If you have a calendar and/or you follow any “eco-friendly” companies on Facebook, you know that April is Earth Month and April 22 is Earth Day. It’s the time of year we all decide to focus on easy ways we can have less of an impact on the planet.
Kids often learn about ways to help the earth this time of year. Many involve kids asking their parents to make changes towards being green by installing LED light bulbs, taking shorter showers, and driving their car less often.
These are good ways to help take care of the planet, save money and respect energy and resources. But if you’re like me and want something more than reminders to turn off the water when you’re brushing your teeth, here are a few ways you and your kids can celebrate Earth Day… every day.
Walk around the block or up a mountain, but getting to know our beautiful state helps put eco-friendly measures into perspective. In other words, it grounds us. Oh yes, pun intended. Avoid using a disposable coffee cup not just because it’s so simple to bring your own, but also because you don’t want it lying on the side of the road, eventually damaging our ecosystems and harming our wildlife. The earth is a big place but being immersed in nature gives us ownership about our place on the planet and joy in protecting it.
Take it one step further: participate in the Vermont State Park challenge!
Pick up trash.
While you’re walking around your block or taking a hike, pick up trash you see. Or join the Green Up Day activities in your area on May 6th. If you’re concerned about garbage being dirty and/or unsafe, certainly leave it alone. But if you happen to have a bag with you (or you find a plastic bag also on the ground, as I have on many occasions) and you’re wearing gloves or feel fine picking litter up with your hands, pick up and properly dispose of that garbage. That paper (with a plastic lining) coffee cup will take hundreds of years to break down in nature. And the plastic lining never will – it will just break into smaller pieces and enter our ecosystems. Landfills are where garbage safely belongs, not on our streets, forests, and rivers.
Take it one step further: Identify the garbage you see. Is it a yogurt container? Fast food wrappers? Water bottle or coffee cup? Talk with your family and friends about whether or not you use those things and if you always properly throw them away or recycle them.
Also, talk about how that trash could have been avoided from the very start. Bring your own water bottle and fill up with tap water or at the many filtered water stations available. Bring your own coffee mug or enjoy coffee “for here” instead of grabbing a disposable cup. What about takeout packaging? Next time you’re at a restaurant and want to bring home your leftovers, stash them in your own food storage container instead of taking the single-use food container.
Ask for “no straw, please” wherever you go.
Earth day is great but our environmental issues can seem too big for anyone to tackle, let alone a kid. This tip is easy for children and adults alike to implement daily. Americans use 500 million straws every year. That’s a huge number. A plastic straw has to be manufactured from “virgin plastic” (aka with new oil pulled from the ground), processed, and shipped across the globe to end up in your glass and enjoyed for a few minutes.
Simply make it part of your drink order. “I’ll have a lemonade without a straw, please.” If you or your kid(s) love straws, I totally get it! Pick up an inexpensive glass (shatterproof!), stainless steel or even bamboo straw to bring with you to restaurants and coffee shops. Keep it in your bag all the time for impromptu trips.
Take it one step further: Reach out to restaurants/coffee shops/bakeries and ask them to provide straws by request only, instead of automatically bringing everyone a straw with their drink. You might be surprised at how open establishments are to this small change.
Whether you have a farm, a raised garden bed – or six – in the backyard, tomato plants on the porch, or a few potted herbs on the kitchen windowsill, growing things is a great way to connect to the earth and build healthy habits. We are so lucky that kids in Vermont are typically exposed to farming and growing food. It’s fun, and it’s also a great way to save money and help the earth by reducing our need for shipping, processing, and packaging of food that comes from far away. You don’t have to have a green thumb to nurture a basil plant in your kitchen and grab some fresh basil for your pasta dinner. Tell your kids about the big picture of why carefully growing healthy foods is important for our bodies and the earth.
Take it one step further: Share with friends and neighbors! Maybe your basil plant is growing like crazy (it happens!) and you can’t use it fast enough. Share a bunch with someone else. They might just return the favor and drop off some zucchini when their crop inevitably gets carried away.
Watch documentaries or environment-focused movies.
Playing in the dirt is a great way to connect with nature and instill a desire to protect and care for the earth, but so is learning about our planet through exciting and educational documentaries. Depending on the ages of your children, there are many nature and environment-focused movies available. From WALL-E to Before the Flood and everything in between, try to rent or borrow on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc. etc., or at our many wonderful libraries to eliminate the need to buy (which – bonus! – eliminates that pesky plastic packaging).
Take it one step further: If the rainforest destruction or global fossil fuel usage you see in one of the movies seems too “far away,” bring the issues home. First, examine things in your home that might have been manufactured and shipped from overseas. Consider buying secondhand, locally made, or items made in North America to limit their shipping time. Next, try to avoid products that contain palm oil to help take a stand against rainforest deforestation. It appears in a lot of common products so you might be surprised where palm oil is hiding in your home. I know I was. From shampoo and bar soap to chocolate and detergent, palm oil is pervasive. The good news is that there are a lot of brands out there avoiding this ingredient.
>>> Bonus tip:
And here’s one earth day tip that may not be that exciting or engaging for kids but is a great way to help the planet and stem the tide of unnecessary trash that comes to your house every day: