Berkeley Fireworks

July Fourth is right around the corner! Summer’s hottest holiday will no doubt call for backyard barbecuing, fireworks, and maybe even a dip in the pool.

Here’s how to throw a little green into your mix of red, white, and blue this Independence Day.

US Flag
Image courtesy of Ohad Ben-Yoseph.

1. Ditch the Disposable Party Ware

They’re popular and easy. Disposable plates, cups, and utensils may seem convenient for parties with a lot of guests. The down side: they’re not so convenient for the environment.

Show your pride in America the Beautiful and use normal tableware that can just be washed and reused for your July Fourth get-together. 

Or, why not try the “bring your own plate” theme? The hodgepodge of different plates can serve as talking points at your party. An added bonus: Turn it into a plate swap: Bring your own plate and leave with a different one.

A similar concept works for glassware. Instead of charging a “keg fee,” a party-goer’s ticket is his or her own glass or reusable cup.

Skip the plastic utensils and straws, which aren’t recyclable and are an environmental hazard. Thinking party favors? What about reusable bamboo sporks, travel sets, or reusable straws that your guests can take home. Use it for the meal and send them on their way with an eco-friendly gift!

You can also turn the use of ordinary tableware into a game. Ask the youngest kids at the party to make sure that there are always clean plates and silverware for guests. They will turn the monitoring of tableware into a production line, hunting down, washing, and returning utensils to the food table for the next use. Reward the “Clean Team” with a special dessert.

2. Get Outside!

Reduce your party’s energy usage by hosting it outside — perfect lighting, temperature, and a green setting.

If it’s not too hot, host your barbecue at midday when the light is bright and fills your crowd with energy. Or fight soaring temperatures and take advantage of the cooler evening weather. Skip the electric lights with your own DIY Mason Jar lighting.

And if you’re worried about mosquitoes, check out these recipes for all-natural bug spray. You can enjoy being outside without using toxic bug repellants and reduce the energy costs of using indoor facilities.

3. Use Propane for Grilling

Before diving into this one, we want to point out that we are not trying to step on any grillmaster’s toes. The debate between charcoal and propane is a tough one: Which one produces more flavor? Which is cheaper, faster? And most importantly, which is more eco-friendly?

We consulted a recent study by Environment Impact Assessment Review to answer this one. Drum roll, please…

According to the study, “the overwhelming factors are that as a fuel, LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) is dramatically more efficient than charcoal in its production and considerably more efficient in cooking.”

The two grilling methods were defined by their overall footprint, with charcoal using 998 kg of CO2, almost three times more than propane, which weighed in at 349 kg.

ScienceDaily reported that as fuel, LPG is “dramatically more efficient than charcoal in its production.” When purchasing a propane tank, make sure there is a trade-in option. Most retailers will let you bring in an empty tank in exchange for a decent discount on your next tank.

4. Save (and Reuse) Your Decorations

If you’ve hosted Independence Day celebrations before, you know the décor is often the same: streamers, party favors, and table toppers all in bold red, white, and blue.

Sadly, most people often use these decorations once and then throw them out. But they can be reused year after year! So, this year, after the party’s over, take the time to store and save your decorations. You or someone you know can use them again next year, which keeps them out of the landfill.

Better yet, skip the purchased decorations entirely. Ask your guests to dress in red, white, and blue clothing, or decorate your table with colorful flowers. If you’ll have kids at the party, get them busy coloring or painting their own red, white, and blue masterpieces with a patriotic theme.

5. Opt for Greener Fireworks

Fireworks are hardly an environmentally friendly activity, but they’re an unwavering Fourth of July tradition. If you’re setting off your own fireworks this year, be sure to ask for fireworks rich in nitrogen. They often cost a bit more but produce less acrid smoke in the environment.

Another option is to gather your group and go see your local fireworks display. It’s a great way to see a much larger fireworks show and prevents you from harming the environment with your own personal display.

6. Gather in Groups

Spread the benefits of your energy use this July Fourth. This may seem like a no-brainer for such a popular holiday, but the larger a group you gather (preferably outdoors), the less energy you use at individual parties that may take place indoors. Plus, the more people to help prepare and purchase food, the less of a cost it is to each individual. Just make sure your fellow party goers know these green tips!

7. Use Large Water Containers

Plastic water bottles may be convenient, but they create more waste and may even be detrimental to your health. In lieu of individual plastic bottles, store water for your family or guests in large containers so they can re-fill their reusable water bottles or cups. If you must use plastic water bottles, be sure to have a clearly marked receptacle where your guests can place the empties for recycling

8. Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle

So, you’ve skipped the disposable tableware and reused your decorations from last year but there’s still bound to be beer and soda cans, juice boxes, and wine bottles. So be sure to put out clearly marked recycling containers at your party.

If you did opt for disposable dinnerware, remember that many plastic plates and cups can be recycled. (Most recycling companies won’t accept utensils or straws, though.) Paper plates will have to be thrown out or composted due to food residue.

If you’re unsure about recycling specific materials in your area, we’ve got you covered. Use Earth911 Recycling Search to find local recycling centers for common party waste like aluminum cans, glass bottles, and plastic bottles.

Editor’s note: Originally published on July 21, 2010, this article was updated and republished in July 2018.

Feature image courtesy of Daniel Parks