Greening your 4th of July

Foreward by Chris Searles, founder
“Green4th" began in 2006 as an impulse to address something missing from our holiday of red white and blue… Green is patriotic; it has a place in the pantheon of American values.

The greatest challenge for Americans today is paradigm change. "Green", "Sustainable", and "Environmentally Beneficial" are, in fact, human necessities; they’re the newest fundamentals of the American Dream.

I’m so happy Brandi and her ever-blossoming AustinEcoNetwork staff have put together these resources! May the ideas herein continue to inspire your efforts to become a more sustainable citizen year ‘round. Have a wonderful holiday — and wishing you the greenest of years to come. Chris

Chris is founder/producer of GoodCommonSense & The Sustainable Shopper’s Ball!
Visit Chris’s latest work-in-progress,, for more.

Tips for Greening your 4th of July
From the parades and picnics to food and sunscreen, there are many ways to have a healthy celebration without harming yourself or the planet. Austin EcoNetwork is spreading the word about ways to green up everything from a backyard BBQ to the neighborhood parade and picnic.

Picnic Gear
Gathering around food is a global tradition and a great way to build community. However, a typical “disposable” picnic with to-go containers, single use cups, plates and utensils, even vinyl (eek!) table coverings can fill an entire garbage can in one meal.
• Cut trash and save cash by bringing reusable picnic-ware. Buy a set or consider starting a household, extended family, or neighborhood collection of event gear that can be used over and over. Maybe you can even talk a neighborhood restaurant into washing them after the event. You can also ask people to bring their own dish, cup, and silverware.
• If you really need to use disposables…skip the polystyrene (aka styrofoam) altogether and choose recycled paper products or biodegradable goods for your picnic ware. If each U.S. household replaces one 40-count package of conventional paper plates with 100% recycled ones, we’ll save 487,000 trees. Remember, biodegradable items don’t really break down in the landfill. They should be composted. If you don’t have a compost pile (yet), find a neighbor or community garden that can take your compostable items.
• Arrange for 5-gallon coolers of water to be readily available so people can refill their own water bottles. This is a nearly waste-free way to serve up water, lemonade, tea or other beverages. These are available at most outdoor/sporting goods stores.
• BYOB – bottle that is… instead of single-serve plastic water bottles. Be prepared. Tuck a stainless steel or other reusable water bottle in your duffel bag or purse, or clip one to your belt. Recycled material water bottles are available.
• If there MUST be bottled water for some reason, at least choose locally-bottled, rather than water shipped from far away glaciers, springs or islands.
• Invest in durable table cloths (you can find used ones at thrift stores and garage sales). Oil cloth table coverings tend to be colorful, water repellant and very durable. If you can’t wrangle a re-usable one, skip it, or choose newspaper over disposable vinyl table coverings.
• If you happen to be at an event where polystyrene/Styrofoam is used…don’t let it go to the landfill. Cycled Plastics will accept clean Styrofoam (yes you must wash it, but the alternative is it lives of for 100 years+). Note: You can take them packing peanuts, foam blocks from around electronics or clean food service items.

BBQ Grills & Fuel
While cooking over fire goes back centuries in all cultures, Americans seem to take BBQ to a whole new level. Here’s the short version for lowering the impact of grilling and fueling: never use lighter fluid, keep grills clean, choose gas grills, or briquettes from sustainable sources.
• Charcoal grills (through smoke) and lighter fluid emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) which contribute to the formation of CO2, a component of smog and the third most dangerous greenhouse gas. By using a gas grill, you’ll avoid the liver, kidney and nervous system risks associated with VOCs. Gas barbecues produce about half as much CO2 as charcoal grills, and about 1/3 as much as electric grills.
• If you really want the charcoal flavor, support good resource management by looking for sustainably-farmed coals or chips certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Choose hardwood briquettes, preferably of a local variety like mesquite.
• Don’t use lighter fluid or fluid-impregnated briquettes! Chimney starters work great with just a wad of old paper under it. There are electric starters for use when you are near a plug, and even a new lighter-fluid-free bag of hardwood briquettes with an internal chimney that allows you to light with no fluid. Plus, it’s made by an Austin-based company, One Light™ Charcoal. Buy local!

People love summer for the special foods that are in season, such as fresh tomatoes and watermelons. Eating in season, eating locally, and eating organic are three things you can do to get the most flavor with the least environmental impact.
• Check out the farmers markets and farm stands for the freshest food that was picked the most recently and traveled the least.
• Eat lower on the food chain, choosing fresh fruits and vegetables, and minimal meat. If you are a meat-lover, seek out sources that are organic, grass-fed, free-range or, at least, hormone-free.
• Have some fun and cook at home, then take it with you to a neighborhood picnic, potluck, fireworks display, etc. in a sturdy container with a lid. You’ll reduce waste from packaging materials and the excess can be added to your compost pile instead of thrown away in the garbage.

Until we get to the point that it is common practice to recycle and compost at all events, it will take a few enthusiastic leaders who are willing to make sure that recycling and composting bins are available and well-marked. It takes awhile to change habits but public gatherings are a good chance to demonstrate how easy it can be to incorporate green practices into your life.
• Have a green leader or team of green volunteers.
• See if there are recycle bins at your event site and make sure that all recyclables make it into the proper bins. Encourage your family and friends to do the same!
• Buying biodegradable doesn’t help much if it goes straight into the trash…make sure people know they can put their food scraps and any compostable material in a special bin. Depending on the volume you generate, arrange to take the collected material to a residential, community garden, or commercial compost operation like Texas Disposal Systems.
• If you have to buy garbage bags, look for ones that are made from recycled materials.

Fireworks are one of the most distinct elements of the 4th of July. You can minimize the pyrotechnics and associated air and land pollution by enjoying a large community fireworks displays (or the ones on TV) instead of shooting off your own. In Austin, you would have to drive outside the City to do that anyway – meaning still more pollution. This is not only better for safety and fire hazard reasons, it eliminates further pollution from carbon monoxide emissions as well as trash that is left wherever the fireworks land.
• Walk, bike or carpool to the big event and avoid parking chaos! Capital Metro has several locations where you can park and then ride mass transit to the fireworks site. Visit for more information.
• If you do have any private fireworks, make sure you are clear about burn bans. Make sure you take precautions to avoid starting fires which can release tons of carbon dioxide and destroy homes and habitats… definitely not the mark of a Green 4th.

For me, the 4th of July evokes images of proud Americans lining up in neighborhood parades. Unfortunately, this often involves long lines of idling cars spewing hot air and emissions amongst patriotic youngster who have decorated their bicycles and tricycles with crepe paper streamers and other colorful décor.
Here are some ideas for greening the traditional parade:
• Consider having a parade with all non-motorized vehicles. (It may be too late for this year but plant the seed for next year.)
• Decorate with recycled/reuseable materials.
• Encourage people to not idle in their vehicles. If the parade has not started or isn’t moving, turn off vehicles and open windows or stand outside (maybe with an umbrella for shade). The rule for modern cars is that a car idling for more than 10 seconds should be turned off. Tthat is the breakeven time for the extra fuel needed to restart. Hybrid vehicles solve this problem by shutting themselves down automatically. In the meantime, remember the 10 second rule and do it yourself.

• If you are going to watch a parade or fireworks, walk or bike there, or at least carpool.
• Make sure your tires are properly inflated too. Any vehicle running on soft tires is contributing as much as 1.5 extra tons (2,880 pounds) of greenhouse gases to the environment annually.

Being outside in July means being exposed to a lot of sun. By now we know that it is recommended that we use sunscreen SPF-15 or higher. How about skipping the chemical infusion while protecting yourself? Choose chemical-free sunscreens (that use titanium dioxides or zinc to block the rays of the sun) or products that contain organic ingredients (and still have Parsol 1789, the main UVA/UVB chemicals used to block sun’s damage).

Thanks to Sumner Meckel, summer intern with Austin EcoNetwork for helping compile the back-up facts for the outline I laid out with Jackie Sy, our fabulous business manager.
Thanks to for being such a cool, fun, accessible way for people to learn how to green their lives one digestible bite at a time.

Thanks to Chris Searles and Samantha Webber for initiating the Green4th idea which led to the conversation activity facilitated by Randy Jewart at Central Market two years ago – which then led to a public event at the Downtown Farmer’s Market last year. May the intentions generated there lead to ACTION all over!

Thanks to all of you who read this. Hopefully everyone can do at least a few things green this year and even more next year. As individuals and together, we make a difference!

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