Earth Day 2021: A by-the-numbers look at how people leave their imprint on the environment

Getting to work

Commute times

  • Average one-way commute to work in the United States in 2019: 28 minutes.
  • States with the longest average one-way commutes to work: New York (34 minutes) and Maryland (34 minutes).
  • States with some of the shortest average one-way commutes to work: North Dakota (18 minutes) and South Dakota (18 minutes).

How people commute

  • Less than 1% (805,722) of people in the United States rode a bike to work in 2019.
  • Almost 3% (4,153,050) of people in the United States walked to work in 2019.

Heating homes

Across the 122,802,852 occupied housing units in the United States in 2019, it is estimated that…

  • Almost half (59 million) were heated by utility gas.
  • Less than 2% (2 million) were heated by wood.
  • Less than 1 percent (248,893) were heated by solar energy.

A footprint on legislation

The first Earth Day in 1970 inspired the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts. Today, about 1 billion people take part in Earth Day-related activities.

How US businesses are going green

279: Businesses that use wind electric power generation

1,107: Businesses that use hydroelectric power generation

63: Businesses that use geothermal electric power generation

191: Businesses that use biomass electric power generation

106: Businesses that use solar electric power generation industry

1,234: Businesses that use electric power transmission

$9.8 billion: Total revenue for electric power generation industries that use renewable energy

17: The percent of U.S. renewable electric power generation in 2018

611,000: The number of employees who work in zero-emission technology industries

Trash picks up

  • Today’s average American generates about 4.5 pounds of trash per day, compared to 2.68 pounds in 1960.
  • In 2018, 292.4 million tons of waste were generated in the U.S. About 69 million tons were recycled and 25 million tons were composted.

Sources: US Census Bureau,, Environmental Protection Agency, Tribune News Service

Earth Day history

How did Earth Day start? Environmental activists coined Earth Day in response to a massive oil spill in waters near Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1969.

1970: The first Earth Day mobilizes 20 million Americans to call for increased protections for our planet.

1990: Earth Day goes global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries.

2000: Earth Day leverages the power of digital media to build millions of local conversations across more than 180 countries.

2010: Earth Day Network launches A Billion Acts of Green and The Canopy Project. Earth Day 2010 engages 75,000 global partners in 192 countries.

2020: Earth Day 2020 marked 50 years with global activations.