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Unusual Earth Day activities

Raising chickens can help save the earth.
Raising chickens can help save the earth.
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Today is Earth Day. Most people are at least aware of how critical saving the planet is, and many do at least one or two helpful things, like recycling, using less water, or repurposing containers or other items. Businesses are built on repurposing or salvaging what was once trash, and restoring it to a glorious new life with its original purpose, or a new purpose.

But there are ways people can do even more if you are an extreme “greenie.” Most activities don’t take a lot of extra work, and the results can be spectacular for both you and the planet. Here are some ideas:

Eat some bugs. Raising insects produces fewer greenhouse gases than raising cattle. If more people got protein by eating insects instead of meat, it could ease global warming. If you don't want to munch on tasty crickets, try eating fewer portions of red meat, and plan a few vegetarian meals a week. You'll lower your risk of cardiovascular disease as well as your carbon footprint. If that whets your appetite, see this story on edible insects.

Hook up your bike to a blender. If you're somewhat handy and don't mind scrounging around for parts, it's pretty easy to connect an old bicycle to a generator that can power anything from a small appliance to a washing machine to a laptop. The book The Human-Powered Home (New Society Publishers, 2008) tells you how. You can get lots done without burning fossil fuels, plus you get in a little exercise.

Eat out of a dumpster. Americans toss about half of the food we produce, equal to 1,400 calories of wasted food per person per day. That not only squanders food that could feed those who don't have enough, but it's a tremendous waste of the energy used to produce, package, and transport it, too. Filmmaker Jeremy Seifert illustrated one solution to this problem in his documentary Dive!, which demonstrated the astonishing amount of fresh, edible, perfectly clean food that gets tossed out by large retailers and supermarkets. Dumpster-diving doesn't appeal? Help solve this problem by saving and using your own leftovers, volunteering at a local food bank, and urging your markets to donate the edible food they can't sell.

Just put some vinegar on it. Vinegar—is there anything this powerful, natural substance can't do? A mix of 1 part vinegar to 9 parts of water will kill germs and clean just about any surface, eliminating the need for cleansers full of eco-unfriendly chemicals. And forget plug-in air fresheners that release questionable chemicals into your air: Leave a small bowl of white vinegar on a shelf to deodorize a room. See 150 Uses for Vinegar for more.

Go out on a commercial fishing boat. For a truly hands-on ocean-conservation experience, consider becoming a fisher observer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service (www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/st4/nop). You'll go to sea on commercial fishing boats and monitor and record catch data and commercial fishing activity from U.S. vessels and processing facilities. Some serious training and appropriate experience are required; if that's not for you, there are plenty of other things you can do; here are 25 ways to protect our endangered oceans.

Bring plastic bags to the grocery store. Did you know that "free" plastic bags could cost you $88 a year? We all get caught without a reusable shopping bag sometimes. If you have to bring a plastic bag home, take it with you to the supermarket next time, and recycle it in the bin there (or reuse it a few times before recycling). Some curbside recycling programs may actually end up sending the plastic to a landfill, depending on market conditions. Big retailers and supermarkets generally have a more dependable system in place. Check out this Plastic-Free Challenge to find more ways to eliminate unneeded plastic from your life.

Walk around naked. It takes 250 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to make just one pair of jeans, another 165 gallons to dilute the pesticides and fertilizers used to grow it, according to The Green Blue Book: The Simple Water-Savings Guide to Everything in Your Life (Rodale, 2010). If going completely nude 24-7 isn't an option, this is one more reason to buy vintage clothing when you can, and keep your clothes until they wear out instead of replacing them according to the whims of fashion. See 5 Off-the-Wall Ways to Save Water for more offbeat water-saving options.

Live with Chickens. Your backyard is as local as you can get for food. Start raising chickens for fresh eggs. "You’ll know what the chickens ate and how they lived. As with a backyard vegetable garden, backyard chickens give you some measure of self-sufficiency," explains Christine Heinrichs, author of How to Raise Chickens: Everything You Need to Know (Voyageur Press, 2007). Be sure to check with your municipality for local laws governing livestock and animal husbandry.

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