Green Living: A Fourth of July That's Red, White, Blue & Green
The Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays, and not only because I have a soft spot for John Philip Sousa tunes. I love spending time outdoors, cooking out and watching fireworks, just like everyone else. But what is the environmental consequence of our celebration?
The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association recently ran a survey that reported Independence Day as the most popular day of the year to cook out, with a whopping 71 percent of Americans firing up the grill (that’s more than on Memorial Day, Labor Day or Father’s Day). I’m not going to encourage you to skip grilling for environmental reasons, but there are several ways you can make your cookout greener.
• A study comparing the effects of charcoal versus propane grills on the environment concluded that propane is best; charcoal grills will typically produce nearly three times the greenhouse gases as propane. Propane grills are also less wasteful, as they can be turned off immediately, whereas charcoal smolders and continues to leak gases.
• If grilling with propane is not an option, cook with charcoal briquettes made from scrap wood — and don’t let any of that smoldering heat go to waste. Rather than using energy to boil water for corn or potatoes on your stove while the grill is smoking outside, prepare all of your dishes on the grill. You can even grill your dessert, like watermelon or even a cobbler. Close the vents as soon as you’re finished cooking on the charcoal grill, so the coals will extinguish quickly.
• Though it may seem un-American to forgo a burger on the Fourth of July, it seems completely appropriate to source your beef — and all of your produce — from a local farmer. Also, there are a lot more options for the vegetarians, and those who aspire to eat less meat, than a dry, frozen veggie burger.
Of course you can grill tofu, corn, zucchini or a veggie pizza, but your options expand when you start thinking about what you can wrap up — and season — inside a foil packet: mushrooms, green beans, peppers … and serve it all with a side of Little Rock’s Diamond Bear beer or a growler from Vino’s.
• Besides cooking out, the most iconic Fourth of July activity is, of course, shooting fireworks. Though the greenest option is probably to skip fireworks altogether — to avoid the toxins they release into the environment — a good second choice is simply to skip the fireworks in your own backyard and enjoy the public display instead. Walk, bike or take public transportation to your viewing location.
Other green Fourth of July tips:
If you’re picnicking or eating outside, use biodegradable plates, cups and silverware or opt for real dishes and flatware.
Be diligent about composting your food waste — I ’m looking at you, corn cobs — and recycling those bottles and cans. Don’t have a compost? Have your family start one together on the Fourth of July as a group activity.
For fun, opt for games outside, or hike, camp or canoe with a group, and carpool to your destination.
So many American holidays are centered around gift-buying, which is another reason why I love Independence Day. It’s about spending time with family and friends, and celebrating this wonderful country. This year, keep your observance local, simple and respectful of the earth. I can’t think of anything more patriotic than that!