Earth Day is taking place Saturday, April 22. Leading up to the annual event, environmental groups are asking people to start thinking about ways to help protect the planet.

Earth Day was created to raise public awareness about the threats to environment. More than four decades later, many Americans still struggle with adopting environmentally conscious lifestyles.

"This is something I tell a lot of people. There are so many different things people can do," says Ondrea Spychalski, the water programs coordinator for The West Michigan Environmental Action Council. "I just say pick one or two things you are really passionate about, make a small change on a daily basis."

Spychalski says those steps can include recycling, composting, picking up litter or taking debris out of storm drains that would otherwise end up in the Grand River.

"It is really important. We live in a Great Lakes state surrounded by 20 percent of the world's fresh water. So, especially here in Michigan, it is important to realize what we can do to protect those natural water resources," she said.

However, she says those interesting in protecting the planet must be purposeful.

"You cannot be casual about it. It is a deliberate act. It is a behavioral change," said Spychalski. "For example, when using reusable bags, you have to be conscious of taking those into the grocery store and not just buying them and leaving them in your car. Different things like that are deliberate. But, once you start doing it, it becomes a habit."

Programs like WMEAC's Teach for the Watershed works to create that awareness in young children. The interactive watershed program provides teachers with educational training and students with tools to help them learn about ways to protect bodies of water in West Michigan.

"Educating the next generation is extremely important when it comes to environmental stewardship," she said. "We teach the kids about different things they can do to help protect the water sources after we take the water samples. It is really interesting to see them go back to their parents and actually educate their parents on the different things they can do as well.

"Educating your kids can be as simple as enrolling them in a summer camp where they can be outdoors and just getting them outside where they can interact with nature around them so they can appreciate how important it is to protect it in the future. It is not a battle that is over. We are going to need to keep fighting and keep protecting the planet no matter how clean you might think it is now."

The West Michigan Environmental Action Council has more information about Earth Day on its website. That includes details about the annual Blue Tie Ball, which celebrates Earth Day and serves as the organization's biggest fundraiser of the year.

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