Sitting in front of the TV at the age of ten, I watched sea otters and seabirds wash up on shore covered in thick black oil. Volunteers rushed to help them. Images of birds being put in bins flashed before my eyes. I was horrified, but hopeful that they could be saved. This was March 1989 and the Exxon Valdez had run into a reef causing an estimated 11 million gallons of oil to spill into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. It was my first glimpse into how fragile our ecosystem is and the immense effect humans have on it.

A few years after, on a warm summer day, I stepped out into my family’s backyard and heard a faint distressed chirping coming from the ground near the garage. In a tray filled with old car oil, I found a little sparrow. My father had recently worked on our family car and forgot to bring in the pan. This tiny bird was covered. I sprang into action, immediately pulling it out and rushing it to our basement sink; on my way down I grabbed the dish soap. I had seen this before. I would save this bird. But it was too late and I was left angry and upset. This small careless mistake took the life of a small creature. Again, I was faced with the reality that our actions, no matter how big or small, can impact the world around us.

The environmental problems we face today, afar and in our own backyards, are enormous. We feel overwhelmed and think that no matter what we do it won’t be enough. But that is not true. If our actions, both big and small, can hurt our environment then they also have the power to heal it. If one person stopped buying disposable water in plastic bottles, approximately 129 bottles a year would be prevented from ending up in landfills and waterways. Plastic is washing up on beaches, polluting our seas, and killing our wildlife. We can do something about it.

In honor of this year’s Earth Day focus on reducing plastic pollution, here are five simple things that you can do to make this a reality:

  1. Stop your casual flings with single-use plastics.

Start noticing how often you use single-use plastic products throughout your day such as plastic grocery bags, plastic wrap, cutlery, straws, coffee-cup lids. All those single-use items start to add up. Replace them with reusable versions.

 

  1. Put down the plastic water bottle.

20 billion plastic bottles are thrown out each year. Carrying a reusable bottle can cut down on waste significantly.

 

  1. Recycle.

It seems simple, but yes this can be hard. There’s a lot of confusion about which types of plastics can be recycled. This site can help you figure out what makes it into the bin.

 

  1. Cook more.

It’s not only good for your health but for the planet. You will cut down on plastic containers and bags and know exactly what you’re putting into your body.

 

  1. Put pressure on manufacturers.

Writing a letter, sharing your thoughts on their social media channels, or using your money to purchase products from a competitor that is producing environmentally friendly products can go a long way in making corporations be smarter about their packaging. It’s a small step with a large impact.

 

A lot has changed since 1989 and I would like to think for better. People are more aware of the environment’s impact on our health, both mental and physical. They understand the importance of clean air, soil, and water. Companies are feeling the pressure to create products that are sustainable. I hope we continue with this progress, so every child can live and play on a healthy thriving planet. It all comes down to the small actions we take.