Climate Corner: An eco-friendly Fourth of July

Jul 2, 2022

Giulia Mannarino

With picnics, parades and fireworks, July Fourth celebrations are often a highlight of the summer. But these celebrations and the activities associated with them can be less than ideal for the planet. There are changes you can make to have a July Fourth gathering that is as environmentally friendly as possible. Several organizations concerned about the environment, such as the Sierra Club and Green Citizen, offer suggestions online for a more eco-friendly celebration.

One of the most obvious and perhaps easiest suggestions made is to eliminate single-use plastics. If you are not able to provide reusable cutlery and dishware for your guests, ask them to bring their own. If reusable is not an option, purchase biodegradable or compostable products made from renewable sources. Also, ditch the paper napkins and opt for cloth napkins which can be washed and used for years. In order to minimize food waste, ask guests to bring reuseable containers to take any left-over food home and be sure to compost all food scraps. For drinks purchase larger size jugs to share and pour into glasses instead of individual, smaller bottles. Of course, have a recycling bin handy and recycle everything you possibly can.

While there is no way to grill without pollution, use greener alternatives. Natural gas and propane create one half the CO2 per hour of charcoal. Grill as green as possible by adding more vegetarian items to the menu. If meat is a must, chicken is the most sustainable out of all different types of meat, followed by turkey and pork, according to a study conducted by the Environmental Working Group.

If you purchase decorations, save them to use again next year rather than tossing them. An alternative is to use decorations you already have such as white Christmas lights. Or forego the decorations and ask guests to dress in red, white and blue. Food, including apples, berries and coconut, can also be part of the decor. And if you must travel to a celebration, car pool or use public transportation to limit the environmental impact of your travel.

According to PBS, on July 4, 1777 the first anniversary of Independence Day, Philadelphia celebrated the holiday by setting off fireworks. Fireworks became a staple of the July 4th tradition, with more and more U.S. cities setting them off every year. Although people are aware that fireworks are dangerous and most everyone knows of someone who ended up in an emergency room while using fireworks; few people are aware of the environmental impact fireworks cause.

According to Tree Hugger, fireworks in the U.S. emit 60,340 metric tons of CO2 every year. It was also noted that is a little more than what 12,000 gas-powered cars emit in a year. The most obvious result of a fireworks show is a lot of air pollution in a very short amount of time. But more than adding fine particulate matter to the air, when fireworks go off, the metal salts and explosions undergo a chemical reaction that releases not only smoke but gases into the air, including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen. These are all greenhouse gases responsible for global warming that is causing climate change. According to a study published in 2015 by Atmospheric Environment, a science journal, as a national average, from 315 different testing sites, July 4th fireworks introduce 42% more pollutants into the air than are found on a normal day.

Unfortunately, there is no completely planet-friendly way to enjoy fireworks. So-called eco-friendly alternatives have been developed and although these fireworks do emit 15-65% less particulate matter than traditional fireworks, according to American Chemical Society researchers, they still significantly deteriorate air quality. If your Independence Day celebration just wouldn’t be the same without fireworks, the best option is to eliminate at-home fireworks and ride share to attend a local fireworks show. In addition to having no packaging waste, it helps reduce your own environmental impact by not adding additional pollutants into the air.

Please make your July 4th gatherings as environmentally friendly as possible. It will be better for the atmosphere and the earth as well as a safer option for your family and it will help ensure we can continue to celebrate this day for many future generations.


Giulia Mannarino, of Belleville, is a member of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action