2020 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the largest non-religious holiday celebrated in the world. Earth Day is a day where we mobilise to demand more protection for the planet, but this year will be different.
The last couple of months have seen the world turned upside down as we know it. With the world living in lockdown we have seen thousands of lives lost, panic buying, people and businesses in dire financial circumstances, a rise in mental health issues as well. Many will also point to things like cleaner air and clear water, but a pandemic is hardly the way to go about handling the climate crisis.
So, what can you do for Earth Day 2020?
Before the pandemic, we were dealing with a climate emergency. We were making our voices heard. We were demanding change. Now as we are anxiously awaiting the chance to return to normal, but do we really want all of normal back? Is this the chance we needed to start over; to rethink our choices and habits? Can being forced to stay home help us change from consumers wanting more, more, more to ones that know exactly what they need to survive?
This pandemic has shown one thing; when the world is presented with a serious enough problem, we can take immediate action. When are we going to see our climate/planet emergency as just a dire situation as this one?
If we don’t slow climate change we will continue to see zoonotic diseases because we can’t stop expanding and destroying animal habitats. These kinds of pandemics could become a regular thing.
We will continue to see worsening disasters which leads to food and water shortages, homelessness, higher insurance premiums for everyone, and loss of lives. We will see important species, like bees, go extinct. Even though panic buying is what led to empty shelves in the UK and not a food shortage, what if we don’t change our ways? Could this be common place in the future?
If we don’t pick up the momentum where we left off, we risk being another generation that is stealing the future from our children because of insatiable consumption of resources, like toilet paper.
As we sit in lockdown can we come up with a new, sustainable definition of normal?
Here are 10 Earth Day Projects you can do as a family from home.
1. Get to Know the 5 Rs of recycling.
You may be familiar with the 3 Rs of old; recycle, reuse, reduce? Well, the 5 Rs give us more options and a “correct order” Refuse, Reduce, Reuse/Repair, Rot (compost), Recycle. Recycling will never fix our over-consumption problem and is considered a last resort.
As your family experiences lockdown you probably are seeing panic buying and may have had trouble getting basics like bread, rice, and pasta. This week I couldn’t find lettuce. And there are plenty of memes for the lack of toilet roll and kitchen roll for about a month.
What does this have to do with the 5 Rs?
If we look at the Reuse R we can solve the toilet roll and kitchen roll issues. Converting your toilet to a bidet/washlet means you no longer have a need for toilet roll. Using flour sack tea towels instead of kitchen roll means you will never run out. Both changes will also save you money and space.
You can check out my Beginner’s Guide to Zero Waste for more money saving swaps.
This is also a good time to think Reduce. We have been forced into a life where we can only do essential tasks. Shopping for fun is not one of them (unless you find yourself going shop to shop online). So as your family no longer is spending money on entertainment, clothes, eating meals out, or commuting here and there to extra-curricular activities, would you keep any of this the same once the lockdown is over?
Could you reduce the amount of unnecessary stuff you purchase? Can you reduce the amount of traveling you do in a week? Can you reduce the commitments for you and your family to keep more of this quality time together?
Talk with your family. You may find that going for walks or bike rides as a family has been a nice change of pace. Your family may really enjoy home-cooked meals and want to continue.
Reducing can save you money for things that really matter to you and your family. Reducing can give you and your family time to connect and time to just be. If you want to know more benefits of reducing check out my article 7 Benefits of Embracing Minimalism as a Family.
2. Continue Making Your Meals at Home
Yes, making three meals a day every day is tedious. I love when Lee gets home and says, I feel like a chippy. I think, Hallelujah!! A break.
However, since I have been making every meal at home, Lee and I have noticed a few things. When we take our family out for a meal we spend £60+ but for an extra £20 on our food shop I can make all our meals at home.
While we do miss going out for treats, we may rethink the frequency after considering our health. Since we have eaten almost exclusively home cooked meals, Lee and I have both noticed our clothes fit better. By cutting out all the processed foods, three course pub meals, and trips to McDonalds we are feeling healthier.
By cooking at home you control what ingredients your family eats.
If you want to take it a step further, consider a meatless day each week. Agriculture is one of the biggest contributors of greenhouse gases (accounting for 30% worldwide) and one of the biggest drivers of deforestation. By reducing your family’s meat consumption you are doing something positive for the planet.
3. Keep up the 60 minutes
When you are stuck at home day in and day out, that 1 hour allotment of exercise time is suddenly sacred in preserving your sanity.
Keep going. Instead of traveling somewhere to get out, keep your walks and family bike rides close to home.
You will reduce your carbon emissions, the toxins in our air and you keep you and your family healthy.
Between the home cooked meals and daily exercise you are doing amazing things for your family’s health and the planet’s, too.
4. Write Letters, Sign Petitions, Sign the Climate Pledge
This Earth Day being stuck at home doesn’t mean we can’t get a conversation going. Write to local MPs, ask them what they plan to do about the climate crisis as we get closer to loosening lockdown measures. Will we invest in cleaner energy? Focus more on expanding the rail network and not airports?
This is a great activity for older children as well. They know there is a climate crisis and they can make an opportunity to make their voice heard by writing a letter. You can feel good knowing that they are working on their writing, spelling, and penmanship as well. Homeschooling activity planned.
You can also write to shops like Asda and Tesco asking them to start providing bulk items and refilling stations. Ask them to reduce their plastic packaging. Let them know the plastic problem worries you as does the climate crisis and you want to know what they are doing and when.
While petitions on Change.org are great for getting people to sign and share, there is some uncertainty as to whether or not these petitions get discussed in parliament. However, if you go to petition.parliament.uk you can sign petitions or start your own. When a petition reaches 10,000 signatures the government will respond and 100,000 the government considers debating it.
Sign the Climate Pledge and commit your family to reducing your climate footprint. There is even a carbon footprint calculator so you can see the emissions your family produces and can see where you need to make changes.
If your family has a few quid to spare, consider choosing a cause as a family and make a small donation.
5. Practice Gratitude
As a family whether in a discussion at meal times, or using a private moment to write in journals, make a habit of being thankful for all the things both big and small.
Being stuck at home all day every day can be mentally fatiguing and isolated. Keep you mental health up by taking the time to say, Man, I am so grateful the sun was out today, otherwise being at home would have been so much gloomier, or Thank goodness I bought toilet roll before things got crazy.
Gratitude doesn’t have to be major, things like having food, the ability to holiday from certain bills, your favourite song, and your health are all examples of bright spots in your day.
It’s so easy to get wrapped up in all the negative news, but choosing gratitude every day forces you to focus on the good in your day.
What does gratitude have to do with saving the planet?
Plenty. Once you realise how much you have, the desire to want more, more, more becomes less, less, less. You realise you have enough. Consuming less means you are using less resources, which helps the planet.
Spring cleaning and decluttering seems to be at the top of everyone’s to do list at the minute, but there are ways to make it an environmentally-friendly endeavour.
First, try not to make a bin pile. Only items that are broken beyond repair should be disposed of, and even then try to take the items to the tip to be recycled properly.
Anything you don’t want to keep you can either sell and enjoy a few extra quid in your pocket, donate, or give away for free.
Try not to think about it as Well if somebody would take it for free, then I should charge money for it. No. If it was something you would take to the tip, give someone the opportunity to save you the hastle to come and collect it. Chances are they need it or know someone who does and if they do resell it, then give them the benefit of the doubt that they really need the money and take comfort knowing you helped someone and the planet.
There are so many ways to get your unwanted items into the hands of someone looking for it or needing it. Facebook Marketplace lets you search based on location not to mention all the local group pages you can join.
Not on Facebook? Try PrelovedUK.
Once you have decluttered, decide as a family to be really particular about what you allow into your home from now on. If you are enjoying the space, do everything you can to preserve that space. You can also check out my article on Decluttering Tips.
7. Establish a New Normal for Your Family
This ties in with the 5 Rs and the gratitude practice mentioned before. As a family make a list of the positive changes to your lifestyle as a result of the lockdown. Maybe you have family game nights now and want to continue that. Maybe you cook meals as a family and want to continue to do so. Maybe you have been saving money being at home more.
Make a list of the positives.
Discuss as a family what things you want to spend money on. What do you really value or miss since being on lockdown? Is it saving for a nice holiday or season passes to an amusement park? Is being able to have a garden party with family or friends important? Maybe you want to give the back garden an overhaul and plant some vegetables?
Think of the things that aren’t things, you’ve been living without making a ton of non-essential purchases and that’s a good thing. You’ve already been forced to make a change so why not maintain the change?
Once your family has decided what they want make sure that all of your spending brings you closer to your family’s goals. It will help you make decisions as to whether an item is worth buying and it will make saying, no, to the kids’ impulse wants at the shops easier because you can say, Well if we buy this it means we have to wait even longer for x,y,z.
Mindset change is huge for reversing the damage humans have done to the planet. Imagine if everyone thought like you do?
8. Take a Stand Against Plastic Waste
In addition to writing to shops in task number four, consider where you can reduce your plastic waste.
Plastic in the UK has been shown in documentaries as being shipped to other countries to deal with. Those countries are then overwhelmed with waste that they can’t handle. It ends up in water-ways and then we blame those countries for polluting the oceans when we are making their problem worse.
How can you cut back on waste?
Look around your house at convenience items; plastic storage bags, cling film, “forever bags,” etc. These are items that can’t be recycled or can’t be recycled easily and each of them has a reusable alternative that is not as detrimental to the environment. If your want some easy swaps click on my 4 Step Beginner’s Guide to Zero Waste. You can even download an easy swap chart to get you started.
Next look at your bins. What products are you throwing away?
Are there sustainable alternatives? Instead of Fairy washing up liquid which has a warning that their product WILL cause harm to marine life, why not switch to eCover which is easily found on shelves, does NOT harm the ocean and has 5L refill jugs available reducing your plastic waste.
Are there better packaged alternatives? For example, using laundry powder in a box is a better choice than liquid detergent in a plastic bottle. The price point doesn’t change and the box is more likely to be recycled than the bottle.
Can you make any of the items yourself? Making snacks from scratch and storing them in your own containers may still require some packaging waste, however it is less than buying a box with individually wrapped snacks over and over again. Your family will also benefit from less processed foods and the rainforest benefits as you would likely be replacing products with unsustainable palm oil.
If your family has been making meals at home and your kids are a bit older, get them involved in making their own snacks. You can make this part of your family’s routine every week and when schools finally reopen your kids will be ready with healthy, homemade treats.
9. Give Pre-Loved a Chance
There is such a stigma that charity shops are for poor people and we need to change that.
We have no problem buying a “used” house and fixing it up to make it our own or buying a used car because it saves us money, so why should clothing, toys, and household items be any different?
When we have babies we gladly accept hand-me-down clothes because babies outgrow them so fast, but somewhere along the line we are bombarded with enough advertisements that say we need to have new and trendy clothes, shoes, and accessories that we give in.
The problem is, if the fashion industry was a country it would have almost as big a carbon footprint as the entire continent of Europe! It’s bigger than the airline and shipping industry combined. Fast fashion is responsible for tonnes of landfill waste each year as well as poor working conditions and pay for its employees.
What’s good, is that fashion trends repeat. Right now the 90s are back. You can find vintage 90s online and in charity shops. The cycle seems to be every 20-30 years. The 70s have been back as well as the 80s. Another good thing is that if you can sew you can buy something and make it one of a kind and if the colour is light, you can dye it.
And if you just go with what looks good on you and makes you feel good then that’s what you should be wearing. Just because wide leg trousers are trendy does not mean my ass should be wearing them. At only five feet tall, wide leg pants just make me look shorter and wider, so even when they are trendy, I know it’s not a good look on me and don’t waste the money.
Once lockdown is over I am signing up for a sewing class at a local college. I know the basics of my sewing machine but would love to be able to transform and upcycle some preloved clothes.
We have washing machines and everything else can be cleaned.
Buying second-hand saves you money and saves the planet resources that don’t have to be used to make something new. I have been enjoying online preloved shopping whist at home. My favorites so far are Vinted.co.uk, the Thrift+, Preloved and I’ve just placed my first order on the Depop app.
10. Plant Pollinator Friendly Plants in Your Garden
Bees are so important to our food supply. They pollinate one third of the world’s food supply. They pollinate fields of crops that feed livestock. Many on the food chain depend on bees to pollinate food. But between pesticides, parasites and habitat loss bees are dying off.
If they go extinct we are in trouble.
So help a honey bee out and plant some plants that they like to feed on, so they don’t have to forage great lengths.
Different types of bees are flying around from February to November so having your garden maintained year-round is helpful.
Bees like single flowers and brightly coloured flowers (especially purple like lavender). Herbs like marjoram, chives, thyme, mint, sage, and rosemary attract bees. They also viper’s bugloss, foxglove, geraniums, and sunflowers! You can get a full list and gardening guide from bumblebeeconservation.org.
Gardening is a fun activity for younger kids as well as they love playing in dirt.
When I do my shopping on Amazon I make sure to use Amazon Smile and 0.5% of my purchase goes to help bee conservation (though there are lots of organisations to choose from).
Next Steps: Make Every Day Earth Day
Hopefully you found some useful, actionable Earth Day ideas that you can try today, like right now. If you want to do more, download the 30 Day Earth Day Challenge. No sign up required.
This Earth Day is like no other but it is such an important one because it is happening at the exact moment when we can make a huge change by deciding not to accept the status quo. We can establish our own normal and have the voice to demand our government do the same.
I hope you and your family are healthy and surviving. Keep doing what you need to do and if you can squeeze something in for the planet, even better. Let me know if I can help.