Your actions alone can’t save the planet—but these habits can help

Each of us can help lighten our ecological load—in our homes, our neighborhoods, and the wider world.

This story is part of the optimistic argument for the future of the planet in our special issue on Earth Day. Read the pessimistic argument and the rest of our stories here.

When Earth’s woes come in large numbers—10,000 microplastic particles per liter of Arctic sea ice, 30,000 species at risk of extinction—we may doubt the power of this small number: one. As in, one person, ready to help.

It’s true that individual acts alone can’t cure what ails the planet. But each one of us can find ways to contribute to the solutions—in our homes, our neighborhoods, and the wider world.

In the home

Become an eco-friendly pet owner: Be careful how you use flea and tick products containing pesticides. Avoid cat litter made of materials obtained by strip-mining.

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Minimize food waste: Use a digital meal planner to calculate ingredients and portions so virtually everything you buy and cook gets eaten. Learn how to store foods to prolong their usability.

Keep food scraps and waste out of landfills by composting.

Be sure to properly insulate your home and replace old, drafty windows with energy-efficient ones.

At the store

Green your coffee habit. Get a reusable filter pod for your single-use coffee machine—and fill it with certified “bird friendly” coffee grown in a habitat that also nurtures birds.

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Be choosy when buying home tissue. Know which products are made of virgin wood pulp, which contribute to destruction of forests. Instead of buying paper towels and paper napkins, use cloth towels, napkins, and rags when possible.

Consider dropping meat from a few meals, or completely.

In the neighborhood

Help keep your community’s vegetation healthy by organizing tree-planting projects or pruning and weeding outings to eliminate invasive plants.

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Plant pollinator gardens.

With help from local water and conservation officials, arrange a cleanup of a creek or other waterway in your community.

As a citizen

Know the requirements for testifying at hearings or submitting written comment when federal agencies are seeking public input on an action or rule under consideration.

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Check to search by zip code for town halls and other events where you can speak in person to your local legislators.

Share your home-composting experience: Hold workshops in the neighborhood to encourage and teach others.

This story appears in the April 2020 issue of National Geographic magazine.