I hope you enjoy this post written last year on the anniversary of Earth Day. As a Californian, this day has a lot of meaning for me. I’ve been excited about ‘saving the planet’ since I was a kid, and each year this day comes around, it gives us a chance to rethink how we are living and what we might do to make a few changes to help!
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, you might remember the big things then were pollution and not littering. Now we know there are so many more ways we can help!
Way back when my youngest 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 griping 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 type, but I later realized that I had been largely raised in what would now be called a green or granola kind of family!
Growing up in Northern California, we always had a garden thanks to my father. I had green beans strung over my windows in the summers as my window overlooked his large vegetable garden. Dad was always growing something and had a greenhouse and compost bin filled with worms. We grew up eating all kinds of vegetables (not always cool then), and anything dad planted. We even raised 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 Earth Day 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 with some other wonderful parents. 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 loved helping with the garden and adding pretty plants around the school too.
Eventually, the students got so good at recycling they helped teach the younger ones and even managed the program and when they moved on to middle and high school they demanded better recycling! That showed we made some progress at least in their mindsets, which was worth it all. 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.
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! I love that. Still I see so many people being lazy about their choices. 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 reusable bottles for your refrigerator. Even my 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. Each small thing done by us can bring change!
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, which made me pretty proud.
This website – The Horticult is so inspiring and helpful, also A Way to Garden, The Freckled Californian, Golden Gate Garden, are a few good ones and inspiration from The Conservatory of Flowers, one of my favorite spots, Kew Gardens in London.
Plant a low-water yard with natives and replace grass with easy care plants. This helps the earth with less water use, no fertilizers, pesticides or mowing and blowing- all pollution causing. We recently replaced our large lawn on our front yard with a low water landscape of Mediterranean plants, succulents and California natives. The ground cover is decomposed granite. It’s been a wonderful change, and though it started out slow, the plants have taken off and our low maintenance yard needs, very little trimming, and minimal watering. The best part to us, is seeing all the birds who love to hop about the flowering bushes and the hummers and butterflies who visit daily. We love never having to mow the lawn and I feel like we’ve built a new eco-system of sorts!
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, last forever and are nearly indestructible. There many great options now, so 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 ones that you can write names with wine writers that just wash off with soap.
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 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. Keep bags by the front door and a few in the car and also small ones in your purse.
I have heard people complaining about hygiene with reusable bags. They can be washed in the laundry and also wiped out with alcohol if they are stiffer. I usually also buy my produce with reusable net bags and don’t use a plastic bag – just put my avocados etc on the checkout counter bare. They all have to be washed at home anyway, and who knows who has touched them or if they’ve fallen on the ground previously, so putting them is a plastic bag, isn’t keeping them any cleaner.
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.
We now know most plastics aren’t be recycled as we thought, so anytime you can buy things in bulk, in reusable containers or bigger packaging (like a salad or drinks) or no packaging at all, like bulk nuts, oats etc, it is so much better. Loop is another way to get your staples with less waste and reusable packaging. Packaging is one of the biggest problems with so many plastics ending up in the oceans, chocking sea life and polluting fish and sea life.
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. Eliminate pesticides and herbicides and use natural fertilizers. Even yard fertilizers can have things like Round-up in them and even just an occasional spritz on your yard lasts years and slows to the neighbor yards and to the watershed. 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. Also the new weed torches work great and leave to residue to hurt birds, butterflies, and bees.
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. We have one deep drawer with all the napkins by color, un-ironed, and a small basket on the counter for used ones. We do a load of them once a week 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 (which some were formerly unused fancy 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.
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.
One of the biggest changes that will make an impact is less meat and dairy consumption. 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. I have mostly converted ny kids who reluctantly began using it, and now like it. Oat milk I find especially easy to substitute in any recipe, except maybe a soup with heavy cream. We might have chicken about once a week, and cheese and yogurt occasionally. The less we have of it, the less we seem to miss it. Start with small changes if this seems hard, and see how much dairy and meat you can do without. You may be surprised.
Hugely impactful, try to buy less, shop better and buy upcycled clothes and furnishings, 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!
Finding unique things for your home from yard sales, thrift and home consignment, and even on Facebook Marketplace and Nextdoor, is another way of doing good for the planet. A will made chest of drawers or setoff chairs add loads of character and charm to your home, and are undoubtedly much better made than anything bought at IKEA, or Homegoods. Think hard how to integrate a mix in your house, and even better use family hand-me downs if you are lucky. My favorite kind of home is a mix of old, some new and collected and found pieces that give your home a unique character and vibe! All new is sterile, and you risk looking like a corporate model home. There is beauty in the old!
Vote for representatives who put climate change and the protections of water, clean air and wild life as a priority, over corporate priorities and lobbyists. I have yet to find a list of congress members, but this list shows who are climate deniers and are taking dirty money from big business and lobbyists .As far as nationwide, America 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.
Walk, bike, take public transit and buy electric vehicles! I know this sounds old school, but biking and walking is another of one of the single biggest thing that we can all do. Try just one day a week walking to get something – or biking is huge if we could all do it. I would love to see more cities have one day a week designated for just bikes and pedestrians downtowns and more roads closed off on certain days. The more we get people comfortable on bikes, as they are in Europe, the more we will do it. Also we need more safety lanes built to make people feel secure biking on roads. One day a week taking public transit helps. Take it as a break to work or read if you can. Electric vehicles are wonderful and hugely popular in California and hopefully soon, all over. Having less cars on the road during the pandemic has given the earth a reset, and also the sound pollution is so much better a bonus.
These are just a few ideas and tips- and so many more that I didn’t touch on! I hope this inspires you in some way and I know you might have some great tips and ideas to add in the comments! Please do.
Thanks for being here and I hope you got out and enjoyed our beautiful earth today!