Earth Day 2024

What role will you play in the battle of Planet vs. Plastics?

2024 is the 54th anniversary of the birth of the “modern environmental movement," also know as Earth Day. Held every year on April 22nd, Earth Day commemorates April 22, 1970, when 20 million people (nearly 10% of the world's population at the time) took to streets, parks, and auditoriums all across America to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. 

Now, more than a half century later, Earth Day is the largest secular/civic observance in the world, with more than a billion people taking part in activities and celebrations every year.

Earth Day 2024’s official theme is “Planet vs. Plastics”—a continuation of the campaigns from the last several years, which have been designed to demonstrate the massive global scale at which we need to tackle these critical environmental issues.

For the first 52 years, much of the Earth Day activities and messaging had been geared to empowering the individual to help make their corner of the world a little bit greener. Starting with 2022's celebrations, EARTHDAY.ORG (EDO) recognized that while individual contributions to a greener world is of course still important, we must act together, as a global society, to truly bring change.

Individual voices must still raise their concerns to businesses, leaders, and lawmakers…but we must also acknowledge that no one sector or group—public or private; nonprofit or for profit, partisan or non; business, government, or individuals—can do this on their own.

Says Kathleen Rogers, president of EDO, “Like the industrial, space, and information revolutions, all sectors of society can and must play major roles–this time with the extraordinary responsibilities to get it right. Need is converging with inventiveness and innovation, but everyone must play a role.” 

“The word environment means what surrounds you. Now plastics do more than surround us; we have become the product itself. It flows through our blood stream, adheres to our internal organs, and carries with it heavy metals known to cause cancer and disease. Now this once-thought amazing and useful product has become something else, and our health and that of all other living creatures hangs in the balance,” says Rogers. “The Planet vs. Plastics campaign is a call to arms, a demand that we act now to end the scourge of plastics and safeguard the health of every living being upon our planet.”

The goal of Planet vs. Plastics, EARTHDAY.ORG says, is to unite students, parents, businesses, governments, churches, unions, individuals, and NGOs in a call for the end of plastics for the sake of human and planetary health. The short term goal would be a 60% reduction in the production of plastics by 2040, and an ultimate goal of building a plastic-free future for generations to come.

How to achieve that 60% reduction in the next 16 years? The EDO has outlined the following goals:

• Promoting widespread public awareness of the damage done by plastics to human, animal, and all biodiversity’s health and demanding more research be conducted on its health implications, including the release of any and all information regarding its effects to the public.

• Phasing out all single use plastics by 2030 and achieving this phase out commitment in the United Nations Treaty on Plastic Pollution in 2024. 

• Asking for policies ending the problematic epidemic of fast fashion and the vast amount of plastic it produces and uses.

• Investing in innovative technologies and materials to build a plastic-free world.

Make a Group Effort

And while it will TAKE all of us…it will HELP all of us, as well. How can you get involved in The Planet vs. Plastics? Read on to find out a few ways to help address some of the EDO's goals--and then a few other bonus tips to make Earth Day every day!

Work to End Plastic Pollution

Plastic is the most prevalent type of pollution in our oceans and in the Great Lakes—and it takes a toll on the denizens of our seas and waterways. Fortunately, there is a lot we can do in our everyday lives to cut down on the amount of plastics in our waters. Practicing the 5R’s: Reduce, Refuse, Reuse, Recycle, and Remove is a great way to help cut down on the Plastic Pollution Problem.

Plastic is the most prevalent type of pollution in our oceans and in the Great Lakes. Use reusable bags to help.

Reduce the amount of plastics you use—for example, at the grocery store, if you are faced with choosing between two similar products, select the one with minimal (or no) plastic packaging. Grab individual bell peppers, for example, instead of the three peppers packaged together in a bag and on a tray. Transport your produce in a reusable mesh bag, instead of using one of the plastic bags from the dispenser. 

Refuse plastics you don’t need. Think about the plastic you see in trash—much of it is frequently discarded, short-lifecycle items that are those given to us for free. Think of plastic straws at a restaurant or plastic bags at the grocery store. Next time you sit down for dinner at your favorite eatery, tell the waitperson “hold the straw” before they bring out your water or soda. Buying a pack of socks or a sweater at a department store? Tell them “no, thanks” when they put that single item in a plastic bag.

Reuse and repurpose common household items. Use mesh or canvas bags at the grocery store. Buy a refillable water bottle instead of buying bulk cases of bottled water. Hold a clothing swap—it can be a fun, free way for friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors, and the like to find new wardrobe finds.  If you’re crafty, find a way to re-use or upcycle your items into something new altogether. Try making a flower planter out of an old tire.

Recycle the plastic you DO use when you are done with it. Make sure you are following the rules of the community, town, or city in which you live and only recycle items that are truly recyclable. If you are unsure about an item, don’t try to recycle it as it will only slow the sorting process. Recycling rules are not uniform, and can vary quite a bit—even within the same city. Before recycling, make sure you understand your local programs, what can and can’t be recycled, and if you need to sort and/or wash recyclables first. Check out Earth911 to learn more about options in your area. 

Remove plastic pollutants from the environment when you find it. April 22 is a great time to start your efforts! Most cities have events celebrating Earth Day. Search for activities happening near you, or visit the United States Environmental Protection Agency Earth Day page to find some events and volunteer opportunities in your area. Can’t find an organized activity near you? Start one yourself! Get a group of friends together, don your reflective vests and gloves, and pick up litter (and recycle what you can) in your neighborhood or in a park nearby.

Want an in-depth tutorial on how to declutter like a pro (and some links to helpful discounts and coupons!)? Take a peek at our feature on Eco-friendly de-cluttering

Explore Sustainable Fashion

Did you know that the fashion industry is responsible for more than 8% of total greenhouse gas emissions? And, if allowed to grow unchecked, could total more than 26% by the year 2050? 

May people don’t realize it, and it isn’t typically the first thing that comes to mind when we are talking about green living, but clothing is one of the most destructive and polluting industries in the world.

The average person buys 60% more clothing today than 15 years ago, but that clothing is kept only half as long: the average garment may be worn fewer than 10 times before being tossed out (only 1% of clothing is actually recycled). More than 150 billion garments are produced every year—and 87% (40 million tons) end up in landfills and incinerators (causing air pollution). 

It’s not only the sheer amount of clothing in landfills that is a problem. Most major industries today are highly regulated. The fashion industry, one of the world’s largest, is almost entirely unregulated. The manufacturing process, and even the fabrics themselves, can be extremely environmentally unsound. 62% of all clothing is made in part, or entirely, of synthetic fibers such as polyester. Polyester is derived from crude oil (petroleum) which is a non-renewable resource with significant negative impacts on the earth. (And remember those carbon emissions and greenhouse gasses? 40% of those are coming from the manufacturing of polyester.) 

upcycle or recycle your old clothing to keep it out of landfills

The damage to our planet by synthetics doesn’t stop when the manufacturing ends, either. Washing synthetic clothing accounts for 35% of all microplastics in the ocean. That makes them the largest source of microplastic pollution in the world’s oceans. These microplastics end up in the food chain, and eventually, in all of us. One 2022 Dutch study discovered that microplastics were found in the blood of 80% of tested individuals—and half of those plastics were the clothing plastic, PET (polyethylene terephthalate).  

Just because fast-fashion clothing items are made from “natural” materials does not make them sustainable, either. Many non-synthetic fabrics also pose environmental issues. Deforestation from cattle farmed in the Amazon to make the leather many global companies use in shoes and handbags is rampant. Hundreds of millions of trees are razed every year for the production of cellulose fabrics (popular manufactured cellulose fabrics materials like rayon).  

Non-organic cotton farming heavily depletes and degrades soil. Non-organic cotton is highly pesticide intensive, resulting in toxic farm runoff which affects the health of farmers and populations nearby and contaminates fresh waters, wetlands, and aquifers, and threatens biodiversity and eco-systems.

Fast fashion, the intentional design of clothing made quickly and cheaply—and then sold cheaply and disposed of quickly—has revolutionized the garment and apparel industry. But not for the better, as it is stripping the earth of natural resources, dumping pollutants into our air and water, and exploiting labor forces. 

So how do we combat this? How can we get started on a sustainable fashion journey, and move toward a greener wardrobe?

Slow fashion means choosing to buy from sustainable brands with transparent supply chains, and by choosing low-impact and organic natural materials

Shop smarter. One way is to buy from sustainable brands with transparent supply chains, and by choosing low-impact and organic natural materials. Look for wools and cottons and other natural materials that are grown regenerative ways (meaning they are grown without pesticides, fertilizers, weed pulling or tilling, can help sequester carbon, and often use cover crops and diverse plantings to enhance the soil).

Reduce inventory. Buy only what you need and prioritize high-quality pieces that have a long lifespan and a timeless look. Take care of your clothing—wash them less (unless it is dirty or stained, you don’t need to wash outer garments after every wear. Or even every other wear.) and repair minor rips and tears so they last longer. Buy second-hand or vintage or rent your clothing (especially single-use and special occasion garments) from companies like Rent the Runway. For items of clothing you no longer need, upcycle them into something new, donate them to a thrift store, participate in clothing swaps, or sell them in a garage sale or through a company like Poshmark or Ebay. Check out this article for more tips and links on how to reuse, recycle, and repurpose old clothing. 

Do your research. Do a little bit of digging and choose brands that prioritize transparency and sustainability and a commitment to community and their workforce. (Check the Fashion Transparency Index to see how a company ranks in transparency.) Look for sustainable certification from the Fairtrade Foundation, Global Organic Textiles Standard, Soil Association, and Fair Wear Foundation.

How Else Can You Do Earth Day 2024?

While the EDO's challenge is to motivate at a large-scale level, we can all still do our own little part...and it's easier than you think to get started. Looking for inspiration? Together with the help of EDO, we have suggestions for a few other ways to “Invest” in our own homes, neighborhoods, businesses, and communities on this April 22—and all year long!

Boost Green Businesses and Jobs

Embracing a green economy is beneficial for businesses: according to the Harvard Business Review, studies show a direct correlation between sustainable business practices, share prices, and business performance, and companies who develop strong Environment Social Governance (ESG) standards have better profitability, stronger financials, happier employees, and more resilient stock performance.

Today, many companies are making the decision not to choose between going green and growing long-term profit, instead deciding sustainability is the key to future business prosperity. 

Even so, making that move benefits from government and consumer support—and said support can often be the game changer when it comes to making a choice for a more resilient future. After all, as the old adage says…money talks.

“Through regulations, incentives, and public/private partnerships, governments hold the keys to transform and build the green economy,” says EDO. “Similar to the industrial and information revolutions, governments must incentivize their citizens, businesses, and institutions to…empower green business practices as not only the ethical option but also the lucrative one.”

clean energy jobs provide earnings +25% above the national median wage

To see how smart policies like these can be good for both the economy and the environment, one only needs to look to the clean energy industry to see an example. In the U.S., clean energy jobs provide earnings +25% above the national median wage, and outpace fossil fuel extraction/generation jobs by three-to-one, employing more Americans than middle or elementary school teachers, bankers, farmers, or real estate agents. 

And of course, consumers have one of the loudest voices in choosing how to spend their money—so when you want to see how “money talks” about environmental concerns, retail studies are a good choice. A 2021 study by Deloitte explored how consumers are adopting a more sustainable lifestyle and what those consumers feel are some of the most environmentally sustainable and ethical business options. 

According to the study, ethical and sustainability issues remain a key driver for consumers. Close to one in five has opted for low carbon transport or switched to renewable energy. 61% of consumers said they were choosing to cut back on plastics, and 45% choosing to shop locally and buy seasonal produce/foods/items (49%) to cut back on shipping’s carbon footprint and to support local businesses. And nearly a full third of consumers say they have stopped purchasing certain brands due to environmental/ethical concerns.

Leading the charge? Gen Z, who are adopting more sustainable behaviors at a higher rate than any other groups: 50% reduced how much they buy and nearly half (45%) stopped purchasing certain brands because of ethical or sustainability concerns. As Gen Z ages and becomes the primary drivers of spending, they are sending a clear message that businesses and industries that elect to protect our environment through their practices and climate-friendly investments will be the go-to vendors of choice in the future.

Plant a Tree or Pollinator Garden

The world’s forests have lost about 20% of their coverage since the start of the 20th century. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, about 18 million acres of forest are lost every year, and roughly half of Earth’s tropical forests have already been cleared.

Deforestation such as this contributes to species extinction, poverty, and global greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. Planting a tree (or many trees!) is an easy way to reduce carbon dioxide, a principal greenhouse gas. Plus, trees provide wildlife habitats, shade buildings, and help conserve energy; they can prevent erosion, help with temperature control, and keep streams and rivers clean. That’s a lot of benefit from a simple action!

Want to help reforestation efforts worldwide? Consider supporting EDO’s Canopy Project. Since 2010, the project has planted tens of millions of trees across the globe. EDO works to reforest areas in dire need of rehabilitation, including areas with some of the world’s communities most at-risk from climate change and environmental degradation. They also do broad-scale plantings in the wake of environmental disasters, such as their work in helping the reforestation of Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Forest following Hurricane Maria in 2018. To learn more about the Canopy Project, see examples of some of the specific reforestation efforts, or to find out how you can get involved, visit EARTHDAY.ORG’s website

a bee on flowerPollinators are one of the most critical species in the world—they help keep us (and other animals) fed! Without pollinators, we would run out of food quickly. We need pollinators to ensure the persistence of our crop yields and ensure healthy sustainable ecosystems now and in the future.

One critical creature is the bee. Humans, plants, and animals all depend on the work of the bee for survival. Honeybees alone are one of the world’s most important pollinators. Just in the United States, they are responsible for $15 billion worth of food crops consumed and sold. Facing the triple threats of disease, climate change, and habitat loss, bee populations around the world are declining, with many species of bees becoming endangered and, in some cases, extinct, faster than ever before. 

How can you help? By stopping your use of pesticides, you can help protect our bees (and other pollinating insects)--and our planet. Take the pesticide pledge today! 

In addition to taking the pesticide pledge, learning about and planting a pollinator garden and native trees can be a huge help. Want to learn more? This article on the monarch butterfly and its role in the ecosystem includes a step-by-step guide to building a milkweed garden to help the monarchs on their migration route. For tips on what else to grow, check out our bee-friendly infographic guide to trees, flowers, shrubs, and other plants for pollinators.

Make Your Voice Heard 

vote to make your voice heard about climate changeAre you registered to vote? You may think, “what does that have to do with pollution and planting trees?” But being a registered and informed voter is how the voice of the people gets heard by our legislators—and how change happens. 

If we want leadership that follows science, promotes sustainability, and works to prepare communities for future environmental, economic, and health challenges, we need to first educate ourselves, and then exercise our right to vote to get representation that represents us—and the fight for a sustainable, healthy, and just world.

Be active. Advocacy doesn’t have to be BIG. You can start small. Try some of the tips in this article to change how you shop for and wear your clothing. Plant a monarda plant for the pollinators. Challenge a friend to unplug the “energy vampires” in their home or to commit to using paper straws alongside you. Get the kids involved. Educating the next generation is just as important as educating ourselves. After all, they are the ones who are inheriting what we leave behind.

Show your kids the beauty of getting outside—the Earth is an amazing, beautiful place to explore. Go for a hike, take them on nature walk, plan a picnic and let them help shop for the meal items at your local farmers’ market; dig in the dirt and plant some pots filled with herbs or plant an Arbor Day seedling. There are myriad ways to appreciate being outdoors for kids of ALL interests.

Want to take the next step in your green journey? Check out EarthDay.Org’s tool kit and primer section. This collection of toolkits is filled with information about not just climate change, but species in need of protection, conservation efforts, plastic pollution, and ways you personally can minimize your disturbance on the planet and limit your carbon footprint.

As EOD says, “Change starts with action. Better yet, an action that affects the world around you.” EOD’s Billion Acts of Green campaign gives everyone, everywhere a chance to put some of those things in to practice—and to share their knowledge with others.

Visit EarthDay.Org to find both at-home, digital Acts of Green, as well as a locator map to find in-person events near you. Acts of Green range from joining or leading an online climate change community discussion; downloading the Earth Challenge app to become a "citizen scientist" and monitor your own corner of the globe; or simply seeing the daily action for today on what you can do today to be more green.

Fast Fashion statistics from: (EDO).


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