plan a Telecommute Day - Go outside the office norm and do a work-from-home day in honor of Earth Day. You’ll save lots of energy in the process.
- Arrange an Office-wide Carpool Day - You can start with a single day devoted to Earth Day, which could in turn encourage employees to try it more often.
- Use Less Paper - Adopt a double-sided printing policy for all office correspondence.
- Try to Be Paper Free for the Day - Ask employees to go a day (or even a week) without printing anything out. (Make exceptions for anything truly necessary but try to limit it.) This will hopefully give workers pause before they hit the “print” button next time.
- Raise Money for a Local Environmental Group - Pick a worthy group in the community that empowers earth-friendly practices such as a nature conservancy or environmental action organization. The company can match employee donations.
Coordinate parent volunteers for a class Earth Day project with a sign up. SAMPLE
What Can We Do in Our Schools (Preschool to Elementary Age)?
- Transform Trash to Treasure - Have young children bring in a variety of recyclable items such as milk cartons, toilet paper and paper towel rolls, egg cartons and more. Challenge their creativity to come up with new inventions and art projects with the materials.
- Spend Extra Time Outdoors - Connecting with nature is vital to becoming motivated to protect it. Plan a week full of activities (weather permitting) that invite children to understand more about their local environment.
- Plant a School Garden - A sense of ownership makes a big difference. Invite parents to help build any necessary beds and donate seeds and starter materials. Make it a fundraiser by having kids sell their products at the end of the season and donate the money to a worthy green cause.
- Design Helpful Reminders - Have students create colorful signs for school and home such as, “Don’t forget to turn off the lights” or “Power down the computer when you’re done.”
- Go on a Scavenger Hunt - Have students identify different plants, trees, flowers and more. Give them magnifying glasses so they’ll feel like nature detectives.
- Take a Recycle Quiz - Test student knowledge by creating a printout with items that can be recycled/composted (bananas, paper bags, aluminum cans) and items that can’t be recycled (paint cans, orange peels, cosmetics). Have students circle items that can be recycled or composted and discuss why.
- Make a Homemade Bird Feeder - Use recycled items such as milk cartons, toilet paper rolls or empty water bottles and make a bird feeder that both reuses materials and helps creatures of the earth.
- Collect Rainwater - Teach students about water conservation using a variety of methods from simple science experiments to larger-scale projects such as installing a rain barrel collection system or rain garden at your school.
- Decorate Lunch Bags - Enlist students’ help to remind their parents of the importance of reducing waste by creating reusable lunch bags students can bring each day.
- Craft a Nature Collage - Go on a nature walk and collect all sorts of items such as pine cones, sticks, leaves and flower petals that can be transformed into a beautiful art collage with just a little glue and construction paper.
Collect donations for an Earth Day project with a sign up. SAMPLE
What Can We Do in Our Schools (Middle to High School Age)?
- Promote a Zero-waste Lunch Day - Demonstrate how students can reduce lunch garbage by using reusable containers and eliminating leftovers and packaging that become a large source of trash.
- Take Virtual Field Trips - Save some energy by exploring the planet virtually — you’ll go farther than you could on a school bus! Highlight parts of the planet that are changing rapidly and other big global environmental issues.
- Build a Micro-composter - Introduce students to nature’s way of recycling by building a micro-composter made up of 2-liter soda bottles. They can see the decomposition process up close and personal. (You can find detailed instructions online.)
- Start a School Action Committee - Create an environmental action club if your school doesn’t already have one. You can meet monthly to find ways to reduce waste and help the environment at your school.
- Host an Environmental Expert - If you can’t find one locally, find an expert who can join your classroom via Skype. Prepare students to actively participate in the discussion with questions compiled in advance.
- Create a Green Idea Competition - Challenge students to improve the school’s recycling efforts. Create a contest to find the best ideas to encourage student and faculty participation.
- Let Students Create an Environmental Film - Have them choose an issue that interests them and come up with the best ways to educate their classmates.
- Teach the Next Generation - Ask older students to create lesson plans for an elementary school science class that discuss the environment. Include a hands-on science experiment and set up a visit the week of Earth Day to teach the lesson.
- Get Informed on Environmental Policies - A social studies or government class or club can do an exercise where students research local and federal policies related to the environment. Students can make suggestions to improve policies, decide which they would vote for, and host a brainstorming session to come up with ideas they would legislate if they were in office.
- Create Posters with Earth Day Messages - Encourage students to feature important statistics and post them around the school as well as in local merchant windows. (Get permission first, of course.)
Coordinate an environmental club Earth Day fundraiser with a sign up. SAMPLE
What Can We Do in Our Communities?
- Understand Your Local Environmental Issues - Does your community face a water pollution problem, soil erosion or a faltering tree canopy? Help your community stay informed by putting together a listening session at a community center — or even writing an op-ed for a local publication.
- Plan Educational Presentations - Take the above idea a little further by planning an evening or afternoon of presentations or a local “green action” day where community members can sign up for volunteer opportunities related to environmental causes. Contact local community centers, churches or libraries for possible venues.
- Organize a Community Hike with a Nature Expert - Find a local who’s passionate about the unique environmental features of your area and whose enthusiasm encourages activism and time spent enjoying nature.
- Build a Community Garden - Get volunteers who have a combination of horticulture and construction skills to create raised beds — and fill them with delicious vegetables. Genius Tip: Use a sign up to create a summer watering schedule.
- Install Solar Panels - Do you have a community clubhouse? Investigate the cost and potential energy savings of installing solar panels on the roof.
- Plant Wildflowers Native to Your Area - Get permission to add native flowers to common areas in your neighborhood.
- Participate in an Adopt-a-Highway Event - These programs not only work to clean up local environments but also to educate the public on the importance of proper trash disposal.
- Join a Green Committee - Initiate or join a group dedicated to taking action on environmental issues important to your area.
- Send Letters - Write an email or letter to your state representative or senator about issues and policies important to the environment in your community.
- Plant Trees in Community Areas - One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen, enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Assess any areas in your neighborhood that could use a helping green thumb.
Thanks to the success of Earth Day events, we are reminded of how important it is to take care of the environment and natural resources we all rely on. Each year, it becomes even more important to learn new ways to protect and preserve our planet for the future.
Laura Jackson is a freelance writer based in Hilton Head, S.C., with her husband and two teenagers.