This year’s Earth Day celebration commenced in Union Square on Sunday as thousands of environmentally conscious city residents came together to stand up for the Earth by supporting dozens of environmental organizations and green businesses while enjoying interactive exhibits and live performances.
Pamela Lippe, president and founder of the Earth Day Initiative, said that Earth Day tends to focus in on what people can do.
“That’s why there’s a focus on the sharing economy and on vehicles and food, because Earth Day at its core is about engaging the public on what they can do,” she said. “Millions of people doing the little things is what will make a real impact,” Lippe added.
The Earth Day Initiative promotes environmental awareness and solutions through partnerships including schools, businesses and governments.
Kathryn Garcia, the city’s Department of Sanitation commissioner, was recognized on Sunday as Public Official of the Year mostly for expanding the city’s organic curbside recycling program, which now serves more than 700,000 people across the city.
The program helps the city reduce trash disposal costs and creates compost that can be used to beautify city parks, gardens and can be sold to area landscapers.
“In addition, we also did events yesterday on Staten Island focused on safe disposal of items including electronics and paints/solvents. We don’t want any of that getting into the environment,” she said.
Dozens of green organizations including Zipcar and Spinlister, a bike-share company, made their pitch to strolling attendees while organic/natural food companies Honest Tea, Manitoba Harvest and Fresh & Co. made their impact with free samples.
Alex Perez, COO of Fresh & Co., city-based restaurants known for using fresh and local ingredients, said they expected to give away at least 50 pans of food including organic burrito bowls. "It’s great to give back to the community,” he said.
For students, there was the Bio Bus, a mobile science lab that drives to different schools daily across NYC, focusing on schools with little access to real scientific equipment.
“We’ll usually see thousands of people at an event like this,” said Mollie Thurman, a staff scientist with Bio Bus who explained several experiments including a ceramic tile that had been submerged in the East River for about a year that was now teeming with sea life.
Council Member Ydanis Rodriquez, chair of the council’s Transportation Committee, made a plea to the crowd on behalf of this year’s Car Free NYC campaign, which encourages people not to use their cars on Earth Day and to support expanded public transportation and biking and walking options in the city.
John Oppermann, executive director of the Earth Day Initiative, called the Car Free NYC campaign a “great way … to make the city less reliant on cars.”
Alex Beauchamp, northeast region director of environmental watchdog Food & Water Watch, discussed his fight to label genetically modified foods explaining that most GMOs, such as soy and corn crops, are engineered to be resistant to pesticides and that has led to an increased use of the chemicals, thereby further polluting waterways and posing increased health risks to people.
“I want New York to lead the way on labeling for GMOs,” Beauchamp said. “It’s time to start listening to people instead of corporations.”