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Earth Day has taken us a long way, but what is next?: Editorial

Posted 4/18/18

Sunday will mark the 48th anniversary Earth Day, and while knowledge and concerns about the environment have never been at a higher level, we are concerned about where we are headed.

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Earth Day has taken us a long way, but what is next?: Editorial

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Sunday will mark the 48th anniversary Earth Day, and while knowledge and concerns about the environment have never been at a higher level, we are concerned about where we are headed.

According to earthday.org, “The idea for a national day to focus on the environment came to Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda.”

On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans took part in the first Earth Day, and the website touts it quickly led “to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts.”

There have been many, many improvements in actions and attitudes about the environment since that day. Think about the public service advertisement to fight litter featuring the “Crying Indian,” which might be one of the most effective ads ever to be aired on television. Think about Adopt-A-Highway programs and taking lead out of gas and regulating pesticides and safer drinking water and fighting the hole in the ozone and hybrid cars and all the efforts to save endangered species … it’s quite a list of achievements since 1970.

But as we sit now, we have concerns.

Donald Trump’s actions make him one of the most environmentally unfriendly presidents of the Earth Day era. Changes he has touted affect everything from clean air provisions to threatened species protection. The Senate this week confirmed a former coal lobbyist to serve as second-in-command of the EPA. The list is long and we can in no way make it comprehensive, but decades-old policies are being reversed.

One other impact of Earth Day was to make recycling mainstream. Now even that seems to be at risk.

China was the world’s largest importer of recycled “waste,” according to cnbc.com and many other news outlets. But starting at the beginning of the year, it banned 24 types of scraps, leaving many countries around the world wondering what to do. More than three months into the ban, waste exporters are still scrambling for an alternative to China, experts told CNBC.

Most of us probably feel like we are doing a small part when we recycle. But the truth is, widespread news reports say that recyclables are now ending up in landfills. The United States has asked China to reverse its new policy, but to no avail. Environmentalists claim the reason for China’s policy change was the condition of U.S. recyclables — that they require extra handling, something the Chinese do not want to do.

And even with all that has been done, we hear stories such as the one about the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a collection of plastic, floating trash halfway between Hawaii and California. According to USA Today, it has grown to more than 600,000 square miles. How big is that? It’s twice the size of Texas.

The challenges remain. But necessity is the mother of invention, as they say. Many smart, motivated people want the environment to be the cleanest and best it can be. We can still make a difference.

We will give you a couple of suggestions.

One new movement involves plastic straws and stirrers, especially like the ones used at restaurants. Some cities have even banned their use. The efforts have a website, strawfree.org. Straws, The New York Times reports, “represent a small percentage of the plastic that’s produced and consumed but often end up on beaches and in oceans.”

It might seem small, but it’s not insignificant. When it comes to restaurants, think about how McDonald’s stopped using styrofoam to package its food. It makes a difference.

One other thought: Start a compost pile. Search online for instructions. They can keep food out of landfills, rivers and streams while enriching the soil. 

Also, don’t forget that a free paper shredding day will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, April 20  at the Dauphin County Recycling Center, 1625 S. Cameron St., inside the Susquehanna Resource Management Complex.

According to Dauphin County, more than 17,000 residents used the center last year — a 48 percent increase from 2014 — and recycled 1.9 million pounds of paper, including newspaper, cardboard, office paper and books.

We should be proud of the environmental accomplishments of the last 48 years. However, we will never reach the finish line. The good news is, we can all take steps — even small ones — to keep us on track. That’s a good thought for Earth Day.