Consistently falling on April 22nd, the annual event has been celebrated since 1970, and with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) beginning operations a little over seven months afterward (12/02/1970), this first Earth Day may have been the beginning of modern environmentalism. Back in the ‘70s, Earth Day was meant to increase awareness for oil spills, pollution, sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, and more, particularly issues regarding the effects of industrialization. That first year, approximately twenty million Americans protested in their efforts to push for a healthier living environment—for themselves, for the planet, and for the future. And this year, it’s been estimated that over one billion people in 192 different countries—despite initially starting as a specifically American event—found a way to participate in the events of Earth Day, whether with movements such as marches or petitions or on a smaller and more individual scale.

For 2019, the Earth Day Network (the organization leading Earth Day around the world) chose the protection of the planet’s threatened and endangered species as Earth Day’s theme. These species include the bees, giraffes, coral reefs, whales, elephants, insects, trees, plants, birds, fish, sharks, crustaceans, sea turtles, and great apes, amongst others. Because of human activity—climate change, deforestation, habitat loss, hunting, pollution, pesticides, etc.—populations of both plants and animals are quickly decreasing, and without immediate action, many extinctions can be seen in the near future.

The organization’s goal is to educate people and raise awareness on extinction, including the causes and consequences of human activity; pass public legislation that will help to protect the environment and the living things it sustains; increase the modern environmentalism movement; and encourage people to make individual changes in their own daily lives. And perhaps the last point is the most important: if everyone on the planet did their part, the impact could be great. So what can individuals do to help the environment?

Two really important but relatively simple ways are to reduce plastic waste and limit meat consumption.

300 million tons of plastic are used each year to make plastic products for people all around the globe (and yes, this includes plastic beverage cups from coffee shops like Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Red Barn). Because plastic containers need to be thoroughly rinsed out to be recycled—and if one contaminated piece of plastic is put in a recycling bin, then the entire bin becomes contaminated and thus cannot be recycled—it can sometimes be hard for people to properly dispose of their recyclable materials. This leaves 90% of the world’s recyclable plastic in landfills or the environment (littering). This isn’t to say to avoid plastic all together—simply to waste less of it. And an easy way to do this is by either investing in a reusable tumbler or making sure to rinse out plastic containers before tossing them in the recycling bin.

Additionally, making the effort to consume less meat would also reduce one’s individual carbon footprint, as well as that of all of humanity. Now, this isn’t a plea for the entire world to go vegetarian. However, it’s important to note that around 20% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the meat industry, which uses almost 20x the amount of energy to produce a single calorie of meat as compared to a single plant calorie. Because of an increase in meat consumption over the past half a century, the meat industry produces more than 36 billion tons of greenhouse gases every year. By simply reducing the amount of meat one consumes—which doesn’t mean cutting it out of the diet entirely!—then that also reduces the world’s carbon footprint, as well as each individual’s.

These are two major movements, but also relatively easy ones to try and implement. Others include turning off electronics and lights when not in use; switching to renewable sources of energy; composting food, creating a natural fertilizer and also reducing the amount of food waste being sent to landfills; or avoiding pesticides and using eco-friendly cleaning products that are natural and organic. With the power of Google, it’s easy to find quick information on more ways to help the environment while still living one’s typical day-to-day life. Because while the fact of the matter is that only using reusable straws, liking a picture or watching a video on Instagram, and signing a pledge online might not make all the difference, it’s all still a push in the right direction.

Featured Image via World Atlas