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OPINION: Earth Day in Stanly County

COVID has affected just about everything since early 2020, and that includes Earth Day.

Nancy Bryant

In 2020, the billion people worldwide who were ready to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this largest annual civic event in the world were more than disappointed when all the normal festivities and events had to be cancelled and moved to virtual or written celebrations. The theme was “Climate Action,” the single most pressing topic of our times.

Now we approach Earth Day, April 22, with most of the celebrations virtually again, but with no less enthusiasm because the issues are so urgent.

Just a note about how Earth Day got started for those who were not around, as I was, at its founding. There were really no laws on the books to protect our environment.

The U.S. was experiencing oil spills, muddy waters and polluted skies, increasing pesticides and species extinctions. In June 1969, when the Cuyahoga River caught on fire, reaching five stories high, the public was just about fed up with the degradation of our environment.

So in spring 1970, Sen. Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day as a way to get out polluted environment onto the national agenda.

Twenty million Americans took part in demonstrations and events that April 22, and every year since then we have celebrated to educate and inspire positive change to protect and preserve the natural world.

Yes, we were polluting our nest then, the very planet that the good Lord gave us to tend, nurture, steward, and we are still polluting it. Those of you who know about birds, domestic or wild, know that they clean their nests to avoid bacteria and parasites.

You would think we humans are smart enough to realize that when we pollute our environment, in essence, we pollute our own nest.

Overpopulation, pollution, burning fossil fuels, deforestation, loss of species — all these and more contribute to how we humans are degrading our nest, but there are ways we can address these catastrophes and their consequences.

The following may be too simple to address such enormous issues, but if we as individuals and the rest of the world were to practice these three principles, there would be enormous benefits.

The Stanly News & Press used to use the phrase “Recycle, Reduce, Reuse” as a filler. One day I noticed this and realized that the phrase was in the wrong order. It should be “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Here’s why.

First, reduce – “to make smaller or less in amount, degree or size; to lessen.”

We humans have grown over the millennia from a few individuals to almost 8 billion of us in 2020, and with a projection of 9.9 billion by 2050.

We are overpopulating our nest. The consequence  is that we are using up, too fast, too much of the world’s natural resources. If we don’t change, there will not be enough to sustain future generations of humans and the planet’s wildlife and plant life.

To reduce means you are willing to take a hard look at what you use and buy. Look at your transportation, in your closets, in your yards, on your porches and in your sheds. Do you really need to make an extra trip to town? Do you really need that extra plastic toy for your kid who has more toys than most in the world? Do you really need that new piece of clothing or shoes when you already have a closet full?

The U.S. uses more than 25 percent of the world’s resources and we are less than 5 percent of the world’s population, and 60 percent of us are obese. And how about all the money you and your family would save if you reduce your intake of energy and products and food?

Reuse – “to use again or more than once.”

Take a look at what you toss into the trash or take to the landfill. Are there items that still have value, even though you do not want to or cannot use them again for their original purpose?

To reuse means to use something again for its original purpose or to fulfill a different function. So, if you live on a farm, as I do, then you understand how every day we look to reuse things.

Our barn is full of items that have been left over from projects or items that we save to use again. And in the house? There are so many ways to reuse food that is prepared and not consumed. Some folks laugh when they see my pantry because it is full of plastic bags and other kitchen supplies that I have washed to reuse. I even take home plastic tableware from church events to wash for reuse.

Hint: The best places to buy used are the Smart Shop in Norwood, the Clothing Closet in Albemarle and Community Thrift in Charlotte, and, of course, ReStore in any town.

Recycle – “to convert waste materials into new materials and objects.”

Here it gets tricky, because there are only three ways (that I know of) to recycle products in Stanly County: go to the county’s recycle bins at various locations, deposit certain items at grocery or other stores, or hire the company that collects waste here. And, to make it even more difficult, one can recycle only certain items with the county, and certain items for the company that collects.

You have to know the list or you may put items in your bins that will muck up the recycling process.

To recycle means you are willing to actually save those items from our landfills and to get them to actual waste facilities. If you save your food waste, you can always put that in your gardens as compost.

Maybe you have been reading about the plastic that is now not only washing up along our shorelines, even in the most remote islands of the world, but also the giant swirls of plastic in the oceans, and now scientists have found plastic not only in animal life, but also in humans.

This could be avoided if we didn’t buy the plastic items in the first place, and when we do buy them, reuse them. Finally, if they cannot be used, we must recycle.

It takes time, effort and commitment to reduce, reuse and recycle, but if you are concerned about preserving our nest, these things are basic, a starting point and an imperative.

Nancy Bryant and her husband, Ron, live on their farm in Norwood.