Send all your eco-inquiries to Jennifer Grayson at email@example.com. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.
Any tips for throwing an eco-friendly Fourth of July party? I'm not expecting a tofu and sprouts crowd, so please make your suggestions realistic.
I've always believed that caring about the environment is patriotic. We're blessed to live in a magnificently beautiful country, and it's in all of our best interests to keep it that way. So what better time to bring that point home than your annual Fourth of July celebration?
This year, the holiday seems particularly poignant: With the oil spill in the Gulf, the United States ironically finds itself, once again, struggling against the authority of the British (British Petroleum, that is). But we're also grappling with the bigger picture issue here, which is the need to free ourselves -- dare I say, declare independence from -- our devastating addiction to oil and other fossil fuels.
All of a sudden, a hot dog and a sparkler don't seem like enough of a statement.
Don't get me wrong: I enjoy a backyard barbecue as much as the next veggie burger-loving American, and I'm not saying you should turn your July 4th fest into some sort of oil spill sit-in, but the least we can do is make sure our celebrating doesn't leave the country -- not to mention the planet -- worse for the wear.
And who knows? Maybe adding a bit of groovy green to your ol' red, white, and blue bash will inspire your not-so-eco friends and family to do the same in the future. Five ideas:
Just say no to petroleum-based, landfill-bound plastic cups, plates, and utensils and serve the vittles at your party like a gracious green gentleman -- using real, old-fashioned plates, silverware, and glassware. You don't have to buy anything worthy of a wedding registry, either: Pick up a few different inexpensive sets off Craigslist or at your local thrift store, and the mismatched look will lend a cool vintage vibe to your party. Can't bear the thought of washing all those dishes? Check out biodegradable and compostable picnic ware made from potatoes and corn.
If, like 80 percent of Americans, you're firing up the coals on this biggest barbecue day of the year, keep in mind that while there's no such thing as a truly green grill (natural gas burns clean, but still is a fossil fuel; electric grills are the least polluting, but are powered by electricity that likely comes from burning coal), you can still steer clear of methods that are especially harmful to the environment: namely, lighter fluid, a petroleum distillate that can increase air pollution; and conventional charcoal, which is often laden with cancer-causing chemicals. If you must use briquettes, stick to natural ones, a la those from Cowboy Charcoal Co.
Passing up hamburgers and hot dogs may not be an option for your red-blooded friends and family, but you can still shop for more eco alternatives, like Niman Ranch's sustainably raised "fearless franks" or grass-fed beef from your local farmers market. Even if organic isn't an option, including plenty of fan-favorite vegetarian sides -- like homemade baked beans, coleslaw, and potato salad -- can also help reduce meat consumption (and the carbon impact therewith).
Nothing says summer barbecue like a bucket full of ice cold beer, so why not find a brew that doesn't have to be shipped in from far away (or even worse, from overseas)? Virtually anywhere you live, there are sip-worthy suds to be sourced locally, whether it's Goose Island in Chicago, Brooklyn Brewery in New York City, or Stone Brewing in San Diego. Throwing a big bash? Consider bringing in a keg (as long as you stick with the real glassware mentioned in tip #1): You'll save the energy it would have taken to recycle all those empty bottles and cans.
Or at least those you were thinking about deploying at home. Aside from posing a threat to your life and limbs (eco-friendly cosmetic surgery, anyone?), fireworks aren't so hot for the planet, either: They often contain seriously hazardous chemicals that can wind up polluting our soil and groundwater. And while it's probably too late to convince your city or town to forgo its fireworks extravaganza this year, you might want to try garnering support for an eco-friendly laser light show replacement in the future. How's that for a green blast?
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