Back in 1970, the nation’s first Earth Day occurred. About 20 million people attended events around the nation. Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson (1963 to 1981) championed Earth Day and encouraged people to fight for the environment with the same passion they had when opposing the Vietnam War. 

When Earth Day celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1990, 141 countries were now participating, making it a worldwide event. Today, every continent has events celebrating Earth Day. In 2024, events include the following: (Search for local events at

  • England – Somerset Earth Day Festival with live music, dance, and outreach. (April 20th starting at 11 a.m.)
  • Fiji – Citrus tree planting at the University of Fiji (April 21st starting at 2:15 p.m.)
  • Hawaii – Beach clean-up with the Sharkastics on the shores of Ka’ehu Bay. (April 29th starting at 9 a.m.)
  • Nova Scotia – Earth Day parade ending at Peace and Friendship Park (April 20th starting at 2 p.m.)
  • Texas – Keep Austin Beautiful public clean up (April 20th starting at 9 a.m. throughout the city.)

That’s what Earth Day is about. How can you celebrate it in your town or even within your household?

10 Facts About Trash and Recycling

With the establishment of Earth Day also came the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). President Nixon signed an executive order putting the EPA into action on December 2, 1970.

The EPA tracks statistics on the generation of household and business waste and how much is recycled or sent to landfills. Using the EPA’s statistics, these are facts you should know about trash and recycling.

  1. Americans create about 5 pounds of municipal solid waste per day.
  2. Of that waste, only 32% is recycled or composted.
  3. About half of solid waste (146 million tons in 2018) goes to a landfill.
  4. Food waste (21.59%) and paper/cardboard products (23.05%) are the two most generated materials found in municipal solid waste.
  5. Paper and cardboard are the items most commonly recycled at 66.54%
  6. Plastics make up 12% of solid waste, but only 4.47% of recycling.
  7. When the EPA formed, plastics and yard clippings were not recycled. Today, 63% of yard clippings and 9% of plastics are.
  8. Recycling and composting rates dropped from 34.7% to 32.1% between 2015 and 2018. 
  9. Recycling measures in 2018 saved more than 193 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. It’s about the same as removing 42 million vehicles (exhaust) from America’s roadways.
  10. Paper and cardboard recycling provide the biggest benefits in terms of greenhouse gas benefits.

Everything You Can and Cannot Recycle

What can you recycle? Depending on your district, you might find it harder to recycle certain items. In general, these are the most common recyclables.

Paper and Cardboard:

Boxes, brown paper bags, newspapers, magazines, letters, and books with the covers removed are all recyclable. Paper and cardboard are among the most recycled items.

If you have too much cardboard, you can lay it under a raised bed garden to block weeds and slowly break down. Shredded paper and cardboard are also great additives to a compost pile. Make sure you balance it with greens like lawn clippings.


One district might welcome every kind of plastic, while another only accepts 1, 2, and 5. Plastic food containers like peanut butter jars are recyclable. You must first wash them out. Items have a symbol with the type of plastic marked on or near the recycling symbol.

  • 1 – PET (Commonly recycled)
  • 2 – HDPE (Commonly recycled)
  • 3 – PVC (Not recyclable)
  • 4 – LDPE (Plastic film recycling)
  • 5 – PP (Commonly recycled)
  • 6 – PS (Not recyclable)
  • 7 – Other (Not recyclable)

While plastics can be recycled, it doesn’t mean a facility is equipped to handle them. Take 4 (LDPE) for example. Plastic grocery bags are recyclable, but they snag on machinery causing costly problems. 

Instead, save your plastic bags and packaging materials like air pillows, bubble wrap, and clear bags. When you go to a grocery store or certain discount retailers, look for the plastics recycling bin found at the entrance. You can recycle plastic film there.

When you purchase new items, look for bottles and products made with recycled plastic. Reuse of recycled materials is just as important as recycling. If you don’t purchase recycled products, what’s the point of people recycling? Companies like Adidas, Coca-Cola, Kraft Heinz, and Patagonia.

Metal food cans, pet food containers, bottles, and tins are also recyclable. It’s possible your district also accepts aluminum foil. Scrap metal is, but you must call a scrap metal person to haul it away. Scrap metal can also include old appliances, cars, and car parts. Rinse metal cans before recycling them. 


Most glass products like bottles and jars are recyclable. The exceptions are Pyrex, Mason jars, and colored glass. Like plastic, the jars and bottles need to be rinsed clean. Sometimes, you can repurpose them. Glass jars are great for storing nails, screws, bolts, and washers.


There’s another form of recycling that doesn’t always show up in EPA reports. Recycled electronics are a current issue as people don’t always realize that recycling an old cellphone, laptop, or rechargeable camera is important. E-waste is hazardous waste that must be recycled properly to break down the glass, plastic, metal, and batteries.

You can bring unwanted or broken computers, monitors, phones, tablets, and other electronic items to your local recycling facility. Stores like Best Buy and Staples also accept them.

Food Waste:

Vermont was the first state to mandate food waste recycling. Food scrap bans started in 2020, and it wasn’t easy for all residents as many of the major waste haulers lacked the resources to pick up food waste at the curb. Some people started independent businesses, but it wasn’t always successful.

Composting your own food waste is best. A tumbler composting system does well and provides you with beneficial compost for garden beds. Meat scraps are harder to compost and usually go into the trash if you have nowhere to bring them. Do not use meat compost on garden beds with foods you eat.

How Can You Celebrate Earth Day?

Tackle some recycling projects for Earth Day. With some scrap wood, you could build a backyard compost bin. Hardware cloth on the top keeps animals out. 

If you’ve always wanted to build a garden, but lack resources for the framing. Consider a lasagna garden. Build a lasagna garden in layers with wet cardboard, manure, grass clippings, compost, more cardboard, etc. Keep going until you have a bed that’s about a foot high. End with manure or compost.

When you plant seedlings or seeds, plant them directly into the lasagna garden. The roots of the plant help with composting.

Go for a walk and pick up all of the trash and recyclables you find. If your state has a bottle deposit, you’ll make money that you can keep or donate to a preferred cause. Clean recyclables can go into your recycling bin. Trash gets thrown out.

Recycle Nation has an online guide to help you determine what you can recycle locally. Once you’ve submitted your ZIP code and the item type, a list of facilities in your area comes up, complete with directions and contact information.