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50 Statistics You Should Know for Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary

The earth is in peril—a fact that this day created 50 years ago brings awareness to. Here's what you need to know.

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Earth Day turns 50 years old

April 22nd will be the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The event was originally the brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson, a Democratic senator from Wisconsin who wanted to teach the nation about the environment. Since the first day it was celebrated in 1970, it has inspired one billion people to take action to protect the future of the planet. Read on to learn more about why Earth Day is more important and learn simple ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

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The United States is really good at creating waste

Residents of the United States comprise 4 percent of the world’s population, yet account for 12 percent of the world’s waste. This is largely due to a failure to participate in recycling programs. To put this in perspective, Germany recycles 68 percent of its municipal waste, while the United States recycles just 35 percent. It’s estimated that the average person in the United States produces a staggering 234 pounds of plastic waste a year. Here are just 10 examples of things other countries recycle that the United States doesn’t.

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That’s way too many water bottles

Worldwide, approximately 1 million water bottles are sold every minute; that’s 1.3 billion water bottles a day. In the United States, about 35 million water bottles go into landfills every year and they take up to 1,000 years to decompose. If you want to stay hydrated on the go, consider investing in a reusable water bottle. Not only will they keep your water cold, but it will reduce your contribution to waste and set a good example for those around you. In other words, single-use water bottles are one of the disposables you should stop buying now.

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Beware of phantom power

Just because you switched the off button doesn’t mean the power on your device is truly off. Standby power aka phantom power continues to surge into devices such as computers, cell phones, video game systems, cable boxes and more as long as they’re plugged in. Not only is this waste of energy bad for the environment but it’s costing you money. The NRDC estimates that the average U.S. household would save $165 a year by unplugging their devices and reducing phantom power. Perhaps more importantly, they also estimate this would prevent 44 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution. Here are a few more clever ways to slash your energy bill.

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Our lifestyle is impossible to sustain

There are currently more than 7.6 billion people living in the world and our population continues to grow. According to the United Nations, if the world’s population reaches 9.6 billion by the year 2050, it would take the equivalent of three planets to produce enough natural resources to sustain our current lifestyle. This is obviously not sustainable and a clear indication we need to make some changes. If you’re wondering where all those people live, check out this list of the 20 largest cities in the world.

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Contaminated drinking water continues to be a killer

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 2 billion people around the world are forced to drink water contaminated by feces. This can lead to serious illness; in fact, an estimated 485,000 people die of diarrhea contracted through contaminated drinking water a year. Even more alarming, the organization estimates that by 2025, about half the global population will be living in water-stressed areas.

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Smog is a major problem

If you thought smog was nothing but a nuisance, you might be shocked to learn that air pollution kills about 7 million people around the globe every year. This includes a combination of ambient, or outdoor, air pollution and indoor, or household, air pollution. The problem is so widespread that nine out of every ten people are believed to breathing contaminated air. If this news has you concerned, here are tiny everyday changes you can make to cut back on air pollution.

Swedish Environmental Activist On Climate Change Greta ThunbergThierry Monasse/Getty Images

Take Greta’s lead

Greta Thunberg is an inspiring figure and one of the young women who are about to make history. In 2019, she made headlines by forgoing plane travel and choosing to travel from Europe to the United States by boat. The reason? To draw attention to the fact that aviation is currently responsible for 2 percent of the world’s carbon emissions and passenger numbers are expected to double by the year 2037. Traveling by train or bus whenever possible will help significantly reduce your carbon footprint.

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Our oceans are choking on plastic

According to Ocean Conservancy, plastic has been found in 60 percent of seabirds and 100 percent of sea turtles. Eight million metric tons of plastic make their way into our oceans every year, endangering wildlife and the environment. If this inspires you to make some changes to your lifestyle, this woman’s story about being plastic-free for six years and what she uses instead is a great place to start.

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There’s a good reason for plastic straw bans

If you’ve been wondering why plastic straws are disappearing from restaurants, there’s a very important reason. Many places have banned them and still, others have stopped offering them on their own unless a diner needs them for a medical reason. The National Parks Service estimates that 500 million plastic straws are used every day in the United States alone and sadly, plastic straws aren’t recyclable, which means they wind up in oceans and landfills. So even if plastic straws weren’t among the things getting banned in 2020 there are still plenty of reasons why you should never sip through a plastic straw again.

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Eating less meat and dairy is a good idea

Removing meat and dairy products from our diets would be the most effective way to reduce our carbon footprint. Meat and dairy production uses 83 percent of the world’s population yet it accounts for 60 percent of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. This is what would happen if an entire country suddenly went vegan.

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Meat and dairy use a lot of water, too

The next time you enjoy a hamburger you should be aware that it takes a great deal of one of our most precious resources to produce it: water. That’s right, it takes a staggering 660 gallons of water to raise enough beef to produce a ⅓ pound hamburger. Meanwhile, it takes a mere 11 gallons of water to grow enough wheat for a slice of bread. And if that’s not enough to make you consider making dinner plans that don’t include a drive-through window, you won’t believe what happens to your body after eating a fast-food burger.

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Buying gently-worn clothing saves more than just money

If you love scouring thrift stores for hidden gems you already know that buying second-hand goods can save you a lot of cash—and it can also help save the environment. When you buy second-hand clothing, it keeps discarded materials out of our landfills, uses fewer resources, and results in less pollution than producing new clothing, This is no small thing considering it takes approximately 1,800 gallons of water to produce a single pair of jeans. Do yourself a favor before you go thrifting, and memorize these tricks for spotting a well-made piece of clothing.

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Your pet food is part of the problem

Even if you’ve pledged to lower your own meat consumption, there’s someone else in your household who could still be a problem: your pet. The meat in pet food is responsible for about 64 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year. Switching your pet to a less-meat rich diet is much better for the environment; though you should speak to your vet before switching foods.

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We need to stop wasting food

In the United States, the USDA estimates that between 30 to 40 percent of our food supply goes to waste, while in the meantime, more than 12 percent of Americans struggle with food insecurity. Not only is this a moral issue, but it’s also an environmental one since precious global resources are being used to produce food that ends up going to waste. The USDA says the best way to cut down on food waste is not to create so much excess product in the first place and that ordinary people can help by shopping more carefully and cooking and storing food more carefully. To get you started, learn these storage tricks will help your food last longer.

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Recycling is key

Despite the fact that many plastics are recyclable, 91 percent of recyclable plastic products aren’t recycled. If this continues, there will be 12 billion tons of plastic in landfills by the year 2050. It is going to take a worldwide effort to tackle this problem with everyone from everyday people to big companies, including these companies that are getting rid of plastic for good, making a conscious effort to move away from single-use plastics.

Bottle and cup of almond milk with raw almonds on a gray table. Healthy concept.Natalia Illarionova/Getty Images

Almond milk is bad for the environment

If you like to add almond milk to your morning coffee, perhaps it’s time to consider finding an alternative. It takes 1,611 gallons of water to produce just a single liter of almond milk. There’s another downside to almond milk no one is talking about: almond farms place a great deal of stress on bees. Almonds take more bees to pollinate them than most other crops and their growing season starts early, meaning farmers are putting them to work earlier than nature intended.

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Sustainability is big business

Sustainability isn’t just an ethical choice, it also makes good business sense. By the year 2021, the Nielsen Company estimates people will spend $150 million on sustainable products. This could be everything from brilliant products made from recycled ocean plastics to eco-friendly products available from Amazon to green cleaning products used by housekeepers. Small purchases add up—not just to big dollars—but to sustaining the only planet we’ll ever have.

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Glass is an issue too

If all this talk about plastic has you feeling you’ll start using glass containers instead it might surprise you to learn glass can be problematic, too. According to Rubicon the waste management company, glass bottles take 4,000 years to decompose. But the good news is glass is one of the most recyclable materials on the planet. It can be recycled over and over again without any loss of integrity. The trick is to dispose of glass appropriately: in the recycling bin, not the trash can.

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NASA says humans are responsible for climate change

The smart scientists at NASA say that there is more than a 95 percent chance that human beings are responsible for the current trend of global warming. This means it’s also our responsibility to address the issue so we can sustain the planet for future generations. To do so, we might need to think outside the box, like with these crazy ideas that might just save the planet.

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Our ice sheets are shrinking

NASA has also been collecting data on our planet’s shrinking ice sheets and it’s not good news. The ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are decreasing at an alarming rate. Between the years 1993 and 2016, Greenland lost approximately 286 billion tons of ice per year and Antarctica lost 127 billion tons of ice during the same time frame. If you’re wondering what could happen if glaciers continue to melt, the answer is alarming: The oceans would rise, land configurations would change, and people would be displaced.

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We need to start recycling our soda cans

The people of the United States use 65 billion aluminum cans a year. Luckily, there’s no limit to how many times you can recycle an aluminum can. What’s more, you can produce 20 cans out of recycled materials for the same amount of energy it would take to make just a single brand new can. On the subject of soda cans, here’s why canned and bottled soda taste different.

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Turn off your incandescent light bulbs

Turn off those incandescent light bulbs (the electric kind with wire filaments) when you’re not using them. Not only is it unnecessary to light up a room no one is sitting in them, but incandescent bulbs are an inefficient use of energy; only 10 percent of their energy actually produces light, the rest gives off heat, an unnecessary and often unpleasant byproduct.

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Consider buying an electric car

The United States uses nearly 9 million barrels of petroleum a year and approximately two-thirds of it is used for transportation. Switching to an electric or hybrid vehicle will not only help reduce the emissions from all that fuel, but it also will save you money in the long run since gas prices are volatile and generally, very expensive.

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Global warming causes more dangerous hurricanes

The rising sea levels caused by melting polar ice caps are making hurricanes even more dangerous because it increases storm surge levels, endangering people who live near the ocean; unfortunately, sea levels are projected to rise an additional 12 to 24 inches by the year 2100. If you want to be part of the solution, here are simple everyday ways to go green and reduce your carbon footprint.

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There are health benefits to going green

Riding your bike to work instead of driving is a great way to reduce your impact on the planet, but there are side benefits, as well. A Canadian study found that workers who biked to work instead of driving or relying on public transportation enjoyed reduced stress. In fact, they exhibited lower levels of stress than their counterparts 45 minutes into their workday. Here are more ways green living can make you healthier.

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Energy use is increasing

In spite of all of the available information, energy use in the world is actually increasing. In fact, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that there will a 50 percent growth in energy usage by 2050, with the biggest energy consumption coming out of Asia. Here are the types of commitments it would take for the U.S. to become carbon neutral by 2050.

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Global warming leads to droughts

Droughts are happening more frequently due to climate change. In the United States, the state of California has been particularly hard hit; the state experienced a drought that lasted from 2011 to 2019 interrupted only by particularly wet winters. This had an economic impact on farmers and also fueled ferocious wildfires. Here are 13 more things you didn’t know about wildfires.

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Time is of the essence

According to the United Nations, in order to combat climate change, we need to reduce our global emissions by 7.6 percent a year until 2030. If we’d acted ten years earlier, we would have only had to reduce global emissions by 3.3 percent each year until 2030.

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Scientists say this is an emergency

In late 2019, 11,000 scientists around the world declared that climate change wasn’t just something to be concerned about, it’s actually an emergency. They released a paper with a warning that if things don’t change quickly, we will be in for “untold human suffering.” If these leaves you feeling anxious, here are the most inspiring, powerful quotes from Pope Francis on climate change.

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Industrial activities are taking a big toll

Over the last 15 decades, industrial activity has raised carbon dioxide rates from 280 parts per million to 412 parts per million. Carbon dioxide is a big contributor to the greenhouse effect, where gases get trapped in the earth’s environment and cause global warming. One of the ways we can halt this problem is to buy used products whenever possible rather than contributing to the need for more new products to be produced in factories. Here are 4 tech gadgets you can buy used and 3 you definitely shouldn’t.

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Wash your clothes in cold water

An easy way to cut down on energy consumption in your home is to wash your clothes in cold water. About 75 percent of the energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions associated with washing laundry are due to your washing machine heating up the water. You won’t just be doing your part for the environment, the decreased energy usage will also help save you money on your energy bill.

Bosco Verticale in Milano, Italymartinwimmer/Getty Images

Build smarter buildings

Buildings are responsible for almost 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Building more energy-efficient buildings and switching over to alternative energy sources such as solar power would be a big step in the right direction towards lessening their impact. Here are bold predictions for how future houses might look.

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Going green doesn’t have to mean your lawn

If you’re interested in going green, you might consider reducing the size of your lawn. Lawns in the United States use up almost 3 trillion gallons of water a year and it takes 200 million gallons of gas to operate the lawnmowers to maintain them. If that isn’t enough, lawns also account for 70 million pounds of pesticides. Here are more eco-friendly tips for making your backyard even greener.

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Honeybees are in danger

If you’ve ever wondered why the world needs honeybees, the answer might surprise you. They do more than produce honey—they also pollinate one in every three bites of the food we put in our mouth. Alarmingly, bees are in peril. Last year, U.S. beekeepers lost 40 percent of their colonies due to pesticides, mites, loss of habitat, and climate change. Fortunately, there are ways we can help honeybees.


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Use a clothesline

We have 90 million clothes dryers in the United States. Next time you do a load of laundry, consider hanging your clothes to dry instead of operating your dryer. It would reduce your household’s carbon footprint an average of 2,4000 pounds per year and save you money. Besides that, air-drying your clothes is one of the many ways you can make your favorite clothes last longer.

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Composting can have an impact

The EPA estimates that food and yard waste account for more than 28 percent of residential waste in the United States—and much of that waste could be composted. Not only will composting help you enrich your soil and plant the perfect vegetable garden, but it will also help you reduce the need for chemical fertilizers. If you’re curious about how to compost, here are 10 simple ways to get started.

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Inflate those tires

Believe it or not, the U.S. Department of Energy says underinflated tires are bad for the environment. You can save up to 3 percent in gas usage by ensuring that your tires are inflated to the recommended pressure. Less gas consumption will not only save you money, but it will make sure your car is emitting less carbon dioxide emissions into the air. While we’re talking about tires, these are the tires car experts buy for their own cars.

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Turn the heat down at night

By turning your thermostat down between seven to ten degrees when you go to bed at night in colder months, you’ll save a percent of energy for each degree over a time period of eight hours, making this is another easy way to save money and lessen your carbon footprint.

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Bring back the stars

Around the globe, 80 percent of the population lives under light-polluted skies, while in Europe, that number is 99 percent. This doesn’t just mean that the stars don’t appear to shine as brightly, it also means we’re expending a lot of unnecessary energy. Easy ways to reduce light pollution include turning off lights that aren’t in use and not wasting energy to light unnecessary spaces. After all, you don’t want to miss out on spotting these iconic constellations in the night sky.

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Take care of our wild creatures

The World Wildlife Federation estimates that global warming could put 20 to 30 percent of our world’s species at risk for extinction. For example, tiger populations have already decreased to as few as 3,200 and global warming could endanger than further as sea levels rise and droughts and wildfires threaten their habitat. Find out more about the most endangered tigers in the world.

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Climate change makes it difficult to grow food

A 2018 study concluded that vegetable and legume growth could decrease by as much as 35 percent by 2100 if we don’t stop the current course of climate change due to lack of water and problems with the ozone.

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We could have a global food crisis on our hands

A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel For Climate Change found that the chances of climate change interfering with food production are very high. This is mainly due to the threat of extreme weather conditions such as severe storms and drought which will affect both agriculture and livestock farming.

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Our food is getting less nutritious

The same study by the Intergovernmental Panel For Climate Change uncovered another major issue with our food supply: All the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere could decrease the nutritional value of our crops. For instance, grain grown in areas with high levels of carbon dioxide in the area had up to 8 percent less iron and up to 13 percent less protein.

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Climate change is affecting lifespans

A recent study of 4,100 different land vertebrate species from around the globe concluded that the higher temperatures associated with climate change are affecting the way cold-blooded organisms like amphibians and reptiles age. In short, higher temperatures are leading them to age faster, thus leading to shorter lifespans. If you need more information on why this matters, this is why lizards are misunderstood and why we need them.

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Cold-blooded creatures aren’t the only ones affected

According to researchers, global warming is already responsible for about 150,000 deaths each year across the planet. Even more alarming, they predict that number will double by the year 2030. It’s clear something has to change and perhaps there’s no greater example than that of one particular African nation. Here’s how Rwanda became one of the greenest countries on earth.

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Rich people are contributing more to the problem

The jet setting lifestyle and accumulation of material goods of the rich means that by and large, they are doing more to contribute to the problem of climate change than the poor. Oxfam estimates that the carbon footprint of the wealthy can be up to a staggering 175 times that of the poor. Buying second-hand goods, forgoing private jets, and choosing wisely when they invest their money would make a huge impact on reducing their negative impact on the environment. These are the secrets rich people will never tell you about their habits and lives.

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Rainforests are one of our best weapons against climate change

When rainforests thrive, they extract billions of tons of harmful carbon dioxide from the air; in other words, rainforests are on the front lines in the fight against climate change. This is one of many reasons it’s important to protect them. If you need more reasons, this is a frightening look at what could happen if the rainforests completely disappeared.

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The United States doesn’t recycle everything we can

If you think the United States is the leader when it comes to saving the planet, think again. There are many things other countries recycle but the United States doesn’t. This is especially concerning since our nation recycles or composts only 35 percent of its waste. Examples of things we could be recycling are some of our most problematic forms of waste, including plastic bags and styrofoam.

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Stop crushing your aluminum cans

If your parents raised you to crush your aluminum cans before throwing them in the recycling bin, we’re sorry to report they were wrong. In actuality, you shouldn’t crush an aluminum can before recycling it, because it makes it harder for the machines at recycling facilities to identify cans and separate them when they’re crushed. Since we use 65 billion aluminum cans a year in this country, it’s important we recycle as many cans as we can. On the other hand, these are the 15 things you should never throw in the recycling bin.

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Not every city is doing their part

The cities with the highest recycling rates are San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Denver, and Portland, Oregon. Want to see your city on the list? Contact your town hall, local legislature, or other local officials to let them know recycling and other efforts to conserve the earth’s resources are important to you. Next, read on to take a look at what the world’s most iconic skylines look like with and without pollution.


Tamara Gane
Tamara Gane is a regular contributor to Reader's Digest covering travel, lifestyle, history, and culture. Her work has also appeared in The Washington Post, NPR, Al Jazeera, Wine Enthusiast, Lonely Planet, HuffPost Food, and more. You can follow her on Twitter @TamaraGane