The first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970 — 51 years ago — and, goodness, how the world has changed since then. We’ve come a long way since the days of burning our trash and pumping our gas guzzlers with leaded gasoline. In honor of those 51 years, here are 51 important changes and milestones since the first Earth Day.
The U.S. government has led much of the environmental charge, starting with the implementation of the EPA (1) in July 1970. Later that year, the Clean Air Act (2) targeted air pollutants, followed by the Clean Water Act (3) in 1972 and the Endangered Species Act (4) in 1973.
Some lesser-known national laws included the Safe Water Drinking Act (5) in 1974, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (6) in 1976, the Toxic Substances Control Act (7) in 1976, the National Energy Act (8) in 1978, and the Medical Waste Tracking Act (9) in 1988.
In some cases, states have led the charge. Oregon passed the first bottle bill (10) in 1971, Minnesota’s Clean Indoor Air Act (11) was the first law to restrict smoking in public places (1975), and Massachusetts required low-flush toilets (12) for construction and remodeling in 1988.
Green Innovations: The Early Years
In order to comply with all the laws from the 1970s, we needed new technology to ensure consumers could adhere to the new standards. Consider:
- The “Crying Indian” PSA debuts in 1971 (13)
- Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) gets banned in 1972 (14)
- The energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulb launches in 1973 (15)
- Cars begin displaying fuel economy labels in the mid-1970s (16)
- In 1975, all cars are manufactured with catalytic converters to limit exhaust emissions (17)
- Chlorofluorocarbons are banned from aerosol cans starting in 1978 (18)
- The first curbside recycling program begins in New Jersey in 1980 (19)
- In 1986, McDonald’s switches from foam to paper food containers (20)
- Mercury is removed from latex paint in 1990, providing a viable alternative to banned lead paint (21)
- Earth911 launches the first U.S. recycling directory in 1991 (22)
- Energy Star certification debuts in 1992 for appliances and electronics (23)
- The U.S. Green Building Council begins in 1993 (24)
The Political Movement
The Green Party (25) launched in 1984, which was just the beginning of green issues entering the mainstream. One Percent for the Planet (26) was founded in 2002 to challenge businesses to donate to environmental causes, and the ISO 14001 standard (27) established environmental management. Companies are now facing pressure to allow employee telecommuting (28).
Things really developed after the release of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (29) in 2006. NBC debuted Green Week (30) in 2007. Carbon offsets (31) alleviated corporate green guilt. Bisphenol A (32) made us all question plastic purchases. Hybrid vehicles (33) generated tax credits and gas savings. Plastic bag bans gave rise to a reusable bag (34) craze. Fracking (35) and the Dakota Access Pipeline (36) were two of the most hotly contested news stories of the decade, at least until the 2016 election.
Green Tech: The Next Wave
In the past 10 years, emerging green tech has made eco-friendly a way of life, including:
- LED light bulbs (37)
- Portable solar panels on backpacks and watches (38)
- Plant-based plastics (39)
- Motion sensor lighting (40)
- Faucets with automatic shut-off (41)
- Low volatile organic compound (VOC) paint (42)
- Recycled plastic clothing (43)
- Ride-sharing mobile applications (44)
- Natural cleaning products (45)
- Biodiesel engine vehicles (46)
- Food waste composting (47)
- Portable air purifiers (48)
- Europe’s Green Deal introduced global recyclables shipping regulations to reduce pollution in low-income nations (49)
- Corporate borrowers headed toward $500 billion in bond financings for the renewables transition (50)
- President Biden rejoins the Paris Climate Accord on his first day in office. (51)
The past 51 years have been huge when it comes to saving the environment. Expect more to come as costs and the cool factor improve.
Originally published on April 18, 2018, this article was updated in March 2021.