By Mary Heyl

It may be difficult to imagine a time before “going green” was a ubiquitous concept, but not even 50 years ago, the modern environmental movement hardly existed. However, on April 22, 1970, a nation-wide movement to promote and protect the environment finally made headlines around the world, as 20 million Americans took part in marches, rallies and protests fighting for a healthy, sustainable environment. Today, we recognize this monumental movement as Earth Day: each year on April 22, Americans recognize the importance of creating a sustainable environment and the role we can play in protecting it—or harming it.

1970 was an important year in an era of protest and social change. From anti-war rallies, to the Civil Rights movement, to women’s liberation, millions of American were taking to the streets, college campuses, churches and more to refute the status quo. Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, a senator from Wisconsin, felt similarly called to defend the environment, as the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California devastated area wildlife and marine life, killing thousands of birds, dolphins, seals and more. At the time, it was the country’s largest oil spill ever, as 80,000 to 100,000 barrels of crude oil were spilled after a blow-out of Union Oil’s Platform A vessel.

Nelson, along with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, formed a national staff to create a “national teach-in on the environment” day strategically chosen to fall between spring break and final exams. Ever since, April 22 has served as a reminder of what a precious resource the environment is and how much we stand to lose if it is jeopardized by human activity.

Today, one could argue that the United States is similarly engaged in another era of protest, and the causes are not altogether different from what Americans fought for a few decades ago. The Charlottesville riots of 2017, the #NeverAgain anti-gun violence movement and the #MeToo movement are some of the major causes that Americans are taking a stand for today. Although there have been many different reactions and opposing viewpoints to these movements, most can agree that the environment is a precious resource that still needs to be protected, and everyone can play a part in preserving it today and safeguarding it for future generations. The good news is that buying a hybrid vehicle and installing solar panels aren’t the only ways to make a difference! Even the smallest efforts, especially daily habits, can go a long way in creating a greener world.

Although it may feel like the environmental crisis that Senator Nelson drew attention to was the result of one major event—the Santa Barbara oil spill—the state of the environment, from overflowing landfills to contaminated groundwater, was also the result of unconscious modern living practices over the course of many years. The good news is that today we can incorporate some conscious choices into our daily routines that can change the environment for the better!

Reduce the manufacturing of plastic bottles and water-cooler cups by switching to a stainless steel water bottle. Likewise, bring your own travel mug to fill at your favorite coffee stop or the break-room. Commit to bringing a trash bag with you at least once a week on your daily walk and pick up whatever trash or recyclables you find along the way. Take reusable shopping bags with you to the grocery store or at least choose paper bags over plastic, when given the choice. When it comes to recycling, the little items matter too! From the gallon milk jug to the 4-oz yogurt cup, plastic takes up to 1,000 years to decompose and it all adds up, quickly. Check the number inside the recycling symbol (triangle) on the bottom of containers to find out which recycling category they belong in.

This year for Earth Day, make a commitment to change your daily habits for the better! It doesn’t take much effort, but the effect can be tremendous, especially if we all get involved. Stay tuned next week for more ideas to celebrate Earth Day!