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Fireworks celebration in Washington, DC on July 4, 2015. Anthony Quintano / CC BY 2.0

4 Ways to Make Your July 4 Celebration More Eco-Friendly

If you're celebrating U.S. Independence Day this Wednesday, one of the best things you can do to honor this country is to also celebrate its air, waters, landscape and wildlife.

So this week, whether you're heating up the grill, stocking up on sparklers or heading out to the park, here are a few tips to make sure your observance of "America the Beautiful" leaves it that way once the echoes from the last fireworks have faded into the night.


1. Vegan Barbecue. For so many of us, a Fourth of July celebration would not be complete without barbecue. But unfortunately many cookout staples like cheeseburgers and hot dogs have a pretty large ecological footprint. In fact, a recent study looked at the environmental impact of different agricultural products and found that meat and dairy production caused the most harm to the planet. Luckily, there are tons of vegan options that taste delicious on a grill, from cauliflower steaks to portobello mushroom burgers. The Vegan Society has assembled eight of the best vegan barbecue recipes to get you inspired.

2. Plastic-Free Picnic. When eating outdoors, the convenience of plastic cutlery, plates and cups is undeniable. But of the 33.6 million tons of plastic disposed of in the U.S. in 2014, only 9.5 percent was actually recycled, according to Columbia University's Earth Institute. Another 15 percent was burned for energy and most of the rest ended up in landfills, where it can leach out chemicals that contaminate soil and water. 8.8 million tons of plastic also enters the oceans every year, where it impacts 43 percent of marine mammals and 86 percent of sea turtle species, according to The Hill. So it's worth it to take some time washing up reusable table settings, just as you would if you ate indoors. Greenpeace also recommends avoiding plastic wrap by covering food in pieces of old clothes.

3. Sun Safe, Earth Safe. If you're spending the day outside, it's important to lather yourself in sunscreen to protect yourself from skin cancer. But make sure the products you use to keep yourself safe are also safe for the planet. Avoid sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, which were recently banned by the Hawaiian state legislature because of the role they play in coral bleaching. Choose "non nano" zinc oxide or titanium dioxide sunscreens instead. This is especially important if you are heading to a beach to celebrate. Women's Health lists specific reef-safe sunscreens you can purchase.

4. Eco-Friendly Fireworks? Maybe someday, but these beautiful, bright explosions have never been great for the environment, unfortunately. A 2015 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) study found that average particulate matter air pollution in the U.S. more than doubled on the evening of July 4, according to Slate. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes the emotional importance of fireworks displays on certain days and allows states not to count fireworks pollution spikes in evaluating their overall air quality. It recommends anyone particularly sensitive to air pollution watch the festivities from a distance and downwind, according to Slate.

The best way to mitigate air pollution on July 4 would be to avoid your own backyard display and plan to observe your community or city show instead. But if you do want to light your own fireworks, the Earth Day Network provides tips for doing so as safely as possible. Light the fireworks from a single spot to make cleanup easier and dispose of any residue as soon as the show is over. Otherwise, the leftover ash will have more time to drift into the surrounding air. Finally, make sure not to start any wildfires. Douse used fireworks in water and leave them in a metal trash can away from any buildings or flammable materials.

Here's to an Independence Day that is safe for you and the planet!

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