Celebrate freedom sustainably this year! Check out these 9 ways to have a sustainable 4th of July and have a lower impact on the environment.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the 4th of July? Red, blue, and white everywhere, fireworks, aviator shades, star-spangled dressed and tops, the smell of burgers being grilled… But how many of these are sustainable?
While these are great ways of celebrating our great nation, they are harming the environment. This year I decided to celebrate the nation’s birthday while being respectful to the place we live in. After all, if we don’t respect the land our nation is on, we might not have very long left to celebrate it.
I spent hours researching and thinking about 4th of July party ideas and how to make the holiday more eco-friendly. Here’s my list of the best sustainable 4th of July celebration ideas to celebrate our commitment to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
July 5th is the day with the worst air quality because of grilling and fireworks. I’ll talk more about grilling below, but let’s focus on fireworks first.
I admit, there’s something magical about fireworks and the way they light up the night sky.
But, did you ever wonder how eco-friendly and healthy they really are?
Millions of pounds of fireworks are released every 4th of July, and these create metal-tainted smoke, propellents, colorants, and other heavy metals that lead to air pollution. Moreover, they can even pollute drinking water, soil, and waterways.
There are 42% more pollutants in the air on July 5th than average. This means there are toxic and carcinogenic chemicals floating around that we’re breathing in. Not to mention how fireworks are traumatizing for dogs, who are often disturbed by the loud noise and can’t calm down for hours. Are 5 minutes of firework display really worth it?
A great way to fight air pollution caused by fireworks is to limit your fireworks use.
For example, instead of setting up your own fireworks, carpool with friends and family to an organized event with fireworks. Plus, public fireworks are much more spectacular and grander than those privately organized, so you’ll be in for a treat.
Or, have sustainable 4th of July parties at home. Here are some green firework alternatives:
Finally, if you’ve got your heart set on fireworks, go for one rich in nitrogen. While more expensive, they create less acrid smoke, so they are a greener way to celebrate 4th of July.
Grilling is one of the most popular summer activities, but it reaches a whole new level on the 4th of July.
When you grill meat, it creates Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Both of these are carcinogenic compounds that form when fat and juices come into contact with an open flame. These toxic compounds stick to the food you eat and are released into the air.
Another issue is that most grills are charcoal ones. They create more greenhouse gas compared to others. You’re in danger just by standing nearby the grill and breathing in meat aromas.
One of the best ways to avoid this is to use one of the charcoal grill greener alternatives:
In case you don’t want to change your grill and have an additional expense, another great idea is upgrading your existing grill.
What man doesn’t love a fix-me-up project?
For example, change your charcoal grill to a propane one. Propane is much cleaner than charcoal and will give your meat that charcoal flavor.
It’s estimated that 60 million Americans grill on the 4th of July. This means thousands of pounds of meat of all kinds — hot dogs, steaks, hamburgers, chicken, and more.
But, meat has consequences both for our health and for the environment. In fact, recent studies warn that meat consumption contributes to climate change.
One way to combat the effect of meat on the planet is to go vegan. For example, opt for cauliflower steaks, veggie burgers, veggie hot dogs, vegan rib recipes, vegetable fajitas, and many more. Plus, all of these are easy to find in the local supermarket.
You can stick to the 4th of July theme and get some red, yellow, and green bell peppers, red onions, and zucchini. Top these off with some spicy seasoning after grilling, and even the most hardcore of your meat-loving friends will be wowed.
Another way to have an eco-friendly 4th of July is to use reusable or biodegradable cutlery.
I know how easy it is to use disposable plates, cups, and utensils.
But, 40% of plastic is used once and then discarded. This creates around 7 billion tons of plastic trash. It’s estimated that there are 5 trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans which are killing the fish. Plus, a lot of plastic is harmful to human health as well.
The best way to combat this is to use biodegradable or reusable cutlery. Here are some examples:
No party is complete without decoration, especially on the 4th of July. You’re probably used to buying paper streamers, balloons, and red, white, and blue tablecloths and table toppers.
What usually happens with all of these once the party’s over?
They get thrown out.
But you can reuse them year after year. After all, it’s not like the color scheme will change. Spend some time saving and storing your decorations for next year's sustainable 4th of July celebration.
Or, better yet, don’t buy decorations!
Instead, be original and make your own. This is one of the best ways in which your party will stand out.
If you’re short on time, you can do something simple, such as ask the guests to dress in red, white, and blue, and get some colorful flowers for tables. If kids attend your party, you can ask them to color or paint something in these shades.
You can even use food as a decoration. Choose red, white, and blue food, or add food coloring to the drinks. Dig up red, blue, and white holiday lights and other Christmas decor in these colors, and use them for the 4th of July party.
Here are some other ideas:
Paper can look like a minor problem compared to plastic, but it also has a big effect on the environment. Four billion trees are used to manufacture paper, which is 35% of total cut trees.
One paper napkin can cause 10g of greenhouse emissions, and it uses 0.3l of water to be manufactured.
Recycled paper is a step in the right direction. These napkins are made with recycled paper. However, every time the paper gets recycled, its fibers get shorter, so the quality isn’t the best, and the paper can disintegrate.
Also, if you’re having an outdoor 4th of July party, the paper will come into contact with food and get contaminated, so it can’t be recycled.
Instead, use cloth napkins. These can be washed and used for years to come.
Food leftovers are one of the main issues Americans deal with, and these exponentially increase during the holidays.
Food waste means that a huge amount of money ends up in landfills. But, the money is much less important compared to the impact the food waste has on the environment.
Here’s what you should know about throwing away leftover food:
I know it may seem like you’re just one person, so it won’t really make a difference if you throw away food leftovers after the 4th of July.
But, the more people change their habits, the higher our chances of making a difference to the environment.
Food scraps and yard waste account for 30% of the waste we throw away, and this number only increases during the 4th of July. But, if you simply have too much food left, and your family and friends won’t accept more food, composting is a great solution.
All you need is a compost pile or bin where you can throw in all your food scraps. In case you don’t have a bin or can’t get one at the moment, check if there’s a composting service in your city.
Many cities have services where people come to your address and pick up leftover food. Some will even come to the party location.
Here’s a short guide on what you can and can’t compost:
Here’s one last piece of advice for a green and sustainable 4th of July: spread awareness about sustainability. After all, it’s your party, and you can organize it how you want to.
If you want to point out environmental issues, that’s your right.
You don’t have to spend the party preaching about harmful habits. Instead, you can let your actions do the talking.
For example, make biodegradable place cards (and make sure it says they are biodegradable).
Talk to your guests about the green choices you’ve made. Explain why you opted for bamboo cutlery or silverware. Ask people to place their food scraps in separate bins, and explain why.
Finally, you can even notify your guests your party will be a fundraiser for an eco-friendly organization and ask them to donate.
Even if you manage to convert one person, it’ll be effort and time well spent.
I hope I’ve given you some ideas on having an eco-friendly 4th of July. Going green is more important than ever. If we don’t change our ways, soon it’ll be too late.
The 4th of July is the day our nation was born on, and it’s important to celebrate our commitment to freedom. But let’s keep in mind how wasteful and harmful parties are. Even if you do one or two sustainable things, such as going for green decorations or not throwing away food, you’ll be making an impact.
Let’s spread sustainability and feel empowered by doing something good for our land, so we can have a sustainable 4th of July and celebrate freedom for centuries to come.