Earth Day celebrated its 50th anniversary this year on April 22nd. And because of Earth Day, and the uniting of environmentally minded individuals, a lot has been accomplished in terms of environmental action in the past 50 years. Humans are a very powerful species, both in negative and positive ways, with technologies, innovative inventions, and the global culture of consumerism and development we’ve created. After 200 years of industrial development, our species has accomplished incredible initiatives by working together, and many of these things that started as great ideas, have been exploited to extremes, and have taken a toll on the planet’s health. One example is the invention of single use plastic, made for a more convenient lifestyle and a so called “solution” to deforestation as our population expanded and required increased resources. Unintentionally, this great idea transformed into a larger number of global problems, with climate change at the tip of the iceberg. 

Earth Day started as a way to advocate for change, which is why today I want to focus the attention on all the great positive impacts we as a species can and have had on our planet in terms of reducing waste.  

First off, Earth Day began on April 22, 1970 in the United States. It actually began as a young persons endeavour at a University to teach students about environmental issues and actions against it. As soon as the day was named “Earth Day”, it sparked the attention of national media, causing a ripple effect across the entire country, where like minded individuals were inspired to protest together. In 1970, this was 10% of the population in America, and people who had been advocating on their own suddenly all united in protests and rallies from coast to coast. This initiative of many people coming together in unity sparked change at the national level and actually led to the creation of the United States EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), the National Environmental Education Act, and many other policies in favour of protecting natural spaces from negative human impact.

50 years later and Earth Day is celebrated in 193 countries, with over one billion individuals participating in conservation actions every Earth Day. What an amazing ambition, that was started with two gentlemen, and has turned into a global avenue for creating change and uniting people and organizations who care about the beautiful place we live in. 

One of the most iconic Earth Day activities for those around the globe is the “cleanup”, where people everywhere make an effort to pick up trash that has somehow found its way to a natural space. It could be a beach clean up, under water clean up, street cleaning, river collection, or a small trash pick up through the neighbourhood. Our species creates trash at an immense speed, so of course it takes millions of people to curb the flow of trash to Earth’s natural spaces. And everyone has a role to play in its success. Now, I want to share some wonderful Canadian projects and stories of people doing incredible environmental work to clean up littered trash from coast to coast. 

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup started with just a few individuals looking to make Vancouver’s Stanley Park a little cleaner, and has turned into one of the largest conservation action programs in Canada. Cleanups can take place on any shore throughout Canada, and anyone can host and join them, which makes them extremely accessible. In 2018 there were 2,074 clean ups held through this organization, where 61,631 people helped to divert 116,429 Kg of waste from waterways. 

Photo from The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup @shorelinecleanup

Of course, these numbers only reflect the clean up efforts recorded through this company, but we can’t forget about all the other individuals and families that took their garbage bags and reacher-grabbers down their streets to remove trash from the roadside. One of these families expresses their trash clean ups on the Instagram handle @trash_free_canada. This couple from New Brunswick believe in a cleaner world and although they don’t like picking up trash, feel it is part of their responsibility. This year, they pledged to go out and pick up garbage every day during 2020, so of course they post their findings almost everyday, and believe me, some of the items they find are astonishing… from straws and cups to tampon packaging and pool toys!

The Binners Project is another initiative taking place on one of our coasts, based in British Columbia. Their goal is to divert waste that would otherwise go to the landfill, while also supporting waste pickers (binners) and improving their economic opportunities. They often collect redeemable items like cans or bottles, but also have collected and recycled other beverage containers such as coffee cups. Coffee cups are one of the top 12 items found during clean ups in Canada, and there is always confusion about if they are recyclable. Even during the clean up walk I conducted in my neighbourhood this past week, I found 21 coffee cups and 22 lids along 2km of one path. Through the Binners Project, they hold an annual pop-up depot for collecting coffee cups, giving a refund of five cents per cup. Every Year this project involves many volunteers and workers and because of their efforts, these cups are able to be recycled instead of trashed.

The last project I’ll mention shows just how much control each individual has over positive impact. This annual project is called Run Against Plastic, where a man named Andy Sward runs across Canada collecting beverage bottles and cans from road sides. To make all of this happen Sward runs while pushing a jogger stroller to collect the trash. He runs a variety of distances along his journey, but essentially this is like running a marathon every day!  Along the way, he and his business partner hold educational workshops and invite individuals to join in their clean up as they travel through the communities. This year, he has actually just begun his journey (although a slightly changed course) starting in Vancouver. 

Photo from Andy Sward @millionbottlepledge

These are just four examples of innovative clean up projects out there, aimed towards creating a better future and cleaner planet. Even though they all take a slightly different approach to involving and educating others, they do have one thing in common. Each person who has founded or been a part of the success of these projects cares enough about the planet to do something about it. Each of these individuals has taken it upon themselves to clean up a mess that isn’t directly theirs, but has been created by our society as a whole. They take on the responsibility of cleaning it because they care what happens to the place we live and everything else that lives here. 

Earth Day was built on a cohesive and coordinated community of environmentally minded people who were striving for local, national, and global change to human behaviour. Today, Earth Day is the mirror image of the first Earth Day, celebrating 50 years of people coming together to advocate for environmental change. Today, every individual and every action shapes the Earth’s future, and as we can look into Earth Day’s past, time and time again it shows us we can’t do it alone (but every action helps). Earth Day is only one day of the year, but the positive impact we can create is everlasting. 

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