Today is Earth Day ... A day when many of us profess to care about the future of the planet - before returning to our wasteful habits the other 364 days of the year.

Harsh, but true.

Awareness of the fragility of the earth has grown, but we're still woefully behind in making a commitment to protecting the planet.

The truth is, it doesn't take a huge effort to adopt some environmentally responsible ideas.

We recall several years ago when actor and environmental activist Ed Begley Jr. told a Hanover College audience that simple lifestyle changes can make a difference.

Conservation, switching to alternative power sources and learning to live with less is part of the solution, he said.

There's something Madison residents can do right now to show their commitment to protecting the planet.

The city is launching a recycling program for residents next week.

On April 26, city officials will hand out free recycling bins at the Kroger store from 9 a.m. to noon and at Bicentennial Park from 2 to 5 p.m.

The pickup of recyclables begins the week of May 5.

Embracing that program is a simple way to make a difference, and it will provide a chance for families to have a dialogue about protecting the planet.

Doing other things as simple as setting up rain barrels to irrigate gardens and retrofitting homes to save heat in the winter and cool air in the summer are not expensive undertakings.

Here are some things each of us can do to help preserve the planet:

· Recycling.

· Composting.

· Using compact fluorescent lightbulbs.

· Switching to nontoxic, biodegradable products.

· Riding a bike or taking public transportation where possible.

And, here's some food for thought...

The average American meal travels 1,500 to 2,500 miles before consumption. We should support local farmers' markets and roadside stands and eliminate the fuel costs.

The amazing thing about earth-friendly practices is that they don't cost much - if anything - to implement.

Look around and marvel at what we've been blessed with. Make a commitment to adopt an earth-friendly lifestyle.