Celebrate World Environment Day & Pollinator Week through mindful yard maintenance

If you enjoy gardening, or own or rent a home with a yard, you’ve probably already begun regular work to improve and maintain your outdoor haven. This June you can celebrate both World Environment Day (June 5) and Pollinator Week 2024 (June 17-23) as part of your outdoor efforts while also supporting native and resilient habitats.

World Environment Day announcement imageWorld Environment Day is observed on June 5th annually. The event began in 1973 and has been led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) since its inception. Its purpose is to inspire positive change and raise awareness around important environmental challenges. Each year, a different country plays “host” to the celebration and a different theme is the focus of global outreach efforts. In 2024, Saudi Arabia is the host country and the theme is land restoration, desertification, and drought resilience under the slogan “Our land. Our future. We are #GenerationRestoration.” UNEP’s announcement of the theme explains that it reflects this year as the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. The sixteenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 16) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) will be held in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, December 2-13, 2024. According to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, up to 40 percent of land on Earth is degraded, impacting half of the world’s population and threatening roughly half of global GDP (US$44 trillion). The number and duration of droughts have increased by 29 percent since 2000, and without urgent action, droughts may affect over three-quarters of the world’s population by 2050.

Although drought and desertification may feel like issues faced in distant realms, especially given the amount of precipitation we’ve received in Illinois within the past month, drier conditions and increasing odds of worsening drought are challenges faced in many parts of the U.S. due to climate change. In fact, 2023 was a much warmer and drier year than normal in Illinois, and the 2012 drought was a relatively recent example of a severe drought occurring in our state. While Illinois is not currently experiencing drought, multiple areas in the U.S. are already facing moderate to extreme drought conditions, according to U.S. Drought Monitor.

Those of us who have yards to manage can show our solidarity with areas facing drought and desertification by including native plants in our landscaping. These plants tend to require less water to maintain because they’re suited to local conditions and have extensive root systems. They also contribute to habitat restoration and conservation for local insects and other wildlife, making them especially useful for #GenerationRestoration.

The University of Illinois Extension offers advice on “Plants for Dry Areas,” and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources also offers plant suggestions for a native garden. “Illinois Native Plants for the Home Landscape” is a resource available from the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. Wild Ones Illinois Prairie Chapter offers a wealth of resources on landscaping with native plants, gardening for birds or other wildlife, creating pollinator gardens, information on specific native plants, and creating/restoring native habitat in your yard.

2024 Pollinator Week LogoConsidering native plants can also be part of your observance of Pollinator Week, scheduled to occur June 17-23, 2024. Pollinator Week is an annual celebration in support of pollinator health that was initiated and is managed by Pollinator Partnership. This year’s theme is, “Vision 2040: Thriving ecosystems, economies, and agriculture.” According to the event website, “This year’s event urges us to envision a future where pollinators not only survive but thrive. These essential creatures, including bees, butterflies, moths, bats, beetles, and hummingbirds, are the unsung heroes behind the food we enjoy and the beauty that surrounds us. As we reflect on the interconnectedness of our world, let’s unite in a collective effort to protect and preserve these crucial pollinators.” Further, “Pollinators provide pollination services to over 180,000 different plant species and more than 1200 crops. That means that 1 out of every three bites of food you eat is there because of pollinators. If we want to talk dollars and cents, pollinators add 217 billion dollars to the global economy, and honey bees alone are responsible for between 1.2 and 5.4 billion dollars in agricultural productivity in the United States. In addition to the food that we eat, pollinators support healthy ecosystems that clean the air, stabilize soils, protect from severe weather, and support other wildlife.” With all that pollinators do for our species and society, the least we can do is incorporate their needs into our garden and landscaping plans! “Pollinator Garden: Native Plants for Attracting Pollinators,” is a great resource developed by Extension and the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. Extension also offers a pollinator plant selection tool for various conditions.

Other considerations for drought-resilient, pollinator-friendly landscaping

  • If you don’t already, consider home composting. Not only will you be able to manage yard and food waste on-site, but you’ll create a natural soil amendment that will reduce the need for chemical fertilizers (protecting pollinators, other wildlife, pets, and humans from exposure to potential hazards), and also improve the ability of the soil to retain moisture. Check out last month’s post on International Compost Awareness Week for more information.
  • Consider reducing the amount of lawn in your yard, replacing it with native plants that will support native pollinators and other wildlife. Beyond adding to local resiliency to drought and other environmental challenges, this could have the added benefits of saving you time and money by reducing your need to mow or care for grass with water and fertilizer. Illinois Extension offers suggestions for groundcovers for IL landscapes.
  • Capture rainwater. Reduce your demand for local tap water by setting up rain barrels. In damp areas of your property, consider the installation of a rain garden to naturally manage flooding and reduce associated soil erosion.
  • Use Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Minimize your need for chemical control of pests by employing IPM techniques, such as creating habitat for beneficial insects, such as ladybugs or lacewings, that will prey upon common garden pests such as aphids or mites. See this guide for some tips.
  • Consider electric alternatives to lawn equipment to reduce air pollution and GHG emissions. For areas that still require mowing or trimming, consider electric equipment to reduce emissions associated with using gasoline. This will in general be better for our shared environment and might have the added benefit of less noise to disrupt your outdoor enjoyment, as electric equipment tends to be a little quieter than gas-powered items. Keep in mind that electric items will tend to cost more than gas-powered items, so you’ll want to weigh options and consider how much you need a particular item. You might end up deciding to share tools with neighbors to avoid owning something you only occasionally use. Consumer Reports offers some advice and five reasons why battery-powered tools may be the right choice for you. (Note that these links are provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as endorsements by ISTC or the University of Illinois).

Help #BeatPlasticPollution on World Environment Day June 5th

World Environment Day 2023 banner

World Environment Day (WED) is an annual event celebrated on June 5th which raises awareness of environmental issues and encourages people across the globe to take action to protect our shared environment. The United Nations (UN) General Assembly designated June 5th as World Environment Day in 1972, marking the first day of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. That same day, they adopted another resolution creating the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). UNEP coordinated the first celebration of WED in 1973, and it has led celebrations ever since. This year’s theme is #BeatPlasticPollution, shining a light on this worldwide issue (see past themes at https://www.worldenvironmentday.global/about/history). This year’s host country is Côte d’Ivoire in partnership with the Netherlands. Since 2014, Côte d’Ivoire has banned the use of plastic bags, supporting a shift to reusable packaging, and the country’s largest city, Abidjan, has also become a hub for environmentally minded start-ups.

As described in a previous post, plastics, including micro- and nanoplastics, are ubiquitous in our environment, even leaking from plastic recycling facilities. Microplastics are found in a variety of organisms, including humans. Recognizing the need for action, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a draft National Strategy to Prevent Plastic Pollution in April and is seeking public comment through June 16, 2023.

On its WED website, UNEP provides a Beat Plastic Pollution Practical Guide, with recommendations for individuals; non-governmental organizations, faith organizations, and community groups; science and education organizations; governments; cities, towns, and local authorities; investors; and businesses and industry. The guide outlines how plastic pollution affects us, the sources of plastic pollution, what progress is being made, and what more needs to be done to address the situation.

Cover page of UNEP "Turning off the Tap" reportThe WED website also links to an interactive lesson on the plastic pollution problem and the UNEP report, Turning off the Tap: How the world can end plastic pollution and create a circular economy, which was released on May 16, 2023. This report examines the economic and business models needed to address the impacts of the plastics economy. UNEP suggests “a systems change to address the causes of plastic pollution, combining reducing problematic and unnecessary plastic use with a market transformation towards circularity in plastics. This can be achieved by accelerating three key shifts – reuse, recycle, and reorient and diversify – and actions to deal with the legacy of plastic pollution.” They explain that “reorient and diversify” “refers to shifting the market towards sustainable plastic alternatives, which will require a shift in consumer demand, regulatory frameworks and costs.”

Finally, the WED site provides relevant news, updates related to this year’s celebration, an opportunity to register your organization’s relevant events or activities, and links to other UNEP reports related to the global plastic pollution problem.

What strategies do you use to reduce plastic consumption and pollution? Share your thoughts on social media this June 5th with the hashtag #BeatPlasticPollution. You can connect with UNEP on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram.

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#BeatPlasticPollution on World Environment Day

Today is an important “holiday” of sorts for those of us who are sustainability professionals. On this day in 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm Sweden, began (June 5-16, 1972). The purpose of that conference was to discuss human interactions with the environment, as well as encouraging governments and international organizations to take action related to environmental issues and providing guidelines for such action. This was the UN’s first major conference on international environmental issues, and it culminated in what’s commonly called the “Stockholm Declaration”—the first document in international environmental law to recognize the right to a healthy environment. Two years later, in 1974, the first World Environment Day was held on June 5 with the theme of “Only One Earth.” Since then, World Environment Day has been celebrated annually on June 5th. Each year has a theme around which activities center, and beginning in the late 1980s, the main celebrations began to rotate to different cities around the globe. Learn more about the UN Conference on the Human Environment at https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/milestones/humanenvironment and the history of World Environment Day at http://worldenvironmentday.global/en/about/world-environment-day-driving-five-decades-environmental-action.

This year’s World Environment Day theme, chosen by the host nation, India, (New Delhi is the host city) is “beating plastic pollution,” with the tagline “If you can’t reuse it, refuse it.” According to the World Environment Day web site: “While plastic has many valuable uses, we have become over reliant on single-use or disposable plastic – with severe environmental consequences. Around the world, 1 million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute. Every year we use up to 5 trillion disposable plastic bags. In total, 50 per cent of the plastic we use is single use. Nearly one third of the plastic packaging we use escapes collection systems, which means that it ends up clogging our city streets and polluting our natural environment. Every year, up to 13 million tons of plastic leak into our oceans, where it smothers coral reefs and threatens vulnerable marine wildlife. The plastic that ends up in the oceans can circle the Earth four times in a single year, and it can persist for up to 1,000 years before it fully disintegrates. Plastic also makes its way into our water supply – and thus into our bodies. What harm does that cause? Scientists still aren’t sure, but plastics contain a number of chemicals, many of which are toxic or disrupt hormones. Plastics can also serve as a magnet for other pollutants, including dioxins, metals and pesticides.”

To combat the environmental and human health issues associated with the global addiction to single use plastics, the UN Environment Programme is encouraging people to join the global game of #BeatPlasticPollution tag. Here’s how to play:

  1. Choose which type of single-use plastic you’re ready to give up.
  2. Take a selfie (photo or video) showing yourself with the reusable alternative that you’re ready to embrace.
  3. Share your selfie on social media and “tag” three friends, businesses or high-profile people to challenge them to do the same within 24 hours. Be sure to use the #BeatPlasticPollution hashtag and mention @UNEnvironment.

So what single use plastic item will you pledge to give up today—plastic straws, disposable plastic shopping bags, disposable coffee pods, plastic water bottles, or something else? For inspiration, see http://worldenvironmentday.global/en/get-involved/join-global-game-beatplasticpollution-tag.

Image of 2018 World Environment Day poster promoting #BeatPlasticPollution Tag, outlining the steps for the global game listed in this blog post.

This post was written by Joy Scrogum, ISTC Sustainability Specialist, for the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable (GLRPPR) Blog.