The first Earth Day was held in a small number of cities in 1970, before going international in 1990. This year, on Sunday, April 22, more than 175 countries will celebrate Earth Day in some way. Dozens of communities in Maine have scheduled Earth Day events, as well.

Earth Day carries with it the baggage of the climate change debate. It is a divisive issue, and individual opinions on the matter often seem set in stone. A few words here are unlikely to change that. But it is an important issue, with implications in almost all areas of public policy. It is incumbent upon citizens to have an opinion informed by the facts of the matter, rather than by politicians on either side of the debate who bend those facts for their own purpose.

In the meantime, individuals should use Earth Day to focus on the issues on which there is something close to universal agreement. It is an opportunity to think about how much waste we produce in the United States, a nation of around 312 million people and growing.

According to the Clean Air Council, Americans produce about 4.5 pounds of waste per person per day. Of that 4.5 pounds, 24 percent is recycled, and 9 percent is composted. Around 67 percent of the waste goes into landfills, a finite resource and an idea akin to pushing one’s dirty clothes under the bed.

In the area of municipal solid waste, many Maine communities are making strides in recycling. Ecomaine, a nonprofit operation owned by 21 municipalities, recycles more and more material every year, and the recycling rates of its members are increasing slowly as they pursue the goal of recycling 50 percent of waste.

Of course, this effort starts with every household. One way to cut down on waste is composting. Most communities sell composting bins, but most plastic containers will work with some easy adjustments. Taking coffee grounds, discarded fruit and vegetable pieces and other organic matter out of your waste stream is a simple way to help the environment. If you live in a community that charges for municipal trash bags, composting can save you money by cutting down on the number of bags you have to buy, and compost is great for a garden.

Don’t have a garden? Think about starting one. There’s nothing like fresh produce out of a home garden. As a bonus, growing your own vegetables saves money and allows you to enjoy the outdoors. Check out the Spring Home Improvement Guide inserted in this newspaper for tips on starting your garden from local experts Roger Doiron and Terry Skillin.

No green thumb? No back yard? No problem. Find a local farmers market, or look into Community Supported Agriculture, in which users buy a share of a local farm’s seasonal output, guaranteeing a steady supply of fresh produce. Some of the farms will even make a weekly delivery to your house. For information on both, go to www.getrealmaine.com.

Buying produce locally helps support Maine farmers, allows you to enjoy a variety of healthy fruits and vegetables as they come in season, and cuts down on the fossil fuels needed to ship those products from afar.

For sure, there is something in there on which we can all agree.

Ben Bragdon is the managing editor of Current Publishing.


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