10 Simple Steps to Make Every Day Earth Day

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Teach young children how to care for our planet! Instill these simple green living tips for you and your family to follow.

For parents, teaching respect for the earth shouldn’t be a once-a-year event. By showing young children how to care for the planet at an early age, you can instill a lifelong respect for the environment that ensures the world will be a better place for generations to come. Following are ten simple ways your family can make every day Earth Day:

1. Recycle

This seems so obvious and yet so many of us still don’t do it. A quick scan of my neighborhood every trash pick-up day shows only two blue recycling bins (one of them my family’s) placed in front of eight homes despite the fact that this service is paid for as part of our trash collection service. If you live in an area that doesn’t offer curbside pickup of recyclables, contact your local waste management company to see if there’s a drop-off place nearby. Most recycling centers accept glass, plastic, and aluminum containers, as well as newspapers. Some areas have special drop-off places for corrugated cardboard (very handy after a move, holiday, or birthday party), and local phone companies have periodic drop-off sites for old phone directories. Recycling is easy to do and takes very little time. If you’re uncertain about how to recycle, follow this simple list of recycling do’s and don’ts:

  • Rinse containers (they don’t have to be spotless, just rinsed out).
  • Remove and discard lids (even plastic lids are not recyclable).
  • There’s no need to remove labels.
  • Recycle plastic containers only if they have a number one or two stamped on the bottom of them (check with your town’s recycling program to see if they accept higher numbers, but most do not).
  • Discard broken glass (it contaminates the recycling process).
  • Keep newspapers dry and pack them in a brown grocery bag or wrap with natural twine.
  • Hazardous items such as motor oil, old paint, batteries, and computers should not be placed for garbage pickup. Call your local waste management company for drop-off locations for these types of items.

2. Shop smart

Keep kids busy while shopping by showing them what the recycling logo looks like (a triangular-shaped chasing arrow) and then ask them to locate items on your shopping list made from recycled materials or packaged in recycled containers.

3. Practice what you preach

One of the best ways to get children to respect the environment is to set an example for them to emulate: don’t litter, volunteer to plant trees at a local park or clean up a nearby playground, don’t throw away items that could be recycled, turn off the lights when you leave a room, don’t let the tap run while brushing your teeth and most importantly, talk to your kids about how all of your actions impact our planet.

4. Donate unneeded clothes and toys

When the seasons change, encourage your children to go through clothing and pick out items they’ve outgrown or toys they no longer play with to donate to your church nursery, a non-profit organization like Goodwill, or other children’s organizations. Remember, organizations don’t want broken toys or torn clothing so please mend or fix items first.

5. Drive smart

Carbon dioxide emissions are a primary cause of global warming, so make an effort to carpool with other families, drive environmentally-friendly vehicles, and walk or bike to destinations when possible. Your family will help the environment and get some great physical exercise too!

6. Reuse grocery bags

Plastic and brown paper bags are very durable and can be reused many times. Canvas bags are also great for shopping. Brown paper bags can hold newspapers to be recycled. Some stores have barrels to recycle plastic bags, while others, such as Wild Oats, offer a five-cent refund or make a five-cent donation to a select charity when you reuse bags or use canvas bags.

7. Compost

Composting reduces by half the volume of material a household sends to a landfill and it’s easy to do. Let your kids place food and yard scraps into a special compost bin (available at most garden stores and nurseries). In a matter of weeks, the scraps will be converted into valuable fertilizer.

8. Grow a garden

Use that compost fertilizer to plant a garden with your child. Children learn about the cycles of nature as they see their seedlings grow, and as an added bonus, they’re more apt to eat those vegetables they so carefully tended!

9. Clean up

Picking up other people’s trash isn’t high on anyone’s list of fun things to do, but with a little ingenuity, you can turn this much-needed community service into a pleasant family experience. Let your kids pick the area they’d like to clean up—a local park, a neighborhood park, or perhaps their school grounds. Have a contest to see who can pick up the most pieces of trash or see who finds the most unusual item. Do this service as a family and encourage other families to join you.

10. Think outside the garbage/recycling can

Your family’s junk could be some organization’s treasure! Libraries, daycares, preschools, and elementary schools are in constant need of “art and craft” materials such as egg cartons, unwanted CDs, empty milk jugs, bags, Styrofoam packing material, magazines and newspapers, empty paper towel roll tubes, fabric (old clothing), and much more.

Startling Stats

  • There are more than 9,000 curbside recycling programs and 12,000 recyclable drop-off centers nationwide. 

  • Each of us generates on average 4.4 pounds of waste per day, per person. 

  • In a decade, it is projected that Americans will throw away over one million tons of aluminum cans and foil, more than eleven million tons of glass bottles and jars, over four and a half million tons of office paper, and nearly ten million tons of newspaper. Almost all of this material could be recycled.

  • If every household in the United States reused a paper grocery bag for one shopping trip, approximately 60,000 trees would be saved.

  • Recycling a four-foot stack of newspapers saves the equivalent of one 40-foot fir tree.

  • Every glass bottle recycled saves enough energy to light a 100-watt light bulb for four hours.

  • Making cans from recycled aluminum saves 95 percent of the energy required to produce cans from virgin material.

  • Americans throw away enough aluminum to rebuild the entire commercial airline fleet every three months.

  • In a lifetime, the average American will throw away 600 times his or her adult weight in garbage. This means that each adult will leave a legacy of 90,000 pounds of trash for his or her children. 

  • Recycling all of your home’s waste newsprint, cardboard, glass, and metal can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 850 pounds a year.

  • One tree can filter up to 60 pounds of pollutants from the air each year.

*According to the University of Colorado Recycling Services in Boulder and theEnvironmental Protection Agency

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