Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays. I love the warm weather, barbeques, block parties and fireworks. Here are some ideas for making this year’s celebration a bit more sustainable.
Photo via justinrussel
Recycle – If your neighborhood has a block party, volunteer to collect and recycle all the bottles and cans. Every year, my neighborhood has a huge Fourth of July celebration. A few years back, I was enjoying the party but then noticed that there were no recycling bins and all the cans and bottles were being thrown in the trash. As I tried not to hyperventilate at this realization, I recruited another neighbor and we quickly rolled over our recycling bins to collect everything. The past few years, I’ve been more prepared and now a few neighbors and I have all the recycling bins labeled and ready to go before the event even starts.
Ditch disposable plastic – If you are hosting a party or barbeque, consider reusable plates, utensils and table cloths instead of disposable plastic, which will be sitting around the landfill for the next one hundred Fourth of July celebrations (at a minimum). Or, if it’s a large gathering, try compostable plates, cups and utensils instead of plastic.
Reuse decorations – save and reuse your Fourth of July decorations. Our neighborhood has a bike parade for the kids every year. For about four years running, my kids have used the exact same decorations and found new creative ways to apply them to their bikes. Each year, we take them off and box them up until next year’s contest. Here is what the finished product looked like last year (which I think was year number four of the decorations & still going strong) –
Avoid fireworks – Look, I love community fireworks displays as much as the next person, but I’m going to be the party pooper and tell you that there is a down side to those beautiful firework displays. Unfortunately, fireworks contain a variety of chemicals, many of which are toxic to humans and animals. From the gunpowder (usually a mixture of charcoal, sulfur fuel and potassium nitrate) used to launch them to the metallic compounds that provide the color, fireworks contain radioactive, carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting substances that seep into the soil and water. Now, isn’t that a bummer? For more information on the environmental problems with fireworks, check out this post from the Mother Nature Network “Are fireworks bad for the environment”.
The good news is that there are some alternatives on the horizon. In 2004, Disney began using compressed air instead of gunpowder to launch fireworks at Disneyland, reducing the issues of smoky particulates in the air and perchlorates in the water. Researchers are also developing alternative propellants that use nitrogen-rich materials in place of perchlorates, but those will not be available for a few years. So the greenest thing to do for now is to avoid the fireworks show in favor of a parade, camp out, or laser show. But, if a fireworks show is part of your plan (my family is going to the Angels game, so fireworks will definitely be part of our day), enjoy them without guilt – they would be going on whether you were there or not. But please do not purchase or set off your own fireworks – they are not safe, they pollute and they are illegal in most neighborhoods in California due to the fire danger involved.
I hope you have a happy and safe Fourth of July. Here’s to celebrating our great country while also respecting the earth this holiday.