Here's How to Volunteer in Houston for Earth Day

Go green with park clean-ups, recycling drives, food waste prevention projects, and other eco-friendly initiatives.

So far, springtime here in the Bayou City has unraveled in its usual routine: blooming bluebonnets setting the selfie scene, rodeo season bringing with cowboys and fried everything, and perplexing weather patterns forcing us into parkas one day then sporting tank tops the next. But, looking back, we can’t forget how oddly warm this past winter was, the city bathed in January temperatures so toasty you could have sworn it was mid-July. It was those swings, among other pressing concerns, that made so many of us realize just how severely climate change impacts every aspect of our lives here in Texas.

Thankfully, Earth Day is once again upon us, providing us the perfect excuse to get up close and personal with our shared environment and tap into our green thumb potentials in a multitude of ways. From becoming one with Mother Earth by planting your own trees to coasting through the Museum District in search of eco-friendly knowledge, here are 12 amazing ways to volunteer your time and energy this Earth Day in Houston.

Explore Earth Day installations with the kiddos

There’s no such thing as falling in love with Mother Earth too young. Case and point? The Children’s Museum of Houston and Barbara Bush Literacy’s Earth Day events, which highlight sustainability through discussions and storytelling. Check out all their offerings to get a headstart on saving the planet, one generation at a time.

University of Houston
University of Houston

Whether tucked away in our closets or boxed up in storage, we all have plenty of wacky electronic items we haven’t properly thrown out. Sure, we could become our own Apple support team, but where do our lackluster machines go after several unsuccessful revival attempts? If not disposed of properly, many electronics only add more harm to our soaring e-waste issue, further exposing us to the toxic components found in these items. This year, the Office of Sustainability at University of Houston has us covered. Sponsored by the Student Centers, the organization is opening their doors to collect all the e-waste and “dispose of them in the most environmentally friendly way” through a recycling drive. Peep their website to see which electronic devices are eligible and how to engage in the drive by April 27.

Second Servings of Houston
Second Servings of Houston

When it comes to Earth Day, reducing waste of any kind tops the list. Second Servings of Houston, one of the city’s only food-rescue organizations, is incredibly devoted to conquering this mission throughout April and beyond. Championing both Earth Day and Stop Food Waste Day on April 27, the organization has spearheaded a campaign to feed Houstonians in need while also being mindful of transportation effects. Here’s how it works: If 100 people donate $20 each to the cause, Second Servings can fill their refrigerated trucks with nearly $2 million worth of food. So far, they’ve raised $2,500 of their $5,000 goal. And if you can’t donate to the fundraiser, hit up volunteering opportunities—available each and every week—which will have you delivering food to multiple sites. Learn more about Second Serving’s valiant mission and how to get involved here.

Houston Arboretum & Nature Center
Houston Arboretum & Nature Center

Consider joining Evergreen, the Houston Arboretum’s young professional group, where those aged 21 to 40 act as ambassadors for this gorgeous slice of native habitat while pledging to support the Arboretum’s pledge to provide nature education to all. The group also does cool stuff like host volunteers for special projects, coordinate happy hour hikes, and throw dog-friendly outdoor mixers.

Discovery Green
Discovery Green

Show our furry friends the utmost love and care

Rescued Pets Movement saves local stray dogs and cats from euthanasia by giving them a second chance through rehabilitation and home placement. Volunteering opportunities with the organization range from fostering and fundraising to chauffeuring lucky pets to their fur-ever homes. The Houston Humane Society is always looking for folks to help better the lives of animals in need, as is animal rescue and protection organization Houston SPCA, which rocks a Wildlife Center Volunteer Program to help injured, sick, or orphaned native wildlife survive and thrive. Friends For Life Animal Shelter & Sanctuary is also open to volunteers who’d like to walk and feed doggies, care for kitties, assist with playdates, and more. On a bigger scale, consider donating to the Houston Zoo to aid in its mission to save wildlife (you can even adopt your very own animal to sponsor).

Open up your purse to support our growing green spaces

Little known fact: Discovery Green Conservancy operates outside the city of Houston’s budget, meaning your donations are vital to keeping the lush park and its vibrant programming alive and well. Right outside of downtown and running along the bayou, Buffalo Bayou Park is another picturesque green jewel that appreciates donations, as does the 1,500-acre Memorial Park. And over in the Clear Lake/Bay Area, you’ll find one of the largest urban wilderness preserves in the U.S., Armand Bayou Nature Center. All donations are welcome to help preserve and restore its over 2,500 acres of rapidly vanishing Gulf Coast habitats.

Austin Bat Cave
Austin Bat Cave

Austin Bat Cave is a wholesome creative space for kids to tap into their inner Maya Angelou. They also host interactive workshops geared toward helping students sharpen their comprehension and self-expression skills. There are so many rewarding benefits in volunteering with ABC, but the major perk is that you don’t have to live in Austin to support the company’s mission. They offer multiple virtual programs plus opportunities for volunteers to write content for the nonprofit’s weekly newsletter, so Houstonians can assist these young scholars in reaching their full potential from the comfort of their own homes. Learn more and fill out an application here.

Central City Co-Op
Central City Co-Op

Get better acquainted with our city’s flourishing farmers markets

Not only will you find the most deliciously fresh, surprisingly affordable foods at your local farmers markets, but purchasing your produce and meats from area providers—many of whom are certified organic and use other low-impact practices like composting and limited-resource farming—can minimize waste and pollution and help defeat climate change. Standout outposts include East End urban farm Finca Tres Robles, Central City Co-Op (aka Houston's oldest organic co-op and marketplace), and the ever-popular Urban Harvest’s farmers market.

Air Alliance Houston
Air Alliance Houston

Tackle Houston’s environmental health issues

The Air Houston Alliance is always on a mission to ensure everyone can breathe clean air, and now’s a great time to sign up to join the cause or speak your piece by contacting local officials. Grassroots nonprofit Citizens’ Climate Lobby takes a nonpartisan approach to climate change advocacy and education, and there are several chapters within the Third Coast region you can team up with to help spread the word this spring. Elsewhere, stay up to date with Green Houston’s Climate Action Plan, take action with the Texans for Clean Water Initiative, or advocate for green projects and protection against future flooding with Bayou City Waterkeeper.

Care for the city’s sprawling neighborhoods by reducing PPE litter

These days, a simple stroll around the block will likely result in running into a disheveled fast food bag or discarded face masks. Our new normal (aka travel-sized bottles of hand sanitizer, masks, and disposable gloves and wipes) has inadvertently spurned a major littering problem in our neighborhoods, so organizations close to home and coast-to-coast have built initiatives to prioritize this growing issue. On the national scale, promotional product supplier iPromo has vowed to donate face masks to charities in need for each piece of PPE picked up and disposed properly. They’re looking to donate an impressive minimum of 250,000 masks before the year ends, so be sure to snap a quick photo of your efforts and send it over. For hometown bound heros, Texas’s response to demolishing litter has stretched across Houston and its sister cities to towns such as Bastrop, a rural vista just 30 miles southeast of Austin. We’re talking about programs such as Partners in Litter Prevention, Active Passion and their upcoming Earth Day Plogging concept, Bastrop County’s own Don’t Mess With Texas Trash-Off volunteering event, and so much more.

Keep Houston Beautiful
Keep Houston Beautiful

Offer a hand in preserving Houston’s finest parks

Show the city some much needed love by participating in clean-up programs, recycling education projects, and beautification efforts with local community organization Keep Houston Beautiful. There are also programs at the Buffalo Bayou Partnership (which hosts a Clean & Green Program to cleanse the Buffalo Bayou of debris alongside other monthly volunteer opportunities on the third Saturday of each month), and Hermann Park Conservancy, which identified an annual 20,000-hour gap in what the city’s Parks and Rec department is able to provide versus what the actual park needs to run smoothly.

Trees For Houston
Trees For Houston

Channel your inner green thumb by planting trees across the city

Local nonprofit Trees for Houston has planted over 600,000 trees throughout the local community. That heroic effort not only makes H-town a little easier on the eyes (not to mention home to other stunning gardens with resources), it also helps to purify our air, mitigate runoff, and cool our unusually warm environment. Consider donating directly to the organization or rolling up your sleeves and volunteering to help plant some trees yourself. There’s also an upcoming opportunity to plant shrubs along Sims Bayou, which boasts its own greenway dotted with multiple trails and a sea of Spanish moss-covered trees perfect for a quick getaway from the sun. Summer is upon us, after all.

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Adrianne Reece is a contributor for Thrillist.
Brooke Viggiano is a contributor for Thrillist.