After a year of ups and downs -- sometimes more downs than ups -- I wanted to do something to make me feel better during a tough time and Earth Day was a great day for me to do just that.

Almost every Earth Day I go out and pick up garbage around my apartment and throughout the year I try to live as eco-friendly as I can in my everyday life.

But this year on Earth Day, which was April 22, I wanted to do something that I had never done before.

So, I decided to challenge some of my friends to join me in my annual spring clean-up. We got together and came up with a game plan for the week. We decided that during the week surrounding Earth Day we would try and change up a few of our habits, then end the week with going out and cleaning up some other places in Bemidji, not just the spots that we live.

Step one of our self-proclaimed Earth Week was changing the way we dispose of household trash. My friends each got a separate container to throw their recyclable items into, such as plastic bottles, old papers, cans and cardboard boxes. I showed them where in town they could dump their recycle bins when they got full and everyone agreed it wasn't as “out of the way” or challenging as they thought it would be.

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The next step was to try and use less plastic throughout the week. We changed things like: using reusable bags at the grocery store, buying bamboo toothbrushes, saying no to plastic straws at restaurants and using refillable water bottles. Just by changing those small things in our lives, we were able to decrease the amount of plastic being used and feel better about how we are living.

The last step of the week was to go out on Thursday -- Earth Day -- and pick up trash in different areas around town. We woke up in the Bemidji area to sunshine that stuck around all day and the temperatures stayed around 60 degrees. It felt like the perfect day to go out and make a difference.

This was the most impactful we felt all week as we started cleaning up small roads that looked the most neglected. About an hour into cleaning, we had people stopping and thanking us for cleaning up the areas that have been bothering them for so long, some people even tried to pay us. At one point during the cleanup process, a man on a motorcycle stopped to give us money for our clean-up job and after we politely declined, he said “Thank you, girls, very much. We need more people like you,” which almost brought me to tears.

At the end of the day we cleaned up three different streets and filled seven 15 gallon garbage bags with littered trash, we also counted 83 individual littered masks on just those three streets. In our trash bags, we collected a lot of plastic bags, fast food cups and wrappers, straws, aluminum cans, clothes, a few shoes and random medicine bottles.

At the end of the day on Earth Day, April 22, we cleaned up three different streets and filled seven 15-gallon garbage bags with littered trash. (Hannah LaVigne / Bemidji Pioneer)
At the end of the day on Earth Day, April 22, we cleaned up three different streets and filled seven 15-gallon garbage bags with littered trash. (Hannah LaVigne / Bemidji Pioneer)

By the end of the week, everyone agreed that we would do this again next year. Some even agreed to continue on with the new habits they chose to begin during the week.

One of my friends commented, "Think about if we had more people here helping us clean up or just more people changed the small things like we did, it would be wild how much things would change."

I whole-heartly agree, even small efforts can have a huge impact on our community and the world around us.

Hannah LaVigne is a multimedia journalist for the Pioneer. She can be reached at hlavigne@bemidjipioneer.com.