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4 Things You Can Do Right Now to Help the Environment

Today marks the 43rd celebration of World Environment Day. Established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972, WED is “the United Nations’ principal vehicle for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the environment.”

The theme for WED 2015 is “Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care.” As the global population steadily rises, the resources available to its seven billion inhabitants are becoming even more precious. In China, coal emissions have degraded nearly one-half of the nation’s soil; in Michigan, bald eagles have become saturated with flame retardants; and all over the world oil is contaminating both land and water.

These are big problems and they require big solutions. But rather than lose hope at the enormity of such crises, Planet Experts has put together this list in hopes that the little victories will grow into bigger ones. Here are the four things you can do today to make your environment stronger.

1) Don’t Litter

It may seem absurd in this day and age that anyone would need to be told this, but it’s the easiest and most common sense item on this list. Don’t litter. When you’re eating something that comes in a package, don’t throw the package on the ground. Wait until you’ve found a trash can or, better yet, recycle bin, before throwing your garbage away.

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Trash upchucked from Santa Monica’s “Second Flush.” (Image courtesy Planet Expert Benjamin Kay)

This is the first thing on our list because it’s clear that, for some people, the habit is still too hard to break. If you live in the city, rubbish is all around you. Even if you live in the suburbs or out in the country, you will find trash in fields and streams. That garbage didn’t get out there by itself; someone made a deliberate choice to leave it there.

Don’t throw your trash in the water, don’t dump it in the ocean, don’t chuck it out of your car window and don’t forget to pick up your dog poop. Commit to this right now and you’ll already have helped the Earth.

2) Volunteer. No, Seriously. Volunteer.

In lists like these, “volunteer” is usually the first word that gets trotted out, and it’s the easiest one to ignore. The word “volunteer” conjures up images of driving to some far off place, putting on a pair of hip-waders and crossing some unknown country in search of wrongs to right. But there are green spaces all around you, and they’re not hard to find.

The search is even easier when you know what area of conservation you want to work in. Angelenos, how would you like to fix up your friendly neighborhood National Park? Want to fight ocean pollution? You can talk to Heal the Bay or the 5 Gyres Institute about that. Want to plant some trees? TreePeople has plenty of resources to get you started.

Lycée International de Los Angeles (Image Credit: Maria McGinley / TreePeople)

Lycée International de Los Angeles (Image Credit: Maria McGinley / TreePeople)

There’s also VolunteerMatch.org, which pairs your location with volunteer opportunities in your area. Your search can even be calibrated by what issues you’re passionate about and what age group you’re most comfortable working with.

3) Ask Yourself If You Really Need Your Lawn

The title refers specifically to California homeowners, but the sentiment applies to everyone.

As you may know, California is currently suffering through one of the worst droughts in its history. But you may not know that Californians use more than half their water on their lawns. Sadly, most of these lawns sport greenery that has no business being in a desert environment, meaning the state’s most precious resource is being used up for aesthetic rather than practical purposes. But some homeowners are starting to get the hint.

The four-acre lawn outside SoCal Gas' Playa Del Rey facility. In 2014, the lawn was removed and replaced with drought-tolerant vegetation. (Image: SoCal Gas)

The four-acre lawn outside SoCal Gas’ Playa Del Rey facility. In 2014, the lawn was replaced with drought-tolerant vegetation. (Image: SoCal Gas)

In Gardena, one couple removed 1,000 square feet of turf from their front and back yards and replaced it with drought-tolerant plants and mulch. Not only does the couple save on water, they’re also receiving $3.75 per square foot of lawn removed through the LADWP’s rebate program.

Last October, I talked to SoCal Gas, which is benefiting from the same program. In 2013, the company removed 78 tons of lawn at their Natural Gas Storage Operation in Playa del Rey and now saves over $5,000 per month in reduced water costs.

Not every state is suffering through a drought, but it’s worth it to every citizen to question their habits and their expenses and ask what is truly necessary in their daily life. Is every part of your home benefiting your health and your environment?

If you’re using common beauty and cleaning products, the answer is definitely no. And here’s why:

4) Innovate

Ever see folks picking up trash on the side of the road? There’s a good chance that the group is part of a larger volunteer corps, but they might just as well be a handful of people with a great idea.

Innovation can mean something as exciting as building a car that runs on air, but it can also mean doing an ordinary thing in an extraordinary way. So there’s trash on the side of the road; rather than waiting for someone to pick it up later, why not be that someone now? Jackson, Wyoming is building their very own indoor-farm, but so can you. You may not have the space for a full-fledged garden, but you can plant herbs and small vegetables in a space no bigger than a flower pot.

Don’t think that makes a difference? It saves you a car trip to the grocery store, it dispenses with one less piece of packaging for the herbs (as well as the grocery bags and receipts), and it saves your body one more exposure to pesticide-laced produce. It makes a big difference, and it’s a solution that’s literally dirt cheap.

Innovation takes many forms. Sometimes it’s a machine that turns human waste into drinkable water, sometimes it’s building bicycles from bamboo instead of metal, sometimes it’s pledging to make your neighborhood safe for honey bees, and sometimes it’s harvesting the water from rain or your washing machine.

If you live in the developed world, chances are there’s something around you that’s making your environment a little less healthy to live in. The solutions are out there; the trick is not getting overwhelmed by the problem. Even one person can make a difference if they work at it one step at a time.

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