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Each year on April 22, 1 billion people across the globe take action for our shared blue planet to celebrate Earth Day, one of the largest civic events in the world. Since its start in 1970, Earth Day has been a catalyst for behavior changes, collective action and legislation to safeguard wildlife and their habitats.

But, as challenges like climate change mount, we have opportunities every day — not just on Earth Day — to protect animals and their environments.

Here are some simple steps you can take now to act for the Earth:

A dark brown sea lion caries a green bottle to a blue recycling bin on a wooden walkway.

1. Reduce plastic consumption

A staggering 22 million pounds of plastic enter the Great Lakes every year, threatening wildlife and even our drinking water. Reducing your plastic use, like opting for reusable grocery bags and refusing plastic cutlery when ordering food to go, can help keep plastic out of our waterways.

Two bikers cruise in front of Shedd's historic building.

2. Think twice about your transportation

Before jumping in the car, look into various transportation options to see which would have the smallest environmental impact. Walking, biking or taking public transportation can reduce your environmental footprint and teach you more about a particular place, its people and culture. If you need to fly, consider ways to offset your carbon footprint. 

Solar panels were installed on the terraced roof of Shedd's Oceanarium, set in curved rows.

3. Flip the switch!

Fossil fuels like coal and oil are burned to make energy, adding more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and contributing to climate change. At home, be sure to turn off the light when you leave a room. And if you haven’t already, swap out your old incandescent light bulbs for energy-saving LED bulbs.

Vegetables grown in Shedd's gardens-- such as radishes, peppers, lettuce, tomatoes and carrots-- are harvested as part of our animals' organic vegetable diets.

4. Opt for locally sourced foods

Locally sourced foods, like what you can find at a farmer’s market, decrease the distance your food travels to reach your plate, reducing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during transportation. Small-scale farming operations also use less resources to grow their crops, which is more sustainable and less impactful for the environment.

A girl signs a pledge to reduce her use of single-waste plastics.

5. Raise your voice

Shedd’s policy, government affairs and advocacy work harnesses the collective power of voices and votes to inspire decisionmakers and secure protections for animals and their habitats. You, too, can raise your voice and encourage your local, state and federal elected officials to support topics like wetlands protections, plastic reduction or even sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation.

Rocks along the south shoreline of Lake Michigan north of the city

6. Turn off the tap!

Cutting back on water use means we don’t have to use as much energy to treat used water. Be sure to turn off the tap while you brush your teeth or lather your hands. Also consider shortening your showers and only running the dishwasher or washing machine once it’s full so you can limit water use.

A yellow footed tortoise chows down on fresh berries and greens.

7. Reduce food waste

Did you know food that ends up in landfills emits greenhouse gases? Cut down your food waste by creatively using parts of produce you may not typically cook (those broccoli stems are edible and delicious; mushroom stems make great broth!), repurposing take-out leftovers into something new and composting the food odds and ends you can’t eat.

Fresh greens are arranged artfully on a small square plate with slices of lemon and cucumber, sprinkled with shreds of bright pink beets for color.

8. Eat more plant-based meals

The meat and animal products industry is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, accounting for up to 78% of all food-related carbon emissions. Replacing one meal a week with a vegetarian menu could, over the course of a year, save the equivalent of the greenhouse gases emitted by driving 1,160 miles.

A monarch butterfly on clusters of pink flowers.

9. Plant native species

Garden for the birds and the bees! If you have access to green space or even a few pots to plant a garden, consider planting native species. By using native plants accustomed to our local landscape and climate, we can conserve water, combat climate change and provide habitat for butterflies, birds and insects.

A beautiful view of the Chicago skyline from the edge of the Chicago River, where volunteers comb through native prairie plants for invasive species.

10. Volunteer for a Shedd Aquarium Action Day

Consider getting outside at a Shedd Aquarium Action Day to restore and protect local forest preserves, waterways and beaches. You’ll clean up litter, remove invasive brush or plant native species to help animals from frogs to fishes thrive.