Planet and Plastics Theme of Earth Day 2024

Now in its 54th year, the annual observance of Earth Day takes place on Monday, April  22. 

Looking back, this writer recalls standing on a hillside opposite Boston ‘s Hatch Shell in 1973 or 1974 (the exact year can’t be retrieved from my memory bank), taking in the crowds and the live music on a perfect spring day.

And why was I there? At the time, I was the librarian for a small Waltham company,* that was researching and developing a method to make low cost silicon solar cells for converting sunlight to electricity. Photovoltaics was an exciting field and I felt a thrill at being part of the Earth Day celebration.

The actual birth of Earth Day happened in 1970, organized by Denis Hayes, an activist graduate student at Harvard. Hayes had been tapped by Wisconsin senator and environmentalist Gaylord Nelson who came up with the idea following a disastrous oil spill in 1969 in Santa Barbara, CA. Nelson’s first concept was to organize “teach-ins” (a popular method of activism at the time). Hayes quickly realized that teach-ins were not the way to generate enthusiasm, so he came up with the Earth Day celebration. 

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April 22 was chosen as a convenient date between college spring break and finals. Earth Day organizers were primarily college students. Some 20 million people, an unprecedented turnout from across the U.S. took part in demonstrations, marches, and environmental cleanup efforts. One result was the passage of environmental legislation such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency by Congress.

Denis Hayes, now approaching his 80th birthday, is CEO of the Bullitt Foundation in Seattle, an organization devoted to protecting the environment of the Pacific Northwest. Hayes has said he plans to retire in 2024. He has had a distinguished career as an environmentalist and solar advocate, has been awarded many honors, and in 1999 was named a “Hero of the Planet” by Time Magazine. 

One outgrowth of the heightened interest in photovoltaics and other renewal energies was the establishment of the Solar Energy Research Institute, now known as the National Renewal Energy Laboratory, in Golden, CO. Somewhat to the surprise of industry titans at the time, the radical young “activist” Denis Hayes became the first director of SERI when it opened in 1977.

Millions around the world now celebrate Earth Day. There is a formal website – – that develops each year’s theme. To mark this year’s “Planet vs. Plastics” theme, has called for a 60 percent global reduction in plastic production by 2040.

*Tyco Laboratories evolved into Mobil Tyco Solar Energy Corporation and ultimately became Mobil Solar Energy Corporation

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Suneeta Mohanty
April 20, 2024 10:36 pm

We will reduce plastic usage but simultaneously reduce usage of paper too as it is leading to cutting of trees

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