This year marks the 45th annual Earth Day celebration, which is held every year on April 22. But as stewards of the land, we shouldn't have to wait for this one day to start making changes toward sustainability; we should be making them every day, from the food we choose to eat to the change we strive to affect in Congress.
Small ripples really do make a wave of positive impact, so here are 10 easy and eco-friendly things you can do to celebrate Earth Day and this beautiful planet we call home.
1. Plant a tree.
With Arbor Day (April 24) just around the corner from Earth Day, this is your chance to practice planting a tree or even get a head start on putting in the orchard you've always wanted. It might sound cliche, but planting a tree is one of the most important things you can do to preserve our planet. Global warming is caused by a buildup of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere (such as carbon dioxide and methane), which trap heat on the planet. Trees remove this CO2, along with producing oxygen, giving us shade (and even food), and providing habitat for birds.
For those without suitable space, you can still be involved by planting a tree with an organization like TreePeople or City Plants (which also offers free trees to homes and businesses, as well as opportunities to adopt a tree).
2. Start a garden.
If you lack the space to plant in the ground, consider starting a small container garden on a balcony, volunteering in a school garden, or growing in a community garden plot (check the American Community Gardening Association for one nearest you). Rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty is a wonderful way to reconnect with nature and discover how much we depend on the earth for our survival. Studies have also shown that sifting through soil has therapeutic and pharmaceutic benefits!
3. Save the bees in some small way.
Even if you don't like honey or can't host a hive in your yard, there are other ways you can help save the bees, which pollinate one-third of the country's food supply. Plant nectar-rich flowers outside so they can feed through spring and summer when they're at peak activity, or hang a native bee house to give gentle, solitary native bees a safe place to nest. If you're buying your bee-friendly plants from a garden center, check with a manager to ensure they haven't been sprayed with neonicotinoids.
4. Take a hike.
There is no better way to get back in touch with the great outdoors than to actually go outdoors and experience one of the many wonders of our state. Take a gander through our SoCal Wanderer series for inspiration on exploring our state parks, national forests, historic sites, and little-known gems.
You can also parlay your love of hiking into a volunteer day for the Angeles National Forest or California State Parks Foundation, which often need help maintaining trails and restoring native habitats.
5. Ride your bike to work.
Later sunsets mean you still have time to enjoy the day after you clock out. Break free from the confines of your car and feel the breeze on your skin by biking to and from work when the sun is out. You'll get a little exercise while reducing car emissions and beating rush hour traffic. If the office is too far for a reasonable pedal-powered commute, consider biking or walking on your errands instead.
6. Switch to reusables for your shopping bags, water bottles, and coffee mugs.
Even though the state of California has banned plastic grocery bags, many businesses like restaurants and retail stores still hand them out with your purchase. Make it a habit to use your reusable totes for every business you patronize, and bring your own insulated mug when you make a coffee run.
With 23 national parks in 10 states now banning sales of plastic water bottles, including Golden Gate National Recreation Area (the country's most heavily visited national park), it's also a good idea to keep a couple of reusable water bottles in the car for road trips, beach outings, picnics, and hikes.
7. Extend your Meatless Mondays.
In 2012, Los Angeles became the largest city in the nation to support Meatless Monday, an international campaign to reduce the consumption of meat for health and environmental reasons. If you're already cutting back on meat one day a week, why not make it two? We have a plethora of Meatless Monday recipes to help you discover delicious and nutritious meals without resorting to faux meat.
8. Do your laundry at night.
Instead of saving your pile of laundry for weekend afternoons, do it in the evenings when energy costs are lower. You can further reduce carbon emissions by washing your clothes in cold water with cold-water detergent. According to Energy Star, almost 90% of the energy consumed by a washing machine goes to heating water. If you must do your laundry during the day, skip the dryer and hang your clothes on a line to air dry.
9. Write a letter to your government representative.
The original Earth Day was founded in 1970 by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, who was a strong environmental advocate. In the spirit of that history, take some time on Earth Day to write a letter or call your representative to voice your thoughts on an environmental issue you care about, whether it's fracking in California or pesticide use on our food. While it might not always seem like it, every voice matters so make yourself heard.
10. Volunteer for an environmental charity.
Earth Day is an excellent day to volunteer, whether you join an environmental organization in their efforts or enlist your neighbors for a beach clean-up day. There are countless charities in need of good people to help raise money, lead workshops, engage the public, clean up rivers, maintain trails, pull invasive weeds, and many other activities to protect and preserve this beautiful place we live in. Charities like Heal the Bay and Surfrider Foundation focus on our coastline, while other nonprofits like Friends of the Los Angeles River and Arroyo Seco Foundation work to restore our natural resources inland.
Click here for more ideas on how you can celebrate Earth Day in Southern California... the whole week!