As we say goodbye to summer, it’s time for one last hurrah before fall sets in.
Holidays are often times for excess, but you can make more responsible choices and do your part to improve sustainability while paying tribute to American workers and having a fun-filled Labor Day weekend.
Here are some tips to help make Labor Day an eco-friendly day:
1. Help clean up after the parade
If your city is like most, it probably has a Labor Day parade. You’ll see floats and groups of people throwing individually wrapped pieces of candy to the crowd, passing out flyers that most people immediately dispose of, and possibly even spraying confetti.
All this litter is bad for the environment, so consider sticking around when the parade is over to help with the cleanup efforts. Or commit to helping plan next year’s parade and reduce the wasteful activities by leading!
2. Avoid disposable party ware
Companies cut down trees for paper products, or consume significant energy making plastic, then burn fuel shipping those disposable products all over the world. When you’re done with the spoon, it will probably end up in a landfill.
Reduce your party waste by using reusable cups, dishes, and utensils when you host gatherings.
3. Upcycle your decorations and displays
Every new thing you buy has an environmental impact; raw materials and energy are consumed to produce and ship goods around the world, all of which adds to your total carbon footprint. A banner or paper bunting produced in Mexico, Morocco, or Malaysia carries a larger carbon load than a locally produced product.
Instead of buying new decorations and displays for your party, consider upcycling what you already have. For example, you could use old hubcaps to support flower arrangements, or turn an old throw into a makeshift tablecloth.
4. If you’re grilling, skip the charcoal
If you’re going to fire up the grill and have a few hamburgers and hot dogs, consider your fuel choices.
- Charcoal: Although many love the taste of food cooked over a charcoal grill, cooking with charcoal releases volatile organic compounds, trace metals, and particulates that contribute to air pollution.
- Gas: It may not seem like an eco-friendly option, but natural gas and propane both produce far fewer emissions than charcoal. Here’s a nice comparison of the benefits and disadvantages of gas and propane grills.
- Pellets: Pellet grills are growing in popularity and provide a greener option to charcoal. They’re fueled by wood pellets and might actually be healthier for you than other grilling methods.
- Electric: If your electricity comes from renewable energy resources (like solar and wind), an electric grill may be the most environmentally friendly way to cook your outdoor meal.
- Solar: The sun can cook a delicious meal. Check out Earth911’s recent review of solar ovens.
5. Don’t crank the AC
Depending on where you live, Labor Day may well be one of the last truly hot days of the summer.
If you’re sensitive to the heat, you might be tempted to bring everyone inside and crank the air conditioning. Unfortunately, air conditioning can produce some harmful byproducts and it demands significant amounts of electricity.
Although some of us in the United States have the option to select renewable energy sources for our electricity, most of us don’t. About 83 percent of electricity is generated from fossil fuels or nuclear energy.
The good news is that modern air conditioners no longer use the ozone-crushing chlorofluorocarbons that contributed significantly to climate change. Even with the most efficient model on the market, your carbon footprint is lower if you celebrate outside in the shade, but if you must be inside, keep your air conditioning at a moderate temperature.
6. Gather in groups, but carpool
Sharing resources means you’ll consume fewer resources in total. Try to gather together in groups to celebrate (which you probably don’t need much motivation to do).
When traveling to other locations, such as a park or pool, consider carpooling to reduce your fuel consumption — or better yet, bike, walk, or take public transportation to your destination instead of driving.
7. Recycle (and make it easy for your guests to recycle)
Finally, make sure it’s convenient for your guests to recycle those beer bottles and soda cans and compost food scraps. Include clearly marked recycling and compost bins next to your main eating area and help your guests understand what goes in each bin.
Not only will this improve the sustainability of your Labor Day gathering, you can also seize on this as an opportunity to show your friends how sustainable actions can be easy and fun — there’s no need to lecture and kill the festive mood when actions demonstrate the value of green decisions.
The Bottom Line? Consume Less
The best general strategy we can offer this Labor Day is: Consume less.
Use less fuel, use less electricity, buy fewer products, and properly dispose of the products you do use. It won’t take away from the fun and excitement of your day off, nor will it take much additional time to accomplish. You’ll feel good about your celebration and ready to head into fall with your best eco-friendly foot forward.
Feature photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Editor’s note: Originally published on September 1, 2017, this article was updated in August 2018.