Today is the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day . Jane Goodall says it’s the decisions we make every day that will save the planet. Small things, done by all of us, can change the the future.
I love some of these images from the first celebration back in 1970. If you are close to my age, I remember the big things then were pollution and not littering. Now we know there are more ways we can create change.
Way back when Griffin was in kindergarten, a friend asked me to start a Green Team at our elementary school. I have no idea why they asked me, but I may have been complaining about the lack of recycling or something so they figured I was a good candidate! I never have thought of myself as an eco warrior kind of person, but I later realized that I had been raised in what would now be called a green or granola kind of family.
Growing up in California, we always had a garden thanks to my father. I had green beans strung over my windows in the summers and my window overlooked his large garden. Dad had a greenhouse complete with a compost bin filled with worms and as a kid, it was kind of cool. We grew up eating all kinds of vegetables (not always cool), and anything dad planted. We even had chickens and got fresh eggs way before it was a thing. My dad was in 4H and Future Farmers when he was young and his father grew up on a farm in Mt Ayr, Iowa. My grandmother was raised in the depression and never threw things out and showed us how to sew, repurpose things and be thrifty. I figured everyone did those things, eating Swiss Chard for dinner and having my clothes sewn at home by my mom or grandma.
I had no idea what I was doing for the school Green Team, but I liked the chance to help my sons be more green and learn how our choices were affecting us all on earth. My friend Aimee (above with our friend Marico) came on board to help and we hobbled through the elementary years holding fairs at lunchtime with invitees like Whole Foods, the water district and the library. These fairs were ways for families to learn more about things waste free lunches, reusable containers, water bottles, recycling and composting. Sometimes the parents would bring a picnic lunch too. After a few years we began a school garden. The biggest accomplishment was getting kids to recycle at lunch, which seems like a no-brainer now, but it was a real struggle as the school claimed it was too much to ask!
The kids got so good at recycling they helped teach the younger ones and managed the program and when they moved on to middle and high school demanded better recycling. That showed we made some progress at least in their mindsets, which was worth it all. The Green Team grew over the years and had a lot of wonderful leaders, much better than I. I highly recommend doing this at your child’s school if you have young ones. It was a small amount of time, but a good way to get kid’s caring about the planet and think about their choices. These are values like any other that need to be taught and the caring about it begins at home.
So on the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, it’s great to recognize it’s founder, Gaylord Nelson. Nelson grew up in Clear Lake in Northern Wisconsin and was a three term senator and governor there. He founded Earth Day in 1970 and always wanted it to become a grass-roots movement put in motion by small groups and it has been. He was an amazing human who we have so much to thank for. The University of Wisconsin, Madison has a Nelson Institute for Enviromental Studies named for him and you can read about the history of Earth Day and all Nelson did on their wonderful archive and website . I did not know he did his undergrad at San Jose State, my alma mater. He was ahead of his time and a truly a great American.
As a Californian, being thoughtful about the earth is part of life here. Still I see so many people being lazy about their choices. There are people in my neighborhood who don’t use their recycle bins! It’s killed me during this pandemic to see so many people buying huge flats of plastic water bottles on the news at Costco. They are one the worst thing and the quality of the water in them is questionable. It’s simpler to get a Brita water pitcher and fill bottles for your refrigerator. My own sons get upset when they see people give out plastic bottles at events and elsewhere.
If we all try to our part, our habits will become second nature and we are giving an example to others. Hope that’s not preachy, but instead of being perfect, do what you can!
A few places to begin..
Being home during this pandemic, it is the perfect time to start a garden of your own if you don’t already have one. People are calling this the new Victory Garden era. During the past two world wars, people were encouraged to garden to ensure fresh food and 20 million home gardens produced 40% of the nation’s fresh vegetables during WWII!
There are many online tutorials to begin a garden and I also recommend this book, A Garden Can Be Anywhere, which is a guide for design, plants and all different types of gardens. There is nothing better than your own tomatoes and vegetables and if you start now you can have food through the summer and fall. The bonus of having food in your own backyard during this pandemic can not be overstated. Get your kids involved too. My college kid took his own kale and broccoli plants to college.
Always carry your own water bottles with you throughout your day. We have multiples here at home and never go on a trip or almost leave the house without our bottles. The Swell bottles are my favorite, my kids like Hydroflasks and Corksicles are good too. Many good choices here if you need one. There many great options now, have a few for each person in your home, and you’ll save money and the planet by never, ever buying plastic single use bottles. If you entertain instead set up a jug with water and if you must have disposable, then paper cups or unbreakable ones work where you can write names with a wine writer.
Obviously reusable bags are the thing now. With this corona virus people aren’t allowed to bring them, which I find a little ridiculous. I wash mine regularly and I think it’s the single biggest thing we’ve done in California and I’m so proud of us. I hope this protocol doesn’t set us back. The amount of paper and plastic bags being used now is horrible. I keep our bags by the front door and a few in the car and also in my purse.
The best bags are these by Apolis a great company that is dedicated to improving the lives of those who make their bags. You can see I have two, in my entry-one is four years old. I just bought a new black one.
While we are at home, convert your yard and home to be free of pesticides and chemicals, if you haven’t already. I am shocked to see people have subscriptions to places like Thrasher and other pest services in this day and age. With all we know, there is no way I’d have any part of my yard or home sprayed with chemicals. Those chemicals linger and get into every living species on your property.
Even a regular spraying of Roundup on the weeds, and fertilizer for the grass contains pesticides. If you think it’s your yard only, you should know it floats down to the gutters, to the watershed to creeks, oceans and your neighbor’s yard too. Pesticides like Roundup are also linked to cancers in humans and pets so why take the chance? If you have spiders, make sure you are cleaning regularly and look for areas they come in. Like ants, they look for crumbs and food sources- and it is normal to see more in spring, when things hatch. It’s abnormal to never see spiders. It means your world is sprayed within an inch of its life. Good regular cleaning is your best defense and always find natural products. There are so many non-toxic alternatives out there. Do your research. When you need to kill a bug or weed you can make your own spray vinegar and there is even one you can buy.
Use cloth napkins and towels instead of paper. Back in 2014, I made the decision to stop buying paper napkins and instead start using the cloth ones we had amassed unused over the years. It’s been the best decision and I have never looked back, only wish we had done it sooner. We have one deep drawer with all the napkins by color, unironed, and a small basket on the counter for used ones. I know I’ve said this before, but we do a load of them every 2-3 days on hot and everyone folds them when I leave them on the kitchen island. They are useful for kitchen spills and things too. Obviously I have some fancier ones as well, but I have loads of the everyday ones and they just get softer over time. I still get paper towels for the gross things, but we generally use towels most of the time. Only Americans are so obsessed with paper and most other nations use cloths. We have to stop.
Speaking of cloth, try and air dry and care for your laundry (my usual load of cloth napkins and towels above), with non-toxic products which do go in the water system afterwards. I love this timely post on Beautiful Living With Stefanie Wall on how to care for your clothes and be eco-friendly at the same time! Of course I appreciate the dryer right now for towels and the kitchen things, but some heavier things like denim I lay outside in the sun, and blouses and nicer shirts get hung in the breeze. You can save a lot of energy just by using the sun and wind and your clothes will look better and wear much longer.
I’m not telling anyone what to eat, but less meat and dairy is another consideration if you want a healthier earth. This article in The Guardian says that avoiding meat and dairy is the single biggest way to lessen your footprint on the planet. We are not vegans, but I have switched myself to using oat milk and plant butters. We still buy a small milk for the boys who want it for cereal and have chicken about once a week, and cheese and yogurt occasionally. The less we have of it, the less we seem to miss it.
Lastly, try to shop less, shop better and buy upcycled clothes as portion of what we consume each year. Fast fashion is fun, but when you survey your closet, most people will tell you it’s those cheaper pieces that end up in the donation pile. If you have to have a shopping fix get to know stores like Crossroads Trading where you can get upcylcled fashion and Thredup. Those places have some great buys and many are new with tags and not found anywhere else. If you love a particular brand, say Tory Burch, you can put that name in your Thredup search and find all the Tory things in your size. I have gotten some beautiful pieces that way, and it’s one less garment in the world going to waste and one less new one bought. The less new we buy, the less made. Vintage and upcycled is the future of fashion.
We should aim for a closet of things we love for a long time and think quality not quantity. Nordstrom has been really progressive with their sustainable initiatives and has a goal to eliminate plastic bags from all their stores this year, and has long-range goals to 2025, including getting customers in the habit of recycling, not buying and dumping. They now have Rent the Runway in stores and believe that is one of the main ways retail will evolve if it is to remain relevant and survive. Look today at your favorite retailer’s site and see what they are doing for the planet which should be on their main page today. Choose companies that align with your values!
Thanks for letting me drivel on here. I know a lot of you are already doing all these things, but I felt this anniversary was good to revisit some of these ideas on this special anniversary of Earth Day.
Our nation has been sliding backward the past four years. We’ve rolled back protections for air, clean water and animals. This details the 95 environmental protections that have been rolled back under Trump. I just hope this can be righted with the next administration because it took a long time and a lot of work to get the protections we once had and have now lost in the blink of an eye and while we weren’t watching. It’s horribly wrong. I am grateful to previous generations for pushing for those important laws, and I hope our generation fixes this for the next one.
Would you mind sharing any green tips below or companies doing good in comments?
Thanks for being here and I hope you got out and enjoyed our beautiful earth today!