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25 Ways to Help Virginia's Environment

1. Be a concerned citizen and support environmental programs.
Virginia’s natural resources are an important basis to our economy. When you support and participate in state and local programs, you protect Virginia’s natural resources for future generations. Join a local conservation group or become informed and engaged in your community by voting. Let your legislators know that you care about Virginia’s environment.

2. Get involved in Citizen Monitoring.
You don’t have to be a scientist to make a difference in protecting Virginia’s natural resources. Virginia has 42,769 square miles of land and while the government monitors an extensive range of this area, total coverage is virtually impossible. Your help is invaluable. The citizens’ efforts help fill in data gaps, provide educational opportunities for their communities and protect valuable natural resources.

3. Be a smart driver.
Keep your car tuned and its pollution control equipment working properly. Combine shopping with other errands to avoid unnecessary car trips. Also, encourage your employer to participate in a regional ride-sharing program. Check out DEQ's daily air quality index and check your ecological footprint. You can also support the environment through the purchase of a specialized license plate. DMV offers an assortment of license plates to support the Chesapeake Bay, wildlife, fish, trees and other natural resource programs. View the options.

4. Plant a tree for the future.
Trees cool our cities, filter the air, buffer noise and provide homes and food for wildlife. Their leaves produce life-giving oxygen, and their roots reduce erosion and absorb pollutants. Organize a tree-planting day in your community or participate in an adopt-a-tree program. Then protect trunks and roots from lawn mowers and weed trimmers. Mulch under your trees instead of planting grass, which competes for water and nutrients. Contact the Virginia Department of Forestry to learn how to get seedlings and technical and financial help.

5. Value wetlands.
Wetlands are tidal and nontidal bogs, marshes or swamps that offer valuable fish and wildlife habitats, purify water resources, trap and filter pollutants and help control soil erosion. Conduct and fund your own project to support and encourage the restoration of these wetlands. Contact your local wetlands board, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission or a DEQ regional office before working in a wetlands to make sure you have the right permits.

6. Reduce and reuse waste.
On average, each Virginian throws away 4.4 pounds of solid waste every day, contributing to a statewide total of about 13,600 tons of trash a day. To reduce your amount of trash, buy items in bulk quantity or finding other uses rather than throwing the excess packaging away. Use a plastic bread bag as a lunch bag or a milk container as a planter. Don't use blue plastic bags, which are much harder to recycle than clear plastic.

7. Recycle at work and home.
When reducing or reusing isn’t an option, recycling is also important. When shopping, ask yourself: Is this packaging recyclable in my area? Contact the Virginia Recycling Association at 1-888-867-1923 to find out what recycling services are available to your community. To recycle old motor oil, antifreeze, tires or other automotive waste, contact your local government for a list of collection sites. To recycle your used computer and electronics (“e-waste”), consult the list of e-waste vendors. Another option is joining the FreeCycle Network (, whose goal is to reduce waste by connecting people who are throwing away goods with others who are seeking the same goods.

8. Prevent pollution.
Purchase and use products that are “environmentally friendly.” Many household items, including paints, solvents, cleansers, detergents, pesticides, batteries, automotive fluids and pesticides, are actually hazardous materials that can harm the environment if not managed properly. Luckily, less-toxic substitutes are available for most of these materials. For instance, use latex- versus oil-based paints. Oil paints contain harmful solvents and require paint thinners for clean up. Citric-based cleaners can provide the same antibacterial results as chlorine-based disinfectants. Many non-toxic homemade substitutes can eliminate the need for harmful substances such as water and vinegar for a window-cleaner.

9. Use pesticides sparingly.
Research "integrated pest management practices" when planning your landscape. Choose disease-resistant varieties of plants and rotate your crops to reduce the need for insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. Also, eliminate pests’ breeding grounds around your home by making sure woodpiles that attract termites are away from your house. If you must use pesticides, choose the least toxic pesticide for your pest problem and always follow directions carefully. For more information, contact the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Environmental Health Services at (804) 864-7466 or the state’s Office of Pesticide Services at (804) 371-6558.

10. Save water.
Water is a valuable commodity. No matter where you live, water conservation can save money on your water bill and extend the life of your septic system. Repair leaky faucets. A dripping faucet can waste 20 gallons of water a day. Take short showers instead of baths. A bath uses 30 to 50 gallons of water, and a short shower only uses 10. Install low-flow showerheads and toilet dams. 

11. Maintain your septic system.
If your septic system fails, its untreated waste could pollute Virginia waterways and groundwater. Your system is not working properly if drains and toilets empty slowly. Know the location of your system and how it works. Don't pour hazardous or toxic household chemicals down the drain; they can kill bacteria that digest sludge. Have your septic tank pumped out every three to five years to prevent water pollution and upward seepage. View more helpful tips.

12. Save household energy.
Wise energy use preserves non-renewable resources and protects air and water quality, all while saving money. Use common sense when indoors by dressing appropriately before adjusting the thermostat and turning off lights and appliances when not in use. Make sure you use Energy Star-rated equipment, which denotes energy efficiency. Whenever possible, avoid driving to your location. To learn more about conserving household energy, visit the Department of Mines Minerals and Energy’s residential energy web site.

13. Fertilize your lawn sparingly.
Lawns and shrubs help protect the environment, but your lawn care practices can also cause pollution problems if you aren’t careful. Have your soil tested to make sure you plant the right grass and use the proper type and amount of fertilizer. If you use too much fertilizer, the excess runs off into storm drains and streams and then gets into our rivers. When mowing your lawn, "cut it high and let it lie"—raise the blade setting and leave grass trimmings on the lawn as a natural fertilizer. The Virginia Cooperative Extension has more information on their web site at

14. Reduce runoff from your property.
Fifty percent of the rain that falls in Virginia finds its way into the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers, picking up fertilizers and toxic chemicals on the way. Slow down runoff by minimizing the number of paved around your home. Install porous surfaces, such as gravel driveways and brick walkways, that allow rainwater to drain into the ground and recharge groundwater supplies. The Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts has more information on their web site at

15. Control erosion.
Plant trees, shrubs and ground covers to reduce soil erosion and soak up nutrients before they runoff into Virginia’s waterways. They will be most effective in reducing erosion if planted as a buffer around your yard or in bare areas. To keep shorelines from eroding, plant marsh grasses that absorb wave energy and are more aesthetically pleasing. For help in controlling shoreline erosion, call the Virginia Association of Soil & Water Conservation Districts at (804) 559-0324 or look through the website.

16. Turn your yard debris into compost.
Yard trimmings account for about 18 percent of America's waste. Set them aside to decompose into compost to naturally fertilize your lawn. Leaves, brush and kitchen waste (not meats or fats) can also be put in a compost pile. This is a great project for families and a good science project for students. Check with your local Litter Prevention and Recycling Program coordinator about specific programs in your area.

17. Enhance healthy wildlife habitat -- Benefit birds and butterflies in your backyard.
You can do positive things to manage wildlife right in your own backyard whether you’re in a city neighborhood, in the suburbs or on a farm. Provide shelter, food sources and nesting sites for songbirds by putting up birdhouses and feeders. If you own feline pets, keep them indoors to avoid killing ground-nesting birds and other wildlife. When you hunt or fish, only harvest what you plan to use. For more information on wildlife, call the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries at (804) 367-1000 or visit their web site at

18. Protect marine animals from plastic trash.
Don't throw trash into waterways. Plastic trash not only is unsightly, but it can injure, entangle and kill marine animals in our waters. They mistake plastics for real food, ingest them and die. Don't release balloons into the air; they'll just end up as trash or be mistaken for food. For more information, contact the Virginia Institute for Marine Science/Sea Grant Program at (804) 367-1000 or the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Museum at (804) 684-7170.

19. Be a responsible park visitor.
Enjoy Virginia's parks, but remember to respect the outdoors. When hiking, carry a bag and pick up litter. Stay on marked trails—trail locations are designed to minimize impacts on the environment. When making campfires, use cut rather than fallen wood. Dead and fallen wood is an important habitat for bird, reptiles and other animals. Avoid unnecessary fires, even where they are allowed, because they release air pollutants. For information on Virginia's State Parks, call 1-800-933-PARK.

20. Be an environmentally aware boater.
Slow down—boat wakes cause erosion, create shoals and stir up sediments. Cloudy water then blocks sunlight essential to aquatic plant life. Keep trash aboard in a closed container, and dispose of it properly when back on shore. If you have a marine sanitation device on your vessel, use a pump-out station at your marina. Support marinas that have received Virginia Clean Marina certification. For more information about the program, go to

21. Be involved in your community’s government.
Your community’s development should reflect the values and priorities of its residents. Be a part of the solution for making sure your community's comprehensive plan respects citizen involvement. For more information on how you can get involved locally, check out the Virginia Municipal League or Virginia Association of Counties for information on your county.

22. Promote environmental education to better understand our natural resources.
Encourage school divisions to offer teacher workshops such as Projects WET, WILD, Learning Tree and Underground that meet academic standards and foster environmental stewardship. Help your local school be recognized as an Exemplary School. Choose an environmental speaker or project for club meetings, church groups and professional societies. Encourage these groups to adopt a project that includes specific activities to improve the environment.

23. Recycle historic buildings.
Our natural resources also include historic buildings, which give us a sense of community identity. Recycle old buildings by finding new uses for them. Create events at historic sites that tell your community's story. Report local archaeological discoveries to the state Department of Historic Resources, which keeps records of historic sites to assist local communities in planning for growth and development. For more information, call the Department of Historic Resources at (804) 367-2323.

24. Give the Bay a hand.
Nearly two thirds of Virginia’s waterways flow into the Chesapeake Bay, and its restoration requires the help of all of us. One way you can help is by being a "Friend of the Bay" and purchasing a license plate.  Also, consider establishing oyster reefs. Oysters filter and clean our coastal waters and provide critical habitats for over 300 other species.

25. Be a smart Virginia traveler.
When vacationing, or just traveling to another part of the state, remember to practice the good stewardship tactics that you employ at home. You'd ate it if a stranger came into your neighborhood and left a mess! Carry litterbags with you, and keep recycling. Help fight litter  or DEQ’s Office of Pollution Prevention has developed Virginia Green which is the statewide program that works to reduce the environmental impacts of Virginia's Tourism Industry.

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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