Cleaning Up for Earth Day

The complexity of care.

Every April showers us with special events and holidays, from Publicity Stunt Week and Straw Hat Week, to National Bubble Gum Week and Egg Salad Week. At the end of the month is just one day devoted to our planet— Earth Day. It’s one solitary moment in the entire expanse of a year devoted to the place we call home.

Earth “Day” gets confusing because it has two different dates on the calendar. The United Nations has Earth Day penned into the agenda for late March, whereas the rest of us global citizens officially celebrate the Earth on April 22. I suppose we should be grateful that there are in fact two days a year dedicated to arousing our sensitivity for our delicate mother-ship.

The celebratory date declared by the United Nations, the 21st of March, marks the beginning of the vernal equinox, which welcomes the first signs of spring. At this time, early bulbs break through the thawing ground, though often left to survive late snow flurries and frost. Still, the days begin to grow longer and nature starts to stir beneath the frozen blanket of winter.

Lifelong activist John McConnell suggested Earth Day at a UNESCO Conference on the Environment in 1969. McConnell created the Earth Day Proclamation for Global Awareness, detailing mankind’s responsibility for stewarding, cleaning and preserving our planet. Then in 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson organized grass-root protests over what he saw happening to the environment. With only limited media coverage to get the ball rolling, 20 million demonstrators, including thousands of schools and local communities, participated in the effort. And each year since on April 22 has brought greater awareness and activity.

Regardless of when it is celebrated, whenever I hear “Earth Day” the word “care” comes to mind.

Interestingly, care suggests the notion of both giving and taking. Let me explain. We can give care or we can take care. Though easy to confuse the two terms, they are drastically different things. By “taking care,” we generally lose ourselves in private, introspective self-preservation. By “giving care,” we offer help, aid or support to those around us— an external activity. Both are equally important; for without taking care, we have no care to offer.

Let’s all take care on Earth Day 2008 to give care to those we love, as well as to our communities, cities, states, country and planet. Sounds like a huge undertaking? In reality, this can begin with the simplest of activities that you were probably already planning: tasks associated with spring cleaning.

This year, however, I suggest we mix things up a bit. Instead of unconsciously reaching for those expensive and toxic products, let’s be mindful of the effects of our actions. I propose that this year we make a clean sweep. By using safe and wholesome ingredients you likely have around the house, you can create healthy, nontoxic cleaning recipes that are perhaps even more effective than often dangerous store-bought products.

Commercial cleaning products deemed “new and improved” on a yearly basis are merely successful marketing strategies. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the means to produce mass-market pre-mixed cleansers didn’t exist. And although I enjoy many modern conveniences and technologies, I opt for healthier alternatives to harmful and life-threatening products.

Back to spring cleaning. First, clean the windows to allow that glorious sunny daylight to fill your home. Wipe away winter grime with a simple but effective solution of one teaspoon of white vinegar added to a recycled spray bottle filled with warm water. Squirt on the solution and wipe it off with recycled newspaper. You’ll be amazed at how shiny it can make your windows and mirrors. And, an entire bottle of this new glass cleaner costs only about 2 cents! While the price of store-bought cleansers results from advertising, shipping and packaging costs as well as supermarket real estate, a simple bottle of white vinegar costs less than $1 and can last more than a year.

Next, by mixing one cup of baking soda, one cup of borax— yes, it’s still made and it’s in the laundry detergent section of your grocery store— and a pinch of table salt, you make a gentle, nontoxic bathroom and kitchen cleanser. Sprinkle the mixture on dirty surfaces, give it a good scrubbing and rinse it clean with warm water. If you use the cut side of a half a lemon as your scrubber, you’ll have the added benefit of that natural and fresh citrus scent.

Whatever you use to clean your windows, mirrors, sinks, bathtubs, showers and toilets— be it these homemade recipes or store-bought chemicals— gets washed down the drain and into the ground water. Be mindful that these nontoxic recipes don’t pollute and aren’t harmful to our lakes, streams and oceans— or the flora and fauna. An added bonus, with the environmentally-friendly cleansers, you don’t have to use rubber gloves because they’re so gentle. Also, your family members and pets won’t be exposed to aerosol chemicals and toxic residues.

With homemade nontoxic cleansers, your house shines and smells fresh, and you’ve taken the first step toward grass-roots environmentalism. Everything in the aforementioned recipes for the glass cleaner and all-purpose cleanser are chemical-free and inexpensive. Store-bought cleaning products are poisonous, chemical nightmares. The list of side effects to children, adults and pets is staggering. And when such pollutants leave your home, they join forces with the pollutants leaving your neighbors’ homes. This multiples the harmful effects of pollutants.

Collectively, toxic products wreak havoc on our environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, all those expensive, fancy, “new and improved” commercial products are the leading pollutants we know of harming animal and plant life.

Let’s pledge that this year we celebrate Earth Day by taking care of others and ourselves, as well as offering care. Gorbachev once suggested that it took only five percent of the leadership of Russia to create Perestroika. Just imagine what a caring five percent of the population could offer right here and right now to make an environmental difference locally and globally.