Earth Day in Action

From Unplugging to Composting, E's 5 Ways to Honor Earth Day This Year

Commit yourself to getting outside more—and enjoying more hikes—to honor Earth Day this year.

This year, to honor Earth Day (April 22), consider taking more definitive action. Whether it's setting aside more time for hikes and outdoor explorations, joining a local pollution-fighting group or composting kitchen scraps, use this day dedicated to all things green to take a meaningful step or two.

Here are 5 ideas from E.

1. Join the movement: If you're fed up with dirty (and dangerous) coal mining, with chemicals in consumer products or destruction of beautiful lands—get active! There are tons of causes around the country worth discovering and lending support to. A few of our favorites include 350.org, an international campaign dedicated to building a movement to unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis; Heartwood, a regional network that protects forests and supports community activism in the eastern U.S.; Appalachian Voices, which brings people together to solve the environmental problems having the greatest impact on the central and southern Appalachian Mountains, and the Waterkeeper Alliance, an advocacy organization dedicated to preserving and protecting water from polluters with local groups throughout the U.S. and Canada.

2. Get outside: Every time I see the statistic that we spend, on average, 90% of our time indoors, I can hardly believe we've reached such extremes. But between car commutes, office jobs, classrooms, and time spent at home, we've reduced going outdoors to a special treat we allow ourselves only in short bursts. Why not commit yourself to getting outdoors more, especially now that Spring has sprung, whether it's an hour a day or a two-hour hike each weekend—and start exploring the trails, nature preserves and natural wonders close by? It's a great way to "get back to nature," and to improve your health—pollutant concentration in indoor air is two to five times higher than outdoor, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. See the EPA's Guide to Indoor Air Quality here.

3. Unplug: It's sacrilegious, I know, but all our electronic gadgets—from cell phones to laptops to video games to televisions—are keeping us increasingly disconnected from the outside world and one another. A study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation in January 2010 found that kids ages 8 to 18 today spend seven hours and 38 minutes using electronic media in a typical day—or 53 hours per week! When's the last time you had dinner with the family outdoors—whether on the patio or a picnic blanket? Or how about bringing some supplies to a local park or campground and enjoying the fresh air while you cook over a grill with a group of friends? It's hard to imagine where we could find the time for such leisurely family activities until we actually unplug and allow ourselves to get away from the immediate, persistent beeps, rings and alerts that suck away our free moments.

4. Compost: Food waste is a major environmental concern, since organic matter releases methane in oxygen-starved landfills—a greenhouse gas that's 21 times as potent as carbon dioxide—and it's literally a resource waiting to be enjoyed. If you start composting your kitchen scraps instead of dumping them in the trash, you"ll be rewarded with the most nutrient-rich soil your garden could hope for. How bad is our food waste problem? According to researcher Timothy Jones of the University of Arizona, U.S. households throw away 14% of their edible purchases, or $590 per year. See our EarthTalk column on food waste here. There are lots of ways to compost, from kitchen bins to outdoor tumblers to worm bins. When using worms—hundreds of red wigglers, in fact, which make extraordinary rich compost—it's called "vermiculture." The site Composting101 is a good place to get you started.

5. Ditch the packaging: Despite our noblest efforts, forgoing packaging is tricky business. We buy in bulk, but pack in plastic baggies; we use a reusable water bottle, but buy a disposable cup of coffee each day; we purchase organic snacks, but in snack-size packages. Packaging is ubiquitous in our culture, even among the "green" products we prefer. But the more we become aware of just how over-wrapped our lives have become, the easier it is to steadily avoid. Bring your own shopping bags and travel mugs, keep dishes at the office to avoid disposables, refuse to have lunch items or solo items put in plastic at the deli or store, buy in bulk whenever possible, use reusable containers instead of baggies…you get the idea. And stainless steel food containers like these are a pretty cool alternative to plastic, too.

Happy Earth Day!

BRITA BELLI is editor of E.