Earth Day

Library of Congress

Fifty years ago on Wednesday, the first Earth Day kicked off with a huge bang. An estimated 20 million people rallied to the call to protect our most fundamental resources: land, water, and air.

Its founder, Gaylord Nelson, served as Wisconsin governor before moving on to the U.S. Senate. Here's an excerpt from his 1970 speech delivered at MATC in Milwaukee on the eve of the first Earth Day:

Updated at 12:30 p.m. ET

Former President Richard Nixon celebrated the first Earth Day in 1970 by planting a tree on the White House South Lawn. An enormous turnout of some 20 million people across the country attended Earth Day festivities, putting the fight against pollution on the political agenda.

That year Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and went on to sign the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act with broad bipartisan support.

Outrider Foundation

If you’ve seen Milwaukee Brewers' Brent Suter in action, you might have noticed his reusable water bottle. It’s nothing new to the pitcher.

Suter has been concerned about the environment for years. It started with a love of nature.

Growing up in Cincinnati Ohio, he was in the Boy Scouts, had pets, and loved nature and animals. His love shifted to concern when Suter was a freshman in high school.

A junk removal company's job is to get rid of junk, right? You might be picturing a scene from the TV show Hoarders — stuff being thrown into a big dumpster as quickly as possible, headed for the landfill. For Wisconsin veteran Andrew Weins, his goal — and that of his junk removal and hauling business — is to take absolutely nothing to the dump.

His philosophy is reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle (in that order), and if all that fails, dispose responsibly.

Susan Bence

The EPA estimates that more food ends up in landfills than any other category of waste. Efforts are underway to tip the tide in Wisconsin. Some people have created their own compost systems at home, others compost through neighborhood gardens. Melissa Tashjian, however, wants to reach a wider audience.

Susan Bence

Monday marked the 49th anniversary of Earth Day, the day founded by Wisconsin’s Gaylord Nelson to focus attention on environmental affairs.

Earlier this month, political and environmental activist Winona LaDuke visited the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to present her lecture, "The Next Energy Economy: Grassroots Strategies to Mitigate Global Climate Change, and How We Move Ahead."

LaDuke is based on the White Earth reservation in Minnesota and was also a two-time vice presidential candidate on the Green Party ticket.

Susan Bence

We throw our paper and aluminum cans in a bin, a crew picks up the materials, and we assume we’ve made a difference. But experts say there’s still confusion on what can be recycled.

Brian Jongetjes’ family has been in the waste business since 1969. Today, their company, called Johns Disposal, handles both garbage and recycling for communities and businesses in an eight-county area.

Jongetjes says their workers routinely find stuff that can’t be recycled. “Dog leashes or rope or wire, it wraps around everything," he adds, “We hate that.”

Elizabeth Ferris

More than 1,300 people are expected to gather at Milwaukee’s Red Arrow Saturday afternoon to march for science. Organizers here drew inspiration from a march – also taking place on Earth Day – in Washington DC. Both marches, along with more than 600 others scheduled around the world, hope to draw attention to the role science plays in health, economies and governments.

Chris Young

As Alverno College students count down to graduation day, several seniors shared their choices and concerns for the environment.

Hannah Burby says her family set an environmental example - outdoor people, who reuse cream cheese containers, not Tupperware. Recycling is not an option, it’s mandatory. Burby’s “people” are engineers.

“I wanted to apply that and be an environmental engineer, and now I’ve changed my mind to do something more community-based,” Burby says.

Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

More than a decade ago, residents living near the last operating landfill within Milwaukee's limits were presented with a challenge -- as well as an opportunity. As the landfill closed, neighbors organized. And today, a 20-acre park - featuring a labyrinth, bronze sculptures, a playground and more - stands in its spot.

Near the spot where West Keefe Avenue meets the Menomonee River Parkway, Milwaukee’s Commissioner of Public Works Ghassan Korban touts the park as a stormwater management marvel.

Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

UW-Milwaukee student Jessica Hufford spearheaded the first week-long No Impact Challenge on campus last year. She's working to get more students involved this year.

"The way the challenge works is that there is a theme for each day, consumption on Sunday, trash Monday, etc. and the challenge builds on itself throughout the week to ease into sustainable living," Hufford says.

Clay Bolt

The rusty-patched bumble bee used to be abundant, including in Wisconsin. Nature photographer Clay Bolt became interested in the species' dwindling numbers, and set out to create a documentary about his quest to find the bee.

The South Carolinian ended up at UW-Madison's Arboretum.

Science writer Michael Timm combined his passion for Great Lakes issues and storytelling to create an 8-minute film about quagga mussels. Then he not only convinced a local movie theater to show his film, Timm convinced three other filmmakers to contribute their work.

The result is the Our Water film event being held at the Avalon Theatre Saturday.

S Bence

Most of the world’s rice production occurs oceans away from the United States. In 2011, molecular biologist Michael Schläppi dove into rice research hoping to grow the grain in Wisconsin.

According Schläppi, 80 percent of the rice Americans consume is grown in a handful of states, especially Arkansas and California. “But I think it would be wise to think about, with climate change or the drought in California, maybe they won’t be able to grow rice anymore,” he says.

Bay View resident Jesse Blom wants to be part of the solution. That means a bit of experimentation and a lot of learning.

Blom helped transform an 1898 Queen Anne Style home on Euclid Ave in Bay View to Heart Haus, created to demonstrate sustainable urban community.

Not only do vegetable patches fill its front and backyard, greens are growing off the kitchen.

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