America Recycle

The Fourth of July is a day where folks can come together and celebrate the birth of our nation. And while we hope our forefathers are proud of the progress we have made as a country, at this rate, they will not be proud of the damage we are doing to the planet in the process.

To celebrate Independence Day in an eco-friendly way, here are seven things to consider when planning your freedom-filled festivities.

1. Be wary about waste

While this may seem like common sense, the amount of garbage that families produce on a daily basis pales in comparison to what is accumulated during the holidays.

According to the City of Tuscaloosa’s Environmental Services Department, approximately 2,000 more cubic yards of garbage is collected in the month of July, compared to a normal, holiday-free pickup month. Keeping around some extra cardboard (which can be recycled much easier than plastic garbage bags) is a simple way to make the environment a priority, as having accessible and appropriate areas for waste will help keep litter off Tuscaloosa’s streets and out of the stomachs of local wildlife.

“July is one of the busiest months for solid waste collection workers,” said Ashley Chambers, the city of Tuscaloosa’s environmental education and outreach coordinator. “In 2018, city trash crews collected and hauled nearly 9,800 cubic yards of yard waste and debris, compared to the average monthly volume of 7,100 cubic yards. In 2018, garbage crews collected and hauled 1,697 tons of kitchen and household waste and refuse.”

Speaking of wildlife, do not feed wild animals any food not meant for them. A leftover hamburger bun can all but kill a duck if consumed and giving leftover bones to dogs is a pretty risky business. Plus, all health worries aside, throwing a half-eaten plate of barbecue and fixin’s off the back porch is nothing more than an invitation for raccoons, opossums and other wild vermin to hang around the house when they’re not welcome.

The best way to reduce food waste is to simply get less food. Eating on a side dish-sized plate instead of a whole platter encourages portion control which, in turn, lessens food waste and is easier on the waistline. Always remember: you can always go back for seconds.

As for those red, white and blue plates and utensils people seem to love this time of year…

2. Use reusables

Look, we know that it’s fun to be festive when it comes to the backyard barbecue. But sucking it up and breaking out the real dishes is a much better option from an environmental and economic standpoint.

As far as the environment goes, eliminating the amount of single-use dishware keeps garbage cans – and landfills – emptier. The need for the festive food-fillers is not really a need at all, but if the pretty-colored plates are too enticing, consider getting real dishware.

Purchasing one set of seasonal dishware and reusing it every year eliminates the need to purchase single-use cups, plates and flatware over and over again. The one-time investment will save money over the years, thus cutting the cost of the holiday’s annual necessities. Plus, washing dishes is not that bad.

If purchasing single-use dishes and flatware is a must for this year’s festivities, remember that the city of Tuscaloosa accepts these recyclables as part of its curbside and drop-off recycling program:

  • Plastic water bottles
  • Soda bottles
  • Milk jugs
  • Detergent bottles
  • Plastic bags
  • Aluminum cans
  • Soup cans/tin cans
  • Cardboard
  • Newspapers/magazines
  • Junk mail and office paper
  • Glass bottles and jars (drop off containers only)

Visit to learn more about recycling in the city, view the interactive recycling map (which can be seen below) and see information on how to get a recycling bin and participate in the program.

But, speaking of unnecessarily wasteful annual purchases…

3. DIY decor

Put the crepe paper centerpieces and plastic banners away: there’s a better way to decorate.

It may take a little creativity, but finding things around the house to use for decor is fairly simple. There’s already a dedicated color scheme – red, white and blue – and stars make for a great accessory. Bust out the white Christmas lights for a summery glow around the patio and throw a bowl of fresh-yet-festive strawberries and blueberries on the picnic table. In no time, the house will look just as festive as it would with cheap mini flags and star spangled tablecloths.

Speaking of, maybe skip purchasing the same Old Navy American flag T-shirt that you’ve bought every year since you were 8 years old. It’s the same exact shirt. Last year’s may still fit. You don’t need another one.

4. Inde-KEG-dence Day

For those who are at least 21 years of age, the Fourth of July may be incomplete without a sparkler in one hand and a beer in the other. Well, have we got news for you.

Kegs serve as a cleaner, greener alternative to buying a case of beer since they are reusable and do not come with the single-use aluminum and cardboard a case of beer requires. Anywhere kegs are sold, they should be returned to that store by the agreed deadline so they can be cleaned and reused. Kegs can be found at most liquor stores around town, but if you also need to grab a prescription or some chips and dip on the way to the cookout, check out CVS on the corner of McFarland Boulevard and Veterans Memorial Parkway, as they sell kegs too.

Plus, one keg of beer often costs much less than the equivalent amount in bottle or can form. Save money, drink more!

5. Grill smarter, not smokier

Independence Day is a prime grilling holiday, but the harmful toxins that are released into the air is enough to make any founding father cry. Consider this figure from Food & Wine: 

According to the Sierra Club, the 60 million barbecues that take place on the Fourth of July each year release 225,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, burn the equivalent of 2,300 acres of forest, and use enough charcoal, lighter fuel, and gas to power 20,000 households for one year – and that’s just from a single day of grilling! (Source)

This year, consider using a cleaner method of combustion to get those burgers and hot dogs smoking. For example, switching to gas is a much more energy efficient option than harmful charcoal. Even better, if the grill has a natural gas option, use that instead. Natural gas, when being used for cooking, is the cleanest fossil fuel and has a cleaner burn content than propane or charcoal grills.

If charcoal is a must, there are better alternatives to the generic briquettes one can get at any Dollar General. If possible, find natural charcoals and lump charcoal made from furniture scraps and waste wood. These often do not include any additives or binders, which help to make cleaner fires. This aides in the reduction of pollution output while improving the grilling experience with a cleaner, more ethical burn.

Beyond these tips, keeping a grill clean and turned on only when necessary are other small ways to reduce the carbon footprint cookouts place in the world. Mindfulness is one of the easiest ways to go green, and that is completely free.

6. Shop local, and dare to go meatless

OK first of all, calm down.

Going meatless for the Fourth is another small way the climate can be spared this holiday season. There have been a number of studies that connect climate crises with humans’ inability to cut down on meat, specifically beef. To combat this, try looking into vegetarian and vegan options that can star in this year’s cookout.

From fruit salads and veggie trays to meat-free protein options like Beyond Burgers, skipping the butcher section at the grocery store helps the environment more than we realize. The amount of water, fertilizer, land and carbon emissions that go into each hamburger and hot wing is staggering, and before too long, there will be no going back in terms of saving the planet from a toxic death.

But, if eating cows is on the top of this year’s Fourth of July priority list, at the very least, try to shop small and buy the protein from a local farmer. That way, local businesses benefit, the meat is less likely to be pumped with extra chemical garbage that many big name brands use, and there is hopefully a guarantee that the animal lived a good, ethical life before it was led to slaughter.

Now, if you got angry at me asking for you to cut back on meat this Fourth of July, just wait until you see my final request…

7. Fireworks don’t work

Fireworks are bad, OK? They’re just bad.

The particles that sit in the air after a pyrotechnic is detonated contaminate our water, taint our air and increase the levels of environmental toxicity, and July 4 is a peak day to stir it up. In fact, the particulate levels (otherwise known as the amount of air pollution) in our atmosphere on July 4, compared to a regular everyday count, is increased by 42% because of fireworks.

What’s more, this damage is allowed to linger in the air for the hours it takes to dissipate because the Environmental Protection Agency turns a blind eye to cities that violate their bottom line of acceptable particulate matter on July 4 because of the inevitability of fireworks.

But fireworks do not have to be inevitable.

And presently, a greener alternative to the charcoal-sulphur perchlorate oxidiser seems to exist, but it definitely will not be found at any traditional fireworks pop-up stands around these parts. The Walt Disney Company is known for using compressed air in its fireworks shows and there exists a clean burning, nitrogen-based fuel that can be used for pyrotechnics, but they are simply not available for public commercial use as of right now.

One of the better ways to opt for a greener Independence Day is to visit a community fireworks show, which concentrates the pollutants to one show instead of hundreds of thousands of individual ones. Or, opt to visit a laser show, see a concert that may be playing that night, watch a good movie or pretty much anything that does not involve fireworks. I promise, you will survive.

And there you have it. A greener Fourth of July holiday is attainable with a little creativity and thoughtfulness. So, this holiday season, take some extra time to analyze the environmental impact you will be producing. And while we are thanking our Founding Fathers for all they did for us over 200 years ago, our great-grandchildren will be able to thank us for being conscious of the world we leave for them.

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