The Fourth of July is a chance to dust off your bandanas, get an actual day off, light some government-sanctioned dynamite on fire, and celebrate the good ole U.S. of A. But as much fun as all the sparklers and mid-week drinking bring, it’s hard not to see the wafts of smoke going up from mass barbecues (the hot dogs, they’re screaming, screaming!) or the piles of waste left behind and wonder if the celebration is coming at the cost of environmental pollution.
Thankfully you don’t have to give up the barbecues, parades, ice cold drinks, or even the fireworks. Here are a few suggestions for simple swaps that can help lower the carbon footprint of your Independence Day hootenanny.
Nothing says Fourth of July like blasting small rockets into the sky. But those bombs bursting in air give proof through the night that climate change is still here.
While fireworks contribute a very small percentage to climate change, they also cause a 42 percent spike in airborne particulate matter for a 24-hour period around the Fourth. Particulate matter can have negative health effects including asthma attacks, decreased lung function, and nonfatal heart attacks, particularly in people with pre-existing lung and heart conditions. Fireworks are also designed to be one-offs, expending a heap of cardboard and plastic in one brightly colored explosion.
If your city offers it, pulling up some beach chairs and watching the community fireworks (rather than shooting off your own) is the more eco-friendly option. But if you do light your own, make sure you dispose of them properly to prevent wildfires or other mishaps: submerge used fireworks completely in water and return any unused fireworks to stands or stores when possible.
According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, Americans consumed 150 million hot dogs on Independence Day in 2018. Besides being pretty terrible for your body, hot dogs are also not great for the planet. Emissions from all livestock are responsible for 14.5 percent of human-induced carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming annually.
In the past, going meatless on the fourth meant giving up the grill and getting strange looks at potlucks, but thanks to foodies and science, you’ve got several options now that will blend right in. For the kiddos, there’s the Morning Star veggie corn dogs, which look and taste surprisingly like the real thing. If you’re more of a hamburger lover, you can always try the new Beyond Meat burger that you can actually grill. And then there’s the grill-loving veggie replacements like marinated carrots or eggplant.
If you absolutely can’t let go of eating meat on the fourth, opt for organic chicken or turkey dogs—those have the best environmental footprint.
Whether it’s the aforementioned hot dogs, hamburgers, or meat substitutes, the Fourth of July is a huge time for grilling, with 60 million Americans firing up the grill for the holiday. Spare the air by using a propane grill. Charcoal has an eco-footprint three times as high as propane.
If you already have a charcoal grill and aren’t looking to invest in a propane option, or simply can’t do without that charcoal-fired taste, consider all-natural briquettes that burn cleaner or briquettes that produce less ash.
The Fourth of July is in fact America’s number one holiday for consuming beer, with a reported $1 billion spent on beer for the 2017 celebrations. In terms of news for the planet, that’s not terrible: beer has a better eco footprint than both spirits and wine.
Where beer does come in for some significant carbon dioxide emissions, though, is all the packaging. Choosing beer served in recycled cans over bottled beer is better for the environment. Even better, opt for a keg to cut down on the eco-footprint of your brew. Kegs are typically fillable with your brew of choice and can be returned to be refilled again and again.
It might be the quintessential summer activity: heading to a beach (if you’re near one) and setting up a bonfire to kill a few hours with friends and family. But with this activity can come a lot of waste and harm to the environment. Bonfires, well, burn, which releases a lot of smoke and chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, and more into the air. To reduce the harm of your beachy celebration, opt for natural wood, which still produces smoke but cuts the amount of chemicals released into the air. And be sure to always use paper or kindling as a starter rather than a chemical accelerant that will cause more pollution.
Also, leave the beach cleaner than you found it: More than 80 percent of the 8 million tons of plastic trash that ends up in the ocean every year comes from the land. And if you want to make it a truly eco-friendly outing, kill time before the community fireworks show by using the Marine Debris Tracker App to help track, identify, and clean trash you find on the beach.
Host a party
Hosting one party for your friends and family where you buy food in bulk, versus several individual gatherings, can help cut down on single use plastic waste. To cut down on food waste, use this food calculator to make sure you don’t over buy.
Opt for compostable plates and utensils if you don’t have enough of your own to use, try to use recyclable containers for beverages, and store perishables and drinks in a biodegradable cooler. Set up composting and recycling bins in spots that are easy for your guests to find. Send guests home with leftovers rather than tossing food waste (or trying to eat everything left over yourself). If you don’t have access to good tap water, buy gallon containers of water to cut down on plastic (versus single use).