Happy Earth Day! But every day should be Earth Day…

Illustration of the Earth
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels.

Happy Earth Day!

Established in 1970, Earth Day celebrates 49 years this year. Next year will be a huge anniversary! The first Earth Day “led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.” You can read the full history of Earth Day at earthday.org.

April 22 marks Earth Day every year. It’s an important day to recognize our beautiful planet, but many of us believe Earth Day should be Every Day. We can make a difference every day. We can be the change. We can participate in daily practices that are small but add up when many of us do them! Follow my blog to learn about changes you can make. Additionally, Earthday.org provided this list of actions, and the good news is a great many of them are small and simple but have a big impact.

How do you celebrate Earth Day?

Earth Day is a day of education and support for protecting the environment, preventing pollution, preserving and protecting all species, curbing climate change. The first thing you can do is commit to change. Pick one change and start there. Refuse plastic, start composting, drive less. There are hundreds of things you can do! Here are ways you can change your habits around food and here are 100 steps to a Plastic-Free life. I’ve also got a recommended list of books.

The next thing you can do is educate yourself, and then others! Many people have no idea about plastic pollution in our oceans. I doubt everyone knows how many species are now classified as endangered. Many believe recycling is enough but it isn’t. Some still believe global warming is a farce.

Once you’re aware of what’s going on, there’s no turning back. Your conscience will help guide you. Your knowledge will help you guide others.

Homeschool Lesson for Earth Day

There are so many ideas on the internet and on Pinterest especially for homeschool lessons on Earth Day, the environment and pollution, and endangered species. I wrote about a lesson on pollution and the environment that I did with my son a while back, but I also did special lessons about Earth Day when he was preschool age. Children will understand why we want to protect our world by learning simple things that explain what the Earth is, what the Earth looks like, and about all the animals, birds, ocean creatures, and humans that inhabit this great planet.

We did an easy puzzle of the Earth, coloring sheets of the planet, tracing activities, and counting games using the Earth as a theme. I found all of them as free printables on the internet from sources like teacherspayteachers.com and blogs like this that I found through Pinterest.

We made a paper mache globe based on a blog post from Housing a Forest. Here’s what ours looked like (my son was only 3 at the time):

My son painting our paper mache Earth.
My son painting our paper mache Earth. Photo by me.
The "completed" version of our paper mache Earth.
The “completed” version of our paper mache Earth. Photo by me.

We also read books about the environment and protecting our world, like the one below, which teaches that we need to take care of our Earth every day. You can find many other recommended books on my Children’s Book page.

Earth Day Every Day book cover

 

But even if you don’t have children, you can still help people understand when the topics come up in conversation. And those conversations will come up. Won’t you be excited to share your knowledge?

What else can you do?

So. Many. Things.

You can plant trees (maybe even hug them!), clean up litter (join the Litterati!), join an environmentally conscience community organization, refuse disposable products, grow a garden at home or in your community, take the bus or ride a bicycle to work, eat healthier foods that aren’t processed or sold in wasteful packaging, strive for zero waste, donate to back an educational project or school program, go minimalist, donate to help protect a species, etc. Just pick something that speaks to you and do it.

Love the Earth. Then help spread that love.

You can also subscribe to my blog to learn more with me as I continue my journey!

Have you heard about Litterati?

Last updated on November 21, 2019.

Photo of a discarded plastic laundry detergent bottle on the ground, by nicholasrobb1989 on Pixabay
Photo of a discarded plastic laundry detergent bottle on the ground, by nicholasrobb1989 on Pixabay

Have you ever been out walking, hiking, biking, or even kayaking and noticed that there was trash here and there, everywhere? Noticed trash lining the streets as you drove to work or school? Seen the debris that just seems to have washed up while walking on the beach or fishing in a river?

What do you do? Do you pick it up?

If so, there’s an app for that. It’s called Litterati.

Litterati logo
Litterati logo

It has become an international movement and crowd sourced effort – people all over the world are contributing to make our landscapes less littered. It’s free and it makes litter clean up fun!

With this app you take a photo of each piece of litter with your smart phone, then pick it up and put it in a bag/dumpster/trash receptacle of your choice. You can get really artistic with your photos too. Litterati features the most interesting or artistic photos on Instragram (@litterati).

The Data

Photos are automatically geotagged, meaning information about where and when the litter was picked up, is recorded. Additionally, you can hashtag each image with the category, object name, type of material, and brand info.

Photo of a discarded Coca-Cola can on the ground, by Stanislav Kondratiev on Unsplash
Photo of a discarded Coca-Cola can on the ground, by Stanislav Kondratiev on Unsplash

That data is loaded into a Google map to help track where litter is ending up, what brands are most common, and the map shows the worldwide efforts to which Litterati’s members are contributing. Check out the map (it does take time to load, please be patient because it’s totally worth the wait!). You can even zoom into your specific area and see the collected trash in your area. I love the map!

The data is also used to understand the habits of litter. Jeff Kirschner, the founder of Litterati, explains in his TED Talk why and how he created the app. He also highlights a couple of grand scale changes that were made to prevent litter because of that collected data. It’s amazing! Watch the Ted Talk!

Join Us!

I joined this effort in March of 2017, and I love the app. I just did a small litter clean up yesterday and picked up 68 pieces of trash. Over the weekend, my family cleaned up on the shore of the Tennessee River – we literally pulled a few pieces out of the water that day. It was really satisfying to know we are making a difference, and teaching our son by example that he can make a difference too. The Litterati motivates and inspires me! I’ve started a Litterati Club and if you’d like to join, download the Litterati app and join the club “Because turtles eat plastic bags” – I look forward to meeting you!

A Growing Effort

In 2017, after Litterati reached 1 million pieces of litter pick ups, they launched a Kickstarter to expand and improve the app. I backed the campaign with 573 others, and that raised enough money to launch the new version of the Litterati app. While it has a few glitches, which they’re working on improving, the new app is awesome! You can join or create clubs; the hashtagging is easier; you can set your account to only upload when on a wifi network; you can view the map; and daily they list the top 5 people with the most activity (I’ve made that list twice and it made my day!)

The count this morning is over 2.1 million and has users in over 100 countries.

And in May 2018, the United Nations announced that they are partnering with Litterati to fight world pollution! Plastic Free Mermaid did a video interview with Jeff Kirschner in June 2018 and he talks about that and other efforts.

While Litterati is using its data and mapping for great changes, the founder is still looking to inspire people. In May 2018, he was quoted on Greenmatters.com: “How do we deliver a wonderful experience for each community member so that they’re inspired to pick up just one more piece, and then one more?” And then spread the word, build community, and inspire others. That’s what I’m trying to do here! Wouldn’t it be cool if picking up trash and keeping our Earth clean became the new normal?

Thank you for reading, and let’s be the change!

A few of my own Litterati photos:

What’s the Big Deal about Plastic Straws?

straws colorful, Photo by Bilderjet on Pixabay
Photo by Bilderjet on Pixabay

There was an article this past Sunday in the Chattanooga Times Free Press about a coalition of aquariums across the United States that are striving to reduce the use of plastic straws. The coalition is called the Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP) and is a collaboration of 22 public aquariums in 17 states, including the Tennessee Aquarium. They are “committed to advancing conservation of the world’s ocean, lakes, and rivers through consumer engagement, business leadership and policy changes.”

Aquariums are awesome and full of wonder and thousands of children go through them daily. So they are poised to be leaders in positive change, and this is a great example of that! One of the things they’re doing is asking restaurants and others in the hospitality industry to reduce the use of straws by only giving them out upon request, instead of automatically. They’re also asking individuals like you to sign this pledge to stop using plastic straws.

My son in awe at the Tennessee Aquarium when he was just 2 and a half. Photo by me.
My son in awe at the Tennessee Aquarium when he was just 2 and a half. Photo by me.

“Partnership companies have eliminated more than 5 millions straws per year,” the article says. But in the United States alone, we are using 500 million disposable plastic straws per dayThe article refers back to a recent study about microplastic pollution in the Tennessee River, which I’ll write about in a future post. The article also mentioned that the Tennessee Aquarium has switched to recyclable paper straws.

But the article failed to explain why plastic straws are such a problem, and here’s why I think that. They posted a poll through the online version of the newspaper, asking “Do you thinking banning plastic straws is helpful?” The results: Yes 49%, No 51%. I was so SAD to see such results. After all the recent media about disposable plastic straws, people still don’t understand the ramifications of single-use disposable plastic?

Well, I seek to change that and help people understand. Let’s be the change together!

Colored plastic straws sorted by color. Image by Marjon Besteman-Horn from Pixabay
Image by Marjon Besteman-Horn from Pixabay

So what’s wrong with plastic straws?

First, the sheer amount of them! Just like with all single-use disposable plastic products, it’s the over-consumption and the over-dependency we have on them. Think 500 million straws per day. That’s more than one straw per person per day in the United States. Our consumption has gone way overboard and has created a waste stream that is too large for us to keep up with! Second, they are not recyclable at all.

But I’m not here to judge. And I’m not here to shame you. I’m here to encourage you to START TODAY. Politely refuse those plastic straws – if everyone refuses just one straw per day, we’ll more than cut our usage in half! What if 75% of refused them every day? I’m no mathematician, but that’s a lot of waste that just wouldn’t happen.

“Between 170 and 390 million straws are used per day in the United States.” –Living Without Plastic: More Than 100 Easy Swaps for Home, Travel, Dining, Holidays, and Beyond 

I threw my disposables into the trash/recycling receptacle like I’m supposed to – isn’t that enough? How is it ending up in the rivers and ocean?

I think one of the critical issues with all the media about single-use disposable plastics is that the biggest question is often not answered: How does the plastic end up in the ocean in the first place?

Most people assume that once they’ve placed their disposables into a receptacle, those disposables go to the proper facility. What people don’t know – and I didn’t either until just a couple of years ago – is that that item may not make it to the recycling facility or landfill. And that’s out of our control, so isn’t it impossible to do anything about it?

No. It’s not impossible by any means. The best way to guarantee that your single-use disposable plastics don’t end up in the ocean is…

To just not use them! Refuse them. Find an alternative. Then you do have control. We have the power to be the change.

So back to the question – how is it ending up in the rivers and ocean?

There are so many causes! Spillage from recycling that has been transported across the ocean for years to Asia; plastic products shipped across the ocean to the U.S. have spilled from ships; the fishing industry; trash and litter that gets blown or washed into water streams such as rivers, that then feed into the ocean; illegal dumping; people leaving trash on beaches, waterways, and from personal watercraft; microbeads washing down drains; and debris from natural disasters and floods. Plastic bags are picked up by the wind and blown into waterways that flow into the ocean.

Single use disposable plastic straw found buried in the sand, Hilton Head Island, October 2018. Photo by me.
Single-use disposable plastic straw found buried in the sand, Hilton Head Island, October 2018. Photo by me.

Have you noticed plastic straws have been in the media lately?

Our family hasn’t used plastic straws since before it was the trend, and I’m happy to see others coming on board. We mostly just don’t use straws but we do carry a reusable stainless steel straw with us for when we need it.

If you Google “plastic straws” you will get an array of news stories either supporting the end of plastic straws or arguing against (since it is only one small part of the greater problem of single-use disposable plastics). If you Google “plastic straws ban” there are even more articles about cities and states that are either implementing or working on a legislative plastic straw ban. I’m not going to summarize either of those searches here because, frankly, it would take me several posts to write such a summary. However, I encourage you to read up on it – after you finish reading my post first, that is. The following meme will make a lot more sense, too.

Forest Gump on straws, I couldn't stop giggling at this, so I'm reposting it here.
I couldn’t stop giggling at this, so I’m reposting it here.

I believe that many of these things cannot be legislated solely, that there must be a drive that is tied to economics. Disclaimer: I am not an economist. But here’s what I think: If consumers are asking businesses they patronize to stop using certain items, such as single-use disposable plastics, the consumer also has the power to not patronize that business. If consumers refuse to spend money at a business because that business does not do or provide what consumers want, then that business will be forced to change if they want to maintain profitability.

Starbucks is one company that is striving to end use of plastic straws by 2020. Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash
Starbucks is one company that is striving to end the use of plastic straws by 2020. Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

Ok, so what steps can I take?

First, let’s support the Aquarium Conservation Partnership. You can do this by signing the pledge: https://pledge.ourhands.org/.

Second, refuse. Just say no thank you. To all single-use disposable plastics. Because recycling is not the answer. Only about 9% of our plastics get recycled. That means 91% is not recycled!

Third, if you must have something commonly produced as a single-use disposable plastic, like a straw, please buy a reusable one. Paper disposables and supposedly biodegradable straws are a better option, but it’s still going to be thrown away after one use. Try one of these (these are affiliate links): stainless steel straw; glass straw; or a bamboo straw.

Fourth, tell others! Tell your friends, your co-workers, your favorite restaurant, the local coffee shop, your local school. So many people to tell!

Fifth, participate in clean-up efforts. Join the Litterati. Maybe you’ll keep some of the trash you pick up from entering the ocean.

Last, stop supporting businesses that just won’t get on board. Go somewhere else.

Final Thoughts

I think that we all, collectively, have the power to create change just by modeling. Now I don’t mean on the runway – think in the psychological sense, or if you’re a parent – you want to model the best behavior. Refuse that straw. Be polite, of course. But just say no. If everyone starts refusing straws, businesses won’t have the need to order as many. Then the plastic straw manufacturers will have to produce less. And then less will end up in the landfill, in nature, and in the oceans. It will be a utopia! Ok, maybe not, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. And let’s all sign the pledge to refuse straws when we go anywhere – to the coffee shop, restaurant, or movie theater.

Be the change! And as always, thanks for reading.

This post contains affiliate links. Proceeds help me pay for the cost of running the blog.

Halloween Candy Wrappers: A Plastic Nightmare

Last updated on March 28, 2021.

Trick-or-treating on Halloween is a tradition. Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Trick-or-treating on Halloween is a tradition. Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Did you know that American spending on Halloween should top $9 billion this year? Or that $2.6 billion will be spent on candy that is individually wrapped and thrown away? And most of it’s not recyclable and just ends up in landfills or bodies of water?

Don’t have guilt. Get inspired!

I don’t want to be one of those people that makes you feel bad about it. That’s not why I’m here. But I do want to inspire you to be forward-thinking. I want to get you thinking about next year, and what we can do to eliminate some of the wastefulness.

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, and I absolutely participate! Especially because I have a young son and I want to share all of the Halloween traditions with him. Surely, I can reduce waste from this holiday and still have a silly great time!

So what can we do going forward?

Start thinking about the big picture and asking questions: How many candy wrappers do we throw away, just in the United States? How many costumes are tossed in a landfill instead of reused or donated? What is the total amount of decorations made of cheap plastic that get used for only one Halloween before they end up in a landfill? Do many pumpkins go into a landfill instead of being used as food or composted? How many resources are wasted on this one holiday?

I’m actually not sure. I couldn’t find exact data for any of those things. The closest I came to actual data was related to pumpkin waste, which I hadn’t even considered before today. I’ll cover that in another post. I’m just focusing on candy today.

Bowl of Halloween candy from a trunk-or-treat event. Photo by me.
Bowl of Halloween candy from a trunk-or-treat event. Photo by me.

Candy & Their Wrappers

Recycle Nation calls Halloween candy “Halloween’s Environmental Nightmare.” Putting plastic wrappers into regular recycling is not possible. They aren’t made of materials that are collected by recycling facilities. Hershey’s kisses, gold chocolate coins, and other types of candies are wrapped in aluminum foil, which is great if you live in a town or city that accepts aluminum foil through the recycling system. Unfortunately, where I live in the Southeast, it is not accepted. Even so, foil-wrapped candies would be better than plastic!

Sometimes candy wrappers can be upcycled. TerraCycle and lots of artists on Etsy.com make upcycled candy wrapper bags and purses, and many other items.

Terracycle candy and snack wrapper zero waste boxes

TerraCycle sells zero waste boxes for candy and snack wrappers, and they take the collected materials and make them into new products. They are expensive, and therefore not everyone can or will do that. Realistically, upcycling the candy wrappers is not the solution.

So what is the solution? There are a few ways to drastically reduce plastic waste.

Plastic Halloween candy wrappers from a Halloween event. Photo by me.
Plastic Halloween candy wrappers from a Halloween event. Photo by me.

Trick-or-treaters at your house

Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home wrote that if you are purchasing candy to give out to trick-or-treaters, ensure it comes in fully recyclable packaging such as cardboard or paper. Think Nerds, Junior Mints, Pixie Sticks, Dots, or Milk Duds. Find lollipops that are paper-wrapped and not plastic-wrapped. Maybe small boxes of raisins? There’s also a company called Alter-Eco that sells truffles individually wrapped. They’re pricey, but sometimes that’s what it takes to protect the environment and ourselves. I’ve bought my candy for this year, but next year I will be buying candy that is not wrapped in plastic.

Another idea I’ve found online is giving out coins for trick-or-treating. I remember finding quarters in my Halloween bag when I was a kid. Have kids close their eyes, reach into a bowl and grab a handful. Child obesity is very high these days, so this may even be a better option!

Coin jar, Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash
Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash

Think outside the box! Maybe seeds packets or small wooden toys? Pencils or crayons? Drinks in aluminum cans, which might be quite refreshing after running from house to house. Anything to stop this huge plastic waste stream. Others suggest different types of fruit, such as oranges and tangerines, but the supposedly urban myth of poisoned foods will likely result in the fruit being thrown away.

If you are having a Halloween party, Bea Johnson also suggested purchasing candy in bulk using your own jars (or cloth bags) to avoid the candy wrapper dilemma altogether. I know Whole Foods and a few other stores sell bulk candy. Where individually wrapped candy is required, such as at a school or church, wrap them in small paper bags, you can even decorate them!

Taking your children trick-or-treating

How about reducing the amount of trick-or-treating you participate in? Sure it’s fun to go house to house, and kids love the reward of candy. But you, as a parent, know how much candy is enough for your household – so stop there. Encourage the fun by just walking the neighborhood, and shifting the focus from obtaining an excessive amount of candy. Maybe just stop at every other house on your route. Your whole family will still have a great time!

Individually wrapped candies create a litter and plastic problem. Photo by Tucker Good on Unsplash
Individually wrapped candies create a litter and plastic problem. Photo by Tucker Good on Unsplash

Trash Art?

Last, if you aren’t using Terracycle’s zero waste boxes for candy wrappers, how about using the wrappers for art? There are hundreds of art project ideas out there – just type in “upcycle candy wrappers” on Pinterest and you’ll find them. Anything from vases to handbags, hair bows to dresses. This is one of my favorites that I’d like to try someday:

Upcycled candy wrapper vase, found on Pinterest
Upcycled candy wrapper vase, found on Pinterest

Trash & Litter

The last thing I want to say about candy wrappers is the amount of litter they create on Halloween. Kids don’t necessarily mean to drop things, they just do – even the environmentally-conscious ones. I’m part of the Litterati, and my plan is to photograph and pick up every piece of litter that I see tonight while taking my son trick-or-treating. It will be mostly candy wrappers, but we live in a city that has the Tennessee River flowing right through the center of it. So I feel compelled to pick up those wrappers!

Can you do the same thing, pick up the candy wrappers and trash? Can you join the Litterati? Will you be the change?

As always, thanks for reading. I’d love to know if you have any out-of-the-box ideas about reducing waste from Halloween. Please leave me a comment below!

This post does not contain any affiliate links.

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