Experts estimate that the world is losing 137 plant, animal and insect species every day due to rain forest deforestation. That equates to 50,000 species becoming extinct each year. Earth Day, which is Friday, reminds us how important it is to keep our planet healthy.
Many Americans do not realize how fortunate they are to have running water, heated or air-conditioned homes, and easy access to natural resources. But supplies of what we often take for granted are not as abundant as they used to be.
It is important to notice changes in the environment; both the good and the bad.
"How," you may ask, "can I make a difference for the planet? After all, I'm only a teenager!"
The best part about the ecological conservation cycle is that the younger you start to become active in helping nature, the more likely you are to continue to respect the environment.
Many schools around Western New York have environmental clubs. For example, Immaculata Academy holds a tree-planting day every fall, courtesy of its environmental club. Alden High School and St. Mary's High School of Lancaster both offer an environmental science class, which highlights the importance of preservation.
Sometimes the environmental clubs hold special events to engage the student body in becoming active with eco-friendly activities.
Alden High School has the Friends of the Planet Club, which recently held an Earth Week extravaganza. One of the various activities was a Tap vs. Bottled Water Challenge, where students were asked to try to taste the difference between the two types of water. More than half of the student body could not distinguish the difference.
Many people are not aware of the depletion of water sources in the world. Statistics show that the average American family uses 176 gallons of water per day compared to the 5 gallons of water an average African family uses each day.
A few other activities at Alden High included a day without technology, where only natural sunlight was used in the classrooms as a way to conserve energy, and a day to wear green to support the school's environmental friendly efforts.
NeXt contacted a few area students to see what they are doing to try to be more environmentally friendly. Surprisingly, there were many different ways that students try to conserve energy and material goods.
"I try to carpool with my friends whenever possible," said Emily Wach, a junior at Orchard Park High School.
"Instead of driving, I try to bike whenever possible to save on gas," said Hannah Best, a freshman at Alden High School. "And I like to pack my lunch using all Tupperware in a reusable lunch bag."
One of the easiest ways for schools to be involved in conservation is by recycling.
"My school has recycling boxes all over for our Arizona iced tea cans," said Emily.
St. Mary's has a recycling club called Stewards of the Earth. The club placed paper and plastic recycling bins in every classroom and is responsible for collecting the recyclable items.
"I do always try to recycle paper and bottles," said Alex Feim, a senior at St. Mary's.
Alden High School has a similar recycling program run by students. Money earned from depositing the bottles is then donated to a local organization promoting ecological awareness.
"My friends and I are in the environmental club at school, and we empty the recycling boxes for all the teachers in the school every other week," said Alyssa Phillips, a senior at Immaculata Academy. "Each teacher has a box for papers, which encourages people to recycle rather than to just throw things away."
You might say, "Wait. I don't think I'm ready to join an environmental club just yet -- I'm not really ready for people to judge me as a 'tree-hugger.' Are there any other ways I can help out?" Rest assured. There are many ways you can easily fit some "green" activities into your lifestyle. Here is a list of five simple ways you can limit your use of resources:
1. Instead of buying water bottles at school, use your own water bottle and refill it with tap water! Americans throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour. They take 400 to 1,000 years to decompose. Those plastic bottles are a major harm to the environment. There are numerous types of water bottles you can buy and they come in different sizes. Just think about how much money you will save, too!
2. Bring your lunch. Instead of using a paper bag or Styrofoam lunch trays, try a reusable lunch box made of cotton. Insulation helps keep your food at the proper temperature, which is a definite plus. You should also try to use reusable containers to limit your plastic usage. And if you're really good, you can use real silverware and a cloth napkin.
3. Use your own bags while shopping. Many stores sell reusable bags with cute patterns. Stores are glad to have you save them money on buying wasteful plastic bags, and some stores even offer special deals or gifts when you bring your own reusable bags.
4. Don't forget about the animals. Many products now have little symbols that indicate that their product is environmentally friendly or did not harm animals in the making. These earth-friendly options are available for numerous products that you use daily, such as shampoo, cosmetics, school supplies and clothing. Some new products are even biodegradable, which will easily decrease your amount of waste in the environment.
5. Recycle! About 80 percent of what Americans throw away is recyclable, yet the recycling rate is just 33 percent. Some of the most common materials you can recycle are paper, plastic or glass bottles, soda cans, magazines and many other items. Another alternative to recycling is donating things you no longer want to a charitable organization. You can donate clothes, books, old toys and stuffed animals, or any other assorted household items at drop-off sites around the area.
Even the smallest act of kindness to the ecosystem can lead to a better planet.
Sarah Hanson is a junior at Alden High School.