Desperate times creating Earth Day every day habits

Carl Lisek, executive director of South Shore Clean Cities and VP of Legacy Environmental Services, dicussess our modern day relationships to Earth Day.

earth day

Anyone who has ever met me knows I’m generally the happy-go-lucky guy in the crowd, the one who is quick to make a joke and sees the silver lining on dark clouds.

I have to admit that even for me, it’s been tough to maintain a consistently positive attitude over the last few weeks. That said, I’ve noticed some positive trends I think we can all agree could become habits to continue well beyond the end of this crisis.

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This April 22 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which has become a day for those around the globe to plan events focused on environmental efforts, during which many pledge to adopt eco-friendly practices. At South Shore Clean Cities, we have a bit of an Earth Day every day mentality with our focus on reducing the use of petroleum in favor of sustainable, domestic fuels, vehicles and technologies.

Social distancing guidelines have forced the cancelation of most traditional Earth Day events, but the reality is, most of us are likely embracing conservation in ways we never have before, not because of a newfound sense of environmentalism, but out of necessity. Not unlike our Depression-era ancestors, we are embracing the three Rs without even realizing it – reduce, reuse and recycle, in that order.

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How many of us used to spin the paper towel or toilet paper rolls like the big wheel on “The Price is Right” with no regard for how much we used? I have to admit even for an eco-friendly person like me, I was guilty of it. Now, when we aren’t sure what might be available in the stores or online, we’re thinking twice, taking just one paper towel or grabbing reusable cloths instead of paper towels when we can. One of our staff members said her family used paper towels as napkins in the past but recently ordered cloth napkins in an effort to conserve what they have and create less waste.

How many of us used to throw away the heels of bread but are now gladly using them for sandwiches or morning toast? I know we’re strategizing our meal planning more than ever, making sure food isn’t wasted and making the best of what we have in our refrigerator and freezer. It’s just another practice that creates less waste.

I’ve read stories about a push for Americans to plant victory gardens, harkening back to World Wars I and II when planting vegetable and herb gardens at homes or in public places was encouraged to maintain rations needed for troops and to show support for the war efforts. Today, it’s more about providing for your family when grabbing a tomato from a pot on your deck or the garden in your backyard allows you to maintain social distancing. I’ve seen reports saying seed companies are being flooded with online orders as a result of the movement.

From an environmental standpoint, any locally grown food choice is best. Most food on your plate has to travel an average of 1,500 miles to get there, likely in a huge, diesel-fueled semi that creates emissions harmful to human health. When local businesses are struggling now more than ever, it’s critical to choose local in your food shopping as well as when choosing restaurant orders. Small local restaurants that use local products are a great option, especially now.

Another positive we’ve seen in recent weeks is a dramatic change in air quality due to a lack of passenger vehicles on the roads. Reports indicate air pollution is down across the globe.

We know the only way to get through this is together and I’m confident we’ll emerge stronger as a result of it. The question is what habits are we forming today that we can carry into the post-pandemic future to ensure a cleaner tomorrow? How can we make sure Earth Day continues to be every day? I know I’m rethinking some of my old habits and am pledging to make changes for the better. I challenge you to do the same.

Remember, it’s never too late to begin your environmental legacy.

This column originally appeard in The Times of Northwest Indiana. Carl Lisek is executive director of South Shore Clean Cities and vice president of Legacy Environmental Services. The opinions are the writer’s.

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