April 22 is an important day for people all over the world—it is a day when we celebrate our planet Earth and think about ways we can protect the environment to make it a safer and healthier place for people, plants, and animals each day. You don't have to wait for that day to find ways you can help protect the Earth.
1. Cut the lid and front flap of the egg carton off neatly. Set the front flap into the lid to cover up the holes.
2. Line the inside of the lid with one or two sheets of aluminum foil. Be sure to cover all of the cardboard to keep it from getting wet. You will use this later as a tray to catch extra water.
3.Turn the bottom half of the carton over (If there are tall portions that stick up between the egg cups, you can cut those off, too). With an adult's help, carefully use a large nail to poke 2-3 holes in the bottom of each egg cup. These holes will allow extra water to drain out.
4. Set the bottom half of the egg carton right side up into the foil-lined tray.
5. Fill each cup with soil and press it down lightly.
6. Plant seeds by making a small hole and sprinkling 5-6 seeds into it. Repeat in each cup and cover the seeds lightly with soil.
7. Sprinkle water carefully over the soil in each cup.
8. Set the egg carton on a sunny windowsill. Water the seeds every day or as often as the edges of the soil begin to look dry. Because the cardboard from the egg carton will soak up some water, be careful not to water the seeds too much, or the carton will become soggy. You can also lift the carton out of the tray and pour out excess water if needed.
What do seeds need in order to sprout and grow? They need water, sunlight, and nutrients from soil. Learn more about germination (when seeds sprout) and how plants grow.
Once your seeds have sprouted and grown into healthy seedlings, you can plant them outdoors. Even if you don't have a garden, your seedlings should do just fine planted in larger pots or various recycled containers (poke holes in the bottom of containers so extra water can drain out, then fill with soil). When you're ready to plant your seedlings, carefully cut the egg cups apart. You can plant each egg cup (carton and all!) directly into the ground or a container by digging a hole large enough for the cup to fit in and then carefully packing dirt around it. A cardboard egg carton is biodegradable, which means it will break down and become part of the soil over time. The roots of your plants will help break the egg carton apart, too. In nature, organic matter - such as leaves that fall from trees in Autumn - breaks down into the ground over time. Leaves and other organic materials (natural things that were once living) enrich the soil, giving plants growing nearby nutrients they need to be healthier. The cardboard from your egg carton pots won't enrich the soil, but it will still break down and become a part of the soil.
Note: It is important to make sure freezing nighttime temperatures have passed where you live before planting seedlings outside. Even one night of frost could damage or destroy small plants.
Earth Day is a holiday devoted to making people aware of how their choices affect the environment and how they can help protect and preserve the Earth. The first Earth Day took place in 1970 and it is now observed in nearly 200 countries across the world. You can find out if there are any local Earth Day activities planned in your community using this map from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
The most practical ways you can make an impact on the environment are to practice the three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle.
Reduce means cutting down on how much waste and energy (examples: garbage and electricity) we use. Reuse means to find a new way to use something rather than throwing it away (like using a jelly jar as a drinking glass). Recycling makes new things out of old things (soda pop cans are made mostly from recycled aluminum).
Can you think of some ways you and your family already practice the three Rs? How many ways to reduce waste and energy usage can you think of? An example is turning off lights when you leave a room. How many different reuse techniques can you think of? One way is to cut up ripped, stained, or old t-shirts to use as cleaning rags. Do you know what items are recyclable where you live? Plastic bottles (with a 1 or 2 on the bottom), cans, and newspaper are usually recycled in most areas. What else does your local recycling center take? You can find out more here.
These practices are important every day, not just on Earth Day. Sometimes our efforts at recycling and reducing how much energy we use can seem insignificant. Even small things can make a big difference over time. Think about how much less energy will be used if we all remember to turn off the water while we're brushing our teeth, not to keep the refrigerator door open longer than we need to, and to turn off lights and use natural light from windows instead? More people working together to make small changes every day can make a big difference in the long run.
Renewable and Nonrenewable
Natural resources are materials that occur naturally, like water, land, and coal. Humans use natural resources for all kinds of things, like heating our homes, fueling our cars, and to make other things, such as plastic. Natural resources can be put in two categories: renewable and nonrenewable.
Renewable resources are things like wind and sunlight. They are constantly being replaced. Nonrenewable resources are things like land, water, and fossil fuels, such as oil and coal. They are either not replaced, or else replaced on the Earth very slowly over a long period of time. Fossil fuels are made from plants and animals that lived on the Earth a long, long time ago. We rely on fossil fuels for heat, to make electricity, and for fuel to drive cars. Even though using fossil fuels helps people, we're using them up faster than they're being replenished. Some sources estimate that 90% of the world's energy use comes from fossil fuels! Additionally, when we burn fossil fuels, it can release harmful toxins into our air (also known as pollution). Some people think a good way to use less fossil fuel is to use more renewable resources for energy, like the wind, water, and the sun. These are known as alternative or renewable energy sources.
Gardens, Farms, and Sustainability
Have you ever thought about where the food you eat comes from? Most of us probably buy a lot of the food our families eat from grocery stores. How did the food get to those stores? Often, it had to travel a long distance on trucks to get from where it was grown or raised to the nearby grocery store we bought it from. Transporting food uses lots of fossil fuels (nonrenewable resources). Food that is packaged or processed in factories requires even more nonrenewable energy - such as electricity to operate machines and materials such as plastic and paper for the packaging. The next time you go to the grocery store, take a look at the tiny stickers on different fruits and vegetables to see where they were grown if you'd like a better idea of how far food had to travel to get to you!
Many farms and manufactures produce food using sustainable methods. That means they try hard to reduce the amount of nonrenewable resources they use to grow, produce, and package food. Many companies use only recycled materials for packaging and use alternative energy, such as wind or solar (sun) power to keep things running smoothly. They also work hard to take good care of the land they use to make sure it remains fertile for a long time. To control pests, such as insects and weeds, sustainable farms find ways that are less harmful to the land as well as to other plants, animals, and people.
Buying food that is grown locally is a great way to help support small farms and people who live near you. It's also a good way to help the environment. Small farms and local gardens don't need as much equipment; most of their work is done by hand. Buying food that is produced locally also helps reduce fossil fuel use since it doesn't have to travel very far to get to you!
Have you heard that organic food can be healthier for you? Buying food that is organic is better for the earth, too! Chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are often used in large amounts on plants that are grown conventionally, but not on ones that are grown organically. Those chemicals can be harmful to humans and wildlife alike.
Not everything that we use from the Earth will be replaced naturally. Cutting down on how much water we use, how many chemicals are added to the ground to grow food, and how much food we buy from stores are all ways we can help make the resources we have on the Earth last longer. Growing your own food, even just a few vegetables or herbs for a few months out of the year, is another practical and fun way to help protect the environment.