As the earth heats up and we continue to plunge further into the effects of climate change, grapple with limited natural resources and observe the tremendous loss of natural habitats, it has become more important than ever to raise awareness about environmental issues.
Adena Rivas, program manager of Waste & Recycling for the City of Springfield and founder and director of the Creative Reuse Marketplace, said earth awareness is about learning to care about our homes, yards, neighborhoods and communities, as well as our health and citizens, "because environmental issues really go hand-in-hand with humanitarian issues," she explained.
"It's really important to get the children and young people involved so the younger generations can motivate and inspire the older generations and influence their peers to make a positive impact," Rivas stated, emphasizing the long-term aspects of including community members of all ages and stages. "That's what we're doing here in Springfield, bringing the macro issues home and breaking them down into ways that the entire community can work together to make a difference," she added.
Earth Day itself is a long-standing celebration of our planet's natural environment, history and resources. Observing and participating in Earth Day activities helps us to foster a deeper connection to nature and to come together as a community and work together to find solutions and to preserve our planet for future generations.
Fortunately, there are many opportunities to raise awareness and increase our efforts to honor and protect our environment, right here in the Springfield area.
Local events, activities and opportunities
31st Annual Earth Awareness Fair
Presented by the City of Springfield and the Springfield Park District, this free event will take place on Saturday, April 22, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Henson Robinson Zoo. The Earth Awareness Fair brings together city departments, organizations, businesses and individuals to showcase and encourage earth stewardship, resilience, sustainability and community.
Earth Day Open House at Greenview
Greenview Garden Center will be hosting an Earth Day Open House on Saturday, April 22, featuring free classes on container gardening and edible plants. Classes start at 11 a.m. Advanced registration is not required.
Lincoln Memorial Gardens offers wildflower walks, seasonal bird hikes and leaf identification programs, as well as other ecological camps and programs, at various times throughout the year.
Creative Reuse Marketplace is a donation center and marketplace focused on community development through job training, education and creative reuse. Featuring a wide variety of materials, this dynamic downtown shop at 122 S. Fourth St. provides a convenient way to recycle, repurpose or purchase materials for craft projects, home decor and more.
Drop-off recycling centers
There are multiple recycling centers in Springfield and the surrounding areas. Most will require you to be a current customer, so it's important to call your waste pick-up provider to locate the proper recycling center for you to utilize. Earth Day is a great time to evaluate and expand your recycling efforts.
Electronics recycling program
Residents of Springfield may participate in the electronics recycling drop-off program by bringing their electronic equipment to BLH Computers, located at 1832 Adlai Stevenson Dr. Some rules and restrictions do apply, however, so it's best to call to inquire or visit the city's website for information before you go.
The City of Springfield provides the option to adopt a street or area and assist in keeping the city clean and free from litter and debris. Simply visit the Springfield Department of Public Works website for information on how to adopt your street and make a difference in your neighborhood.
Volunteer or make a donation
Springfield Park District invites residents to volunteer to help plant trees, maintain and support pollinator gardens, and keep our parks and public spaces clean and beautiful. Alternatively, in lieu of volunteering, you can also make a donation to support their efforts and ensure that this important work is able to continue.
Individual efforts, ideas, celebrations
Organize a neighborhood clean-up day
Get together with a group of friends, family or neighbors and organize a clean-up day in your neighborhood to clean up litter and remove debris from your block or a park near you.
Plant a tree or pollinator garden
Trees help to absorb carbon dioxide and provide oxygen, making them an excellent way to help the environment. Wildflowers support and sustain valuable pollinating insects. Consider planting a tree, starting a garden in your own yard or participating in one of the area's community gardens. You can even find free or discounted wildflower seeds from many conservation organizations to help you get started.
Support our local farmers markets
Springfield is home to the award-winning Old Capitol Farmers Market that takes place downtown and supports small farms and local growers by providing them a place to sell their goods to local consumers. The Farmers Market kicks off May 17, but if you can't wait that long, check out the Winter Old Capitol Farmers Market at Union Station, 500 E. Madison St. The Winter Market is open from 8 a.m.-12 p.m. on select Saturdays, including April 1, 8 and 15.
There is also the Illinois Products Farmers Market located at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, which operates from May through September.
These markets strengthen the local economy by providing the public access to fresh, healthy foods at reasonable prices, while also cutting back on extra emissions that occur when food must be transported long distances.
Look for more ways to reduce, reuse and recycle
Start with evaluating where you may be able to cut back on your electricity, gas and water usage. Consider ways to improve the energy efficiency of your home and reuse or repurpose as many materials as possible. Incorporate new methods to help you reduce your usage of plastics, such as utilizing reusable bags and water bottles and purchasing products that use more sustainable, earth-friendly packaging.
Spend time in nature
Take a hike, participate in a forest bathing session or just visit one of the many beautiful outdoor spaces we have access to in the area.
Educate yourself and others
Learn about ways to continue conservation and sustainability efforts or share your knowledge with others. Read books from the library, watch a documentary on the topic, such as David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet, or attend online seminars to explore the topic of conservation more deeply.
Get creative and construct something from recycled or repurposed materials. Support local artists by purchasing a piece of art that was created from recycled materials. Choose to upcycle or repurpose items from around your home or garage instead of buying new.
Earth Day provides us with a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the natural beauty of our planet and reminds us of our communal responsibility to protect the environment and to work towards a more sustainable future for all. Even with small changes, we can make a big impact.
Amy Figueroa is a freelance writer from Springfield.