Plastic bottles and general rubbish washed up by the sea litter the beaches in Prestwick, Scotland © Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Since it started in 1970, Earth Day has been celebrated every year on 22 April to highlight important issues such as climate change, pollution, deforestation, and plastic waste. The aim is to educate people and encourage environmental movements around the world.
In 2018, the focus is on plastic pollution. Rubbish and plastics in our oceans are constantly washing up on beaches endangering animals and the beauty of the landscape, and every year, around 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean, rising to 160 million tonnes by 2025 at the current rate. All of this plastic breaks down into smaller pieces over time and has created a plastic soup in the Pacific covering an area twice the size of the US.
So what can we do to help the plastic pollution problem? Here are a few things you can do to do your part for saving the planet on Earth Day.
Go on a beach clean
If you want to help get rid of some of the plastic waste in your area, going on a beach clean is a great and fun way to do this. They happen all year round in most coastal areas and you can sign up easily online, on Facebook or on a website such as Surfers Against Sewage and the Marine Conservation Society. The Great British Beach Clean is an annual event in September happening on many beaches around the UK. In 2017, almost 7,000 people took part and they removed over 250,000 pieces of rubbish from beaches. Maybe this year it can be even bigger!
Plant a tree
Trees and forests are extremely important for providing oxygen, homes, and resources to animals, which includes us. Deforestation contributes to greenhouse gases, with an estimated 15 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions are due the cutting down of trees.
If you want to help make your area a bit greener and help reduce deforestation and climate change; plant a tree or even a forest! You can buy saplings from garden centres or order them online from the Woodland Trust. Either buy a single sapling, or a tree pack, which contains up to 210 trees. You can even apply for free trees for your school or local community.
Buy a bag for life
Single-use plastic carrier bags are no friend to the environment, clogging up landfill sites, and posing great danger to marine wildlife. The 5p plastic bag charge in shops and supermarkets has helped this issue, however, you can help further by buying a bag for life so that you never have to buy a plastic carrier bag again. These are reusable bags that are very strong, and are available in most supermarkets and online.
Don’t eat any meat
As a species, we love eating meat, especially in the West, but this is putting a great pressure on this industry. As well as potential animal welfare issues from intensive farming, the environmental damage animal products create is also a massive issue. Beef in particular uses up a lot of land, a lot of water, and produces many greenhouse gases. If you are a meat eater, cutting down on the amount you eat will have a beneficial impact on the environment. You could start small and go meat free for one day a week (it’ll even save you money, or even try go vegetarian. You never know, you might love it.
Microbeads are tiny beads of plastic that are in many cosmetic products, such as face washes and toothpaste. They end up being washed down your sink into the ocean and can enter the food chain when marine animals consume them. Fortunately, a ban this year means that micorbeads can no longer be used in cosmetic products. However, this does not cover ‘leave-on’ products such as make up. So, make sure the next time you buy any cosmetic products, check the label first for the ingredients list.
Walk or ride a bike
Cars contribute greatly to air pollution, climate change, and have a negative impact on human health. They produce dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, which then enter our atmosphere that we have to breath in.
Rather than taking your car, try to walk or ride a bike instead. This is also good exercise contributing to a healthy lifestyle. If you don’t have a bicycle, then even carpooling with others will help cut down your carbon footprint.
Give up chewing gum
You might think that chewing gum is environmentally friendly, but it is actually made from a synthetic rubber, which is plastic. Around 100,000 tonnes of this plastic is thrown away every year, and a lot of it ends up on our streets. Next time you want minty-fresh breath, just brush your teeth rather than chewing on a piece of plastic.
Shop at a local farmers market
Farmers markets are a great way to get fresh produce and are beneficial in many ways. Firstly, they support local businesses encouraging positive growth in your area. They also tend to use a lot less, or even no plastic packaging compared to supermarkets, so help reduce waste. Finally, the products are grown or made locally so transport distances are very short and CO2 emissions are low.
Supermarkets on the other hand transport food over thousands of miles from different countries. If there isn’t a farmers market near you, then try to buy grocery products that are from the UK and organic.
Buy a reusable water bottle
In 2016, over 480 billion plastic bottles were sold, which is over 60 for every person. If everyone had a reusable water bottle, then this number would decrease greatly. If you don’t already own one, then go out and buy a bottle that you can take with you everywhere you go.
Cutting down on single-use plastic bottles also means drinking less juices and fizzy drinks, good for your health as they contain a lot of sugar and sometimes weird chemicals. If they are in a glass bottle, then this is a better option to reduce plastic waste.
Stop using plastic straws
Plastic straws contribute greatly to the plastic waste in our oceans. The next time you go to a bar or restaurant, make sure say no to a straw, and even encourage them to stop using straws completely. If you have to use one, then buy an environmentally friendly one that is reusable. You can buy bamboo, metal, and glass straws online that you can wash and use rather than always buying plastic ones.
Switch all of your bills to paperless
Rather than being sent your monthly bills by post, switch to online statements to reduce paper waste. It’s really easy to do and you are sent an email when your bills are available online to view. Decreasing the demand for paper will hopefully decrease the rate of deforestation.
Start a compost heap in your garden
Food wastage is a massive problem all around the world. In Europe alone, the food wasted could feed approximately 200 million people. Starting a compost heap in your garden will help you get rid of kitchen and garden waste efficiently and you can use it to fertilise your garden with valuable nutrients.
It’s really easy to start, you can either just put it in a pile, or in a container at the edge of your garden. And then you just have to wait for it to all decompose. At the bottom of the pile, you will then have a rich and fertile compost that you can spread around the garden.
Spread the word!
The more people who know about Earth Day and your efforts to help reduce environmental damage, the faster important issues such as plastic pollution will be resolved.
- Pictures: the first Earth Day in 1970
- Drowning in plastic: can we solve the marine pollution problem?
- Exciting new green technology of the future
- Why are some plastics recyclable and others are not?
- Hitching a ride? Deadly bacteria cling on to discarded plastic
- How do microbeads affect fish?