Festive gatherings, fireworks, and fun – that’s what the 4th of July is all about for many of us. Unfortunately, Independence Day festivities can also generate significant amounts of pollution, posing risks to our air, land, water, and communities. But there’s good news! With just a few small tweaks, you’ll be able to enjoy this holiday to the fullest extent while keeping conservation in mind.
Consider some of the ideas below for simple ways to green up your day without sacrificing any of the fun!
In 2015, nearly 42 million people travelled at least 50 miles to celebrate the 4th. Of these individuals, over 84% travelled by car while only 8% utilized public transit. With transportation as a leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and hazardous air pollutants, an increase in traffic and trip distance presents harm to our communities and the environment.
What can you do to minimize this harm? Enjoy the outdoors closest to you!
Colorado has one of the most unique natural landscapes in the nation. Our stunning mountains, open vistas, and rushing rivers connect us to nature. But that doesn’t mean that you have to get into a car and drive for hours to be inspired! Keep your celebration close, and you’ll avoid all of the carbon emissions that come from traveling long distances. If you can, carpool, take public transportation, ride your bike, or walk to get to where you’re going. As an added bonus, you’ll avoid holiday traffic!
Although visually beautiful, fireworks can cause serious health problems – to you and the environment. In addition to gunpowder, fireworks contain heavy metals and other toxins — all of which can seep into soil and flow into downstream waterways. Studies confirm that particulate pollution in our air, soil, and water rise dramatically after July 4th. Additionally, fireworks can ignite fires, especially in a year plagued with drought. Each year fireworks are responsible for an estimated 18,500 fires, causing a yearly average of $43 million in property damage.
What can you do to make sure your fireworks don’t spark pollution or fires? Observe or conserve.
Rather than setting off your own fireworks, consider attending a community display. These shows are often built with health and safety in mind. Alternatively, find entertainment in having a small, backyard bonfire. This way you’ll still have something beautiful to watch without all of the hazardous impacts. Even better, you can appreciate the view while making some s’mores!
If the 4th of July just wouldn’t be the same without your own fireworks, eliminate the risks associated with using them by following firework show best practices:
- Before lighting off your own fireworks, identify a single location to do so. The more you move around, the more places you have to clean and the further noxious chemical dust will disperse.
- Be mindful about the number of fireworks that you purchase. In terms of the environment, the fewer you buy, the better.
- Know how to properly dispose of fireworks. Since fireworks are categorized as explosives, they cannot be recycled. According to the National Council on Fireworks Safety, fireworks should be wetted down and placed in a metal trash can far away from any building or combustible materials.
This July 4th an estimated 60 million Americans will fire up their grills. In doing so, the use of charcoal, lighter fuel, and gas will burn an equivalent of 2,300 acres of forest and emit thousands of tons of carbon dioxide – and that’s not even considering what goes on the grill! In preparation for the holiday, consumers are expected to purchase some 700 million pounds of chicken and 190 million pounds of beef.
What can you do to ensure your cookout is as green as it can be? Host a cookout that guests AND the environment will rave about.
- Shop Local. Shopping locally instead of at large national retailers isn’t only good for the environment, it’s good for local communities and economies. Purchasing produce at farmers markets and other local vendors reduces the distance that food travels to get to you and in turn, reduces your food’s carbon footprint. Find your nearest farmers market here!
- Green Your Menu. If you’re a meat lover, you might find it hard to exclude meat entirely from your cookout, but livestock production is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. But even small changes can make a big difference. Consider cutting down on red meat since white meat such as poultry and fish have smaller carbon footprints than beef or pork. Or consider filling your grill with veggie skewers and substituting some veggie burgers for beef patties. For drinks, why not buy a keg of beer from your local brewery instead of several cases of individually packaged drinks? You can choose from a number of brewers raising awareness and addressing our most important environmental issues here!
- Ditch Disposables. Disposable plates, cups, and utensils are extremely convenient but wasteful. Spare your wallet and the environment by using regular tableware that can be washed and reused or encourage guests to bring their own. If this is not an option for you, look for biodegradable and recycled products such as bamboo serving ware. Ringing in at just about the same price – give or take a few cents – these products are much more eco-friendly than the alternatives.
- Grill Smart. Compared to charcoal, grills powered by gas or electricity burn much cleaner and therefore have a significantly smaller carbon footprint. According to some estimates, propane-powered grills produce three times less carbon pollution than charcoal grills. If you don’t have access to a gas or electric grill, or just can’t part with the charcoal taste, choose coal produced from invasive tree species or from sustainably managed forest trees. And if you’re cooking with charcoal or other briquettes, don’t let the coals continue to burn after you’re done grilling. By closing your grill’s vent as soon as everything is cooked, you’ll have leftover charcoals for your next cookout.
This Independence Day, show how much you love our planet by doing everything you can to protect our air, land, water, and communities – today and for generations to come.