Today is the 39th anniversary of Earth Day, founded in the US in 1970 and widely recognized as the birth date of the modern environmental movement.

While environmental consciousness, both in the US and abroad, is arguably more widespread today than it was back then, our environmental problems are also more profound.

The call for each person to play his or her part to live a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle has never been more urgent.

Yet many of us (myself included), ignore the call or respond to it selectively, reluctant to make a bigger commitment to environmentalism.

Here are six easy ways you can celebrate Earth Day today and start moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle:

1. Buy rechargeable batteries.

We’ve known for years that disposable batteries are a serious threat to the environment. When disposed in landfills, dead batteries leach toxic metals into the soil, often creeping into groundwater supplies… and, eventually, into the water you drink.

Rechargeable batteries, though not without their environmental hazards, do offer a more environmentally friendly option than conventional batteries. Rechargeables can be used up to 1,000 times, meaning that you’ll need to buy fewer batteries and fewer will end up in landfills. You’ll spend less money on batteries over the long run, too.

Rechargeable batteries–and even their chargers–are sold practically everywhere: drug stores, grocery stores, and even convenience stores.

And if you insist on buying disposables, consider recycling them after they die. If you’re in the US, visit this website and plug in your zip code to find the recycling facility closest to you.

2. Unplug the appliances you’re not using.

I just did a quick walk through my apartment to check the number of items I currently have plugged into outlets.

Photo: tomsaint11

The report, I’m sad to say, isn’t pretty. There’s the cell phone charger, two laptops, a shredder (which I use about once a week), a clock, a stereo, two lamps, a blender, a coffee maker, and a toaster oven (I don’t even remember the last time I used this).

If I unplugged the items that don’t see daily use, I’d be eliminating what scientists and environmentalists refer to as “standby” energy waste. Besides being better for the environment, a 2001 study by Berkeley researchers indicated that I might save as much as 25% on my monthly energy bill.

3. Carry a canvas or reusable bag.

Fortunately, it seems that many of you live in areas where plastic bags have been banned or where their use is increasingly limited. If you don’t, try to remember to carry a canvas or other reusable bag on your trips to the grocery store and for other purchases. There’s an economic incentive here, too– many stores, such as Whole Foods, deduct a small percentage from your total bill for bagging your goods with a reusable bag.

4. Use your coffee travel mug or your Nalgene bottle.

Photo: Ants4Pets

You’ve heard this a million times. You have a collection of reusable mugs and bottles. And you still leave them at home every time you go out.

I know- me too. This is quite possibly the easiest step I could take to reduce waste, and yet I never quite seem to commit to it. Today’s the day to break the disposable cup/bottle habit.

5. Plant a window garden.

Feeling really ambitious? If these other actions seem like baby steps and you’re ready to graduate to something bigger, test your green thumb by planting a window garden. Don’t be deterred if you live in a small apartment in the middle of a city. Matador contributor Theodore Scott has given step-by-step directions for four easy apartment garden projects, which you can find here.

6. Get outside.

Photo: atreeisnice

It’s easy to forget how much you love the land and how important it is to you if you’re always inside. So get out. Plan a picnic, go for a walk, or try a new outdoor activity you keep putting off… but just get outside!

Community Connection:

What are you doing for Earth Day? How can you take a simple step to be a better steward of the environment? Share your opinions below.