Hburg group organizes virtual and old-school ways to mark Earth Day’s 50th anniversary

By Sukainah Abid-Kons, contributor

Millions of Americans participated in marches, rallies and educational sessions about environmental conservation to celebrate the first official Earth Day on April 22, 1970. And since then, subsequent anniversaries have been marked with mass global participation in marches and celebrations. 

While that can’t happen for the 50th Earth Day on Wednesday, one local organization is encouraging people to participate using social-distancing-friendly ways, such as making homemade signs to display in windows or to post on social media. 

The group Earth Day Every Day is encouraging Harrisonburg residents to create signs they might have carried in an environmental march. “There Is No Planet B” and “Our Climate, Our Future,” for instance, were popular sign slogans during marches in 2019. And because they’d be visible to people driving or walking past, the collective effect could be “a virtual Earth Day advocacy march” if enough area residents participate. 

And not all the planned events have been put off. Earth Day Every Day will proceed Tuesday with the installation of a mosaic by artist Barbara Camph, which was created in collaboration with East Rockingham High School students and was inspired by their ideas of how to reduce waste, and is meant to illustrate the harmful effects of single-use plastics.

The mosaic is scheduled to be installed today on the corner of East Market and Main streets. While the official unveiling has been postponed, anyone can walk by to see the piece, which features various scenes of marine life and the harm single-use plastic inflicts on them. Students had many ideas about how to illustrate that concept, such as a pelican with a toothbrush in its gullet and animals with plastic 6-pack drink rings around their necks. 

“I wanted it to really remind people that plastic waste — particularly single-use — is so bad for the environment, and therefore us,” Camph told The Citizen.

Earth Day Every Day is a local, grassroots environment initiative whose mission is to engage the community in the reduction of single-use plastic consumption. While scheduled events have had to be postponed or canceled, the organization is still trying to keep the public engaged in its mission even during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Last week, the group began posting a “Saving the Earth Step-by-Step” video series, which is hosted by Melissa Nguyen, who had previously been involved in efforts to reduce plastic straw use in restaurants. The videos are sponsored by Earth Day Network. 

The videos aim to teach viewers how to reduce plastic waste and replace disposable items with reusable alternatives.

The most recent video discussed how to concoct homemade laundry detergent and is available through the Earth Day Every Day of Harrisonburg’s Facebook page

Some events that were postponed, such as a talk by Bea Johnson, author of “Zero-Waste Home,” and various community engagement activities, are in the works to be rescheduled after life in Harrisonburg begins to return to normal.

Despite the effects of the ongoing pandemic, Elly Swecker, founder of Earth Day Every Day of Harrisonburg, said people can still adjust their habits to reduce single-use plastic consumption. 

For example, even though many grocery store clerks aren’t supposed to touch reusable grocery bags, individuals who want to avoid using plastic bags can offer to bag the groceries themselves, or even refuse a bag and cart their groceries back to their cars to bag them there instead, Swecker said. 

Avoiding other plastics, such as water bottles and straws and substituting them for reusable alternatives, can also still be done during this crisis. Swecker said plastic is so prevalent in our waterways that people can ingest microplastics in our drinking water, as Virginia-based journalist Chris Tyree was among the first to report in 2018

“Just start small,” Swecker said about how to change consumption habits. “Start by making changes in your lifestyle that you can make.”

Swecker said the fight to reduce plastic waste is a difficult one because plastic packaging and items are so prevalent, but by making people aware of the issue through virtual Earth Day celebrations and community engagement, people can encourage each other to develop more sustainable habits. 

Swecker referred to a quote from Anne Marie Bonneau, a zero-waste chef, and blogger, who said, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” 

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