Earth Day is right around the corner on April 22, reminding us to do whatever we can to protect our environment. This year, the Earth Day theme is: "Protect our Species," especially protection of animals whose natural habitats are being destroyed or threatened by consumer behaviors. Parents and children can celebrate Earth Day with practicing their 3 R's by reducing, reusing and recycling at home, at school, at work and in public places!

Reducing the Carbon Footprint

As stewards of our beautiful earth, we are called to reduce any activities that may harm it. Typical consumer activities that cause problems include the purchase of new goods, use of gas-powered vehicles and creation of garbage.

Over time, the concept of reducing has evolved from asking people to produce less garbage to a more complex call to action to ask people to reduce their carbon footprint. It is now believed that every person throughout the world produces carbon dioxide doing daily activities; the goal is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions globally by encouraging people to do things differently. For example, if people ride bicycles to school or work instead of driving a car, that change in activity will significantly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions and help the environment.

The Carbon Offsets to Alleviate Poverty (COTAP) nonprofit offers practical ways for people to reduce their carbon footprint: eating organic and locally produced foods, installing a programmable thermostat and purchasing energy-efficient appliances.

Children can reduce their carbon footprint by modifying their behaviors, too. Whenever possible, children should carpool to school, after-school activities, events and parties. If children can bike to their destinations, that's even better. They should also understand that buying second-hand goods is a cool thing to do and is not limited to low-income people. Doing little things like turning off lights, unplugging electronics, using Mason jars and wearing clothes more than once in-between washings can make a big difference in using less energy, which also reduces their carbon footprints.

Reducing Use of Plastics

A modern expansion of the term reducing is the trend to motivate people to use less plastic. In 2012, Montgomery County became the first county in Maryland to charge a 5-cent tax per bag to customers who needed plastic bags for their store purchases. The goal was to get people to bring reusable bags on their shopping trips. The District of Columbia implemented the Sustainable DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2014, which implemented a ban on Styrofoam food containers starting in January 2016 and in October 2018, included a ban on single-use plastic straws and stirrers in restaurants.

The problem using single-use plastics mostly affects restaurants that sell fast foods and convenience foods. Restaurants are struggling to conform with the changes in laws banning certain plastics. As consumers, we can do our part to support restaurants in their quest to diminish single-use plastics by bringing our own reusable bags and asking restaurants to keep any plastic utensils. Better yet, consumers can print "Take Out Without" cards to allow restaurants to let them use their own reusable containers instead of the restaurant's disposable ones.

Eco-conscious parent Gabriella Ferrufino and frequent poster on Instagram (handle: la_pacha.mama) made a pledge to use fewer plastics in 2019. "I have been following #lifewithoutplastic [a popular hashtag on Instagram] for easy ideas and motivation to make small changes in your household," she notes. Though Ferrufino admitted the difficulties in making a cold-turkey change from using plastics to using no plastics, she began incorporating small changes into her household and now feels comfortable setting lofty plastic-free goals in 2019.

For example, Ferrufino now swears by making coffee using a single-cup French press, using and reusing glass mason jars, and her favorite plastic-free change is using metal straws, which motivates her to "save the sea turtles one less plastic straw at a time," as per her Instagram post.

Reusing

If we reduce the quantity of new goods we purchase, we can think about reusing things and giving them new life! Parents and children are encouraged to change their buying habits and shop at second-hand, salvage and thrift stores as much as possible. By buying used things, we are extending the life of goods, which will cause manufacturers to burn fewer fossil fuels to make new things. In turn, fewer fossil fuels in the air means cleaner air!

The Washington, D.C. metropolitan area offers many great opportunities to buy used goods. Thrift stores are plentiful, and there are also unique creative reuse services that accept donations of assorted unwanted leftovers, scraps and odds and ends, and resells and reuses them in creative ways!

Silver Spring Creative Reuse, founded by art teacher Michelle Tebor, primarily serves elementary schools in Montgomery County. In northern Virginia, new executive director Lexi Keogh has her hands full accepting donations of beverage caps, gift bags and containers of all shapes and sizes at nonprofit UpCycle Creative Reuse Center in Alexandria. In Baltimore, Scrap B-More's thriving retail store keeps customers giddy with their purchases of inexpensive creative reuse materials.

Recycling

Though the concept of recycling and reusing materials has existed in some form for 1,000 years, the modern definition of recycling involves the collection of solid waste (including glass, paper, cardboard and plastics) and its processing into smaller parts (referred to as melting or combustion). The result of the melted or combusted parts is then combined with virgin (new) materials to make new items. In Virginia, the Energy Resource Recovery Facility (E/RRF) takes things a step further by producing electricity after combustion, effectively replacing "the equivalent of approximately two million barrels of crude oil per year" as per the Public Works and Environmental Services website.

In 1997, Maryland-based nonprofit Capital Personal Computer User Group (CPCUG), a group of volunteers dedicated to helping people on all facets of computer usage, created Project Reboot to do their part in recycling computers. Project Reboot volunteers refurbish nonworking computers and donate them to low-income families throughout the metropolitan area.

No matter how you choose to celebrate Earth Day with your children, be sure to practice at least one of the three Rs!

For more information on the 3 R's visit:


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Amanda M. Socci is a freelance writer who lives in Alexandria, VA with her husband and two daughters. Amanda is passionate about many things, including school fundraising, Girl Scouts and recycling with art. Amanda can be reached at SocciWriter@gmail.com.