Hello everyone! With the 4th of July tomorrow, I felt it was very fitting to write a post on how you can make your Independence Day Celebrations more eco-friendly. And yes, I know, I was supposed to write about the global waste problem (I’m sorry!), but with this holiday, which is especially notorious for not being as nice to the planet, rapidly approaching, this post took priority over everything else! That being said, I promise to continue our regularly scheduled programming next time, but without further ado, here are 7 ways to celebrate the USA and help the planet out at the same time!
- If you can’t reuse it, refuse it!
Common barbecue policy is to use single-use dishware and utensils, such as those made of plastics and styrofoam. However, these materials are extremely harmful to the environment as they are not recyclable, among other impacts. (To learn more about styrofoam in particular, check out my blog post about it here.)
There are several ways you can get around this. The most obvious would be to replace all of your dishes and utensils with your own reusable equivalents. Yes, this does mean you have to do some dishes, but it’s all worth it in the end, trust me. If you are asking your guests to bring food with them, ask them to bring the food in reusable containers only.
However, if you really can’t bear to part with single-use dishware and utensils, consider switching to more biodegradable or compostable alternatives, such as dishware made of paper, bamboo, or other plant-based materials.
- Adjust your menu to be more planet-friendly.
A July 4th barbecue menu is often left incomplete without meat, but are you aware of the environmental impact it has? Meat, especially beef, and other animal products are especially taxing on the planet, as the processes used to make them are very resource-intensive and greenhouse-gas emitting. In fact, according to a recent University of Oxford Study, you could take 26 8-minute showers with all of the water used up to make the 4 oz of beef in a typical quarter pounder! And July 4th is unsurprisingly the day of the most meat consumption for America: just under 1 billion pounds of all types of meat are consumed every Independence Day. That is a lot. (For more stats on animal product production, check out my blog post about them here.)
So, clearly something has to be done about this. Consider adding more vegetarian options to your menu to replace some meat, or altering your recipes to not have meat. For example, there’s no meat required in salads or chilis! Even reducing the amount of meat in your menu by a little bit can go really far. If you still want that meat feeling, try out some plant-based meat alternatives! Several companies, such as Beyond Meat, make these products, and while I can’t attest to their similarity to meat as I only eat chicken, the thousands of positive reviews for them should change your mind! But, if you really, really can’t have a proper July 4th without meat, you can lean more away from the heavy-hitters (beef and pork) and include more friendlier meats in your menu, such as chicken and turkey.
- Find alternate ways around grilling.
With about 74 million Americans preparing to grill out over the long weekend, it’s safe to say that grilled food is a staple for July 4th. But, as usual, the practice of grilling is not beneficial for the environment at all, as the burning of coal and other fossil fuels that power grills release lots of greenhouse gasses which, if you’ve stuck around for a while, you should know that these GHGs directly contribute to global warming. (To learn more about global warming, check out my blog post about it here.) About 225 metric tons of carbon dioxide alone are released from grills each Independence Day, which is the annual equivalent of 47,368 cars!
To minimize grilling, you can experiment with baking certain foods rather than grilling them, because not everything needs to be grilled! If you just can’t get away from your grill though, consider investing in a propane-powered grill rather than one powered by charcoal, since the latter releases about 3 times as much emissions and propane lasts much longer, cutting down wasted time on going back to the store and the emissions from your car. The Department of Energy estimates that July 4th carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced by a whopping 26% if every grill in America was a propane one, the equivalent of taking 12,421 cars off of the road for a whole year!
If propane grills are not as available in your area, and you still have to use charcoal, use alternatives for lighter fluid (which releases several dangerous air pollutants and more carbon dioxide when combusted), such as an electric charcoal starter or a chimney starter. In either case though, a very simple way to reduce GHG emissions from grills is to grill as much food as you can at the same time, since the longer you spend grilling food, the longer the propane or charcoal burns for, and the more GHGs are emitted. You definitely don’t need to overcrowd your grill, but there certainly shouldn’t be as much empty space on your grill at a time. Plus, that means less time for grilling and more time for eating!
- Minimize food waste.
America wastes a lot of food each year, especially on July 4th, with about 63 million tons being wasted or lost in homes and supermarkets alike each year. Waste, especially food waste, is such a terrible thing for the planet as not only does it take away from those who really need it, but when left to decompose, most food releases methane gas, yet another GHG which is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. And the transportation of unused food to landfills and other places uses up a lot of resources while also contributing to global warming. More to come on that next time.
Luckily, there are so many ways to minimize food waste. For one, you can start by planning out exactly what your menu will look like and exactly what you need to make it. Then, take inventory of what you already have so you buy less from the supermarket, and while you’re there, try to stay as close as you can to the list. I know, it’s hard, but there’s no point buying something or more than you need if you’re not going to use it!
You can also take a strict guest count to plan exactly how much food you’ll need to make, and if your guests are bringing food, ask what they’re bringing to ensure there are no duplicate dishes. Leftovers are inevitable, so save some reusable containers for your guests to take them home in or ask your guests to bring their own reusable containers.
As for the leftovers left to you, you should definitely try to eat as much as you can, but you can also repurpose them as best as possible, or compost any food scraps generated in the process to ensure that you end the night with as little food waste as possible. (For more information about composting, check out my blog post about it here.)
- Buy your ingredients locally.
If you’ve ever driven past your local farmer’s market and thought to yourself, “I’m going to go there someday,” then congratulations, today is your lucky day! The produce and other goods found at farmer’s markets are often grown very close to you, and buying these goods not only helps support small farmers and businesses, but decreases the transportation costs and emissions as well!
Another advantage to this is that now that it’s summer, many more crops will be in-season, and buying locally ensures that you get fresher food! So if you want to decrease your carbon footprint and enjoy some delicious food, head on over to your local farmer’s market, you’re sure to find some great goods there! (If you want to be even more eco-friendly, consider starting your own garden as well!)
- Reuse your party decorations.
Now, I don’t know how many of you decorate for the holiday, but I totally agree that some decor just livens a place up. However, these are mostly made of materials that are not very environmentally-friendly, such as plastic, and we’ve discussed the impacts of those already. So, this year, try experimenting with decorations that aren’t necessarily made from plastic and paper!
You can use a variety of red, white, and blue foods as decor, which serve a dual purpose of looking pretty and tasting great! You can even DIY your own decorations, which seems like such a fun activity. If you don’t want to put in the time or effort to do these this year, it’s totally fine to buy decorations from the store, but be mindful of how many you buy (consider if they’re really necessary) and make sure to save them for next year.
- Find alternate ways to see fireworks.
I know, I know, July 4th is nothing without fireworks, but these colorful shows are extremely problematic when it comes to the environment. Not only do they release GHGs upon release, but also create a toxic smog of poisonous aerosols, fine particles, and heavy metals. As these settle in the air, water, and soil, plants and animals alike suffer from their noxious behavior, and even humans aren’t safe! (Such pollutants have been linked to thyroid issues and exacerbated respiratory conditions such as asthma.) Additionally, fireworks are commonly released over bodies of water, which can contaminate them and prove deadly for marine life. So many fireworks are released on Independence Day that on this day, air pollution levels in the USA are 42% higher than on a typical day.
There are several alternatives for fireworks, such as laser shows, glow sticks, biodegradable confetti, drone shows, and so many more! However, if you really have your heart set on seeing some fireworks, do some research into local community shows. These are usually much more spectacular and you will help minimize air pollution!
Well, that’s all for today! No matter how you choose to honor America’s anniversary, please do try to incorporate some more eco-friendly aspects into your celebrations. Stay safe, and happy Independence Day, fellow Americans!