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8 Green Moments in U.S. History

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Summer isn’t just about fireworks — this year, remember some important milestones in environmental history that have changed our lives for the better.

Amid the colorful patriotic bunting, the smoking grills, the parades, and the fireworks, Independence Day is a good time to celebrate the many accomplishments in our nation’s history. And when it comes to sustainability, there are plenty of accomplishments to celebrate. Here are eight, from the birth of our nation through today.

1776: Recycling as Part of the Revolutionary War Effort

Recycling has always been an important part of American culture, beginning as a means to save costs on pricey resources. During the Revolutionary War, iron kettles and pots were melted down to be made into weaponry and ammunition. Paper and cloth were also collected for the soldiers to use and reuse. Even Paul Revere collected scrap metal to repurpose in the fight for independence

1897: First Materials Recovery Center in New York City

The leaders in New York City were very progressive in developing responsible ways of dealing with trash, perhaps because they understood how crucial it would become in a city with such a high concentration of people. In 1897, the City developed its first materials recovery center, or recycling facility. There, refuse was sorted to repurpose paper, scrap metal, fabric, horsehair, rubber, and other materials.

August 25, 1916: National Park Service Formed

One hundred years ago, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act to create the National Park Service, which protected 35 existing national parks, as well as many others that would be formed in the years to come. Today, the National Park System covers more than 84 million acres of land.

December 1924: Oil Pollution Act

The cleanliness of oceans gained national recognition through the Oil Pollution Act, which was passed by Congress under President Calvin Coolidge. This act prohibited ships from discharging oil into the ocean along the U.S. coast, and set the stage for further federal protection of marine wildlife.

April 22, 1970: First Earth Day

In the wake of a huge and destructive oil spill in California, former U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson envisioned a national day to recognize the environment and the importance of caring for it. With Denis Hayes as the national coordinator, Nelson’s idea came to fruition on a date scheduled between spring break and final exams, so that student activists could be involved. On that first Earth Day, 20 million Americans across the country rallied for sustainability and environmental responsibility. Today, Earth Day is a nationally recognized event that inspires Americans to take action in myriad ways to protect the environment.

December 2, 1970: Environmental Protection Agency Formed

Amid growing concern about pollution and other negative environmental impacts, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was formed during President Richard Nixon’s administration. A major factor spurring its creation was an Ohio river catching fire due to pollution. The EPA was created as the umbrella organization overseeing research, monitoring, standard-setting, and leading other efforts related to protecting and improving the environment. Among the major accomplishments of the EPA are the Clean Air Act (1970), the restriction of lead-based paint, the development of fuel economy testing of vehicles, and the banning of DDT.

1990: Organic Food Production Act

As part of the Farm Bill of 1990, the Organic Food Production Act defined what qualifies as an organic farm, product, or production facility. This policy helps protect consumers by allowing them to choose foods that are not contaminated with synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or industrial solvents. .

April 30, 2015: Tesla Rechargeable Home Battery Pack Unveiled

Never fear, green moments are still making history! Just last year, Elon Musk unveiled the Tesla Powerwall, a lithium-ion battery that will collect and store solar power. This product allows people to live partially off the grid if they can collect enough power, and has the potential to wean Americans off our reliance on energy derived from fossil fuels.

What is your favorite green moment in U.S. history? Share in the comments below. 

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.

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  • Michele B. 2 years ago
    Earth day is my favorite because that day is another day to teach more people about how important it is to take care of the Earth.
  • Suzanne L G. 2 years ago
    SOLAR PANELS....SORRY.
  • Suzanne L G. 2 years ago
    I want that Telsa Powerwall.( oh no need $15 000 for dolar panels)..sounds amazing ....ingly expensive even since/ if I live in the land of perpetual sunshine called Florida. I was born in 1948 and I remember seeing my grandparents flatten cans with lids inside. Not sure if this just reduced size of trash or maybe they were recycling them at that time. I should google this as I lived in Kansas City, Missouri and maybe it was a true recycle thing. Waste not, want not. Make do, do without. Use it up, wear it out. A saying I heard from my kids Great Grandmother who lived to be 100. She lived in Maine her whole life. Earth day and EPA have done some amazing things to introduce public awaremess.
  • Rachael T. 2 years ago
    Very interesting information - thank you for sharing!
  • John L. 2 years ago
    EPA was formed in 1970
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