This Fourth of July weekend, invite your family and friends to a fun celebration that also reduces your impact on the environment. Here are four ideas to get you started.

Traditionally, Independence Day is full of fireworks, barbecue and outdoor activities that Americans look forward to every year. However, lighting the skies of your neighborhood with fireworks and overloading landfills with disposable party ware has environmental consequences.

According to the Mid-America Regional Council, local air quality is compromised whenever chemicals are ignited, and this in turn contributes to pollution. Smoke, accelerants and heavy metals emitted by fireworks are especially risky for people with asthma, and traces of these chemicals can linger in the air and water weeks after the fireworks are extinguished. Plus, like most holidays the increased waste from plastic and disposables is added to landfills nationwide.

But with a few simple tips, everyone could lessen these negative environmental effects, while keeping the fun and excitement in the celebration. Try these easy ideas:

  1. Buy local & ditch disposables

Start by shopping for your picnic fare at the farmer’s market and find local veggies, fruit, bread and meat that are healthier and have a very small transportation and packaging footprint. If you’re getting together with friends, ask everyone to bring their own non-disposable plates, silverware and glassware – or provide them. Canning jars with lids are great for transporting and serving drinks and side dishes. Be sure to have a recycling bin handy for easy use. Send leftovers home with guests and consider composting any food waste.

  1. Reduce your impact at the grill

Nationwide, an estimated 60 million people will barbeque on July 4th, consuming enough energy in the form of charcoal, lighter fluid, gas and electricity to power 20,000 households for a year, according to the Sierra Club. Of all those options, the charcoal grill produces the most CO2 and contributes more to ground-level ozone. However, if using a charcoal grill, there are options for a lighter footprint. Start with lump charcoal made from invasive tree species or harvested from sustainably managed forests certified by Rainforest Alliance. Avoid self-lighting charcoal and petroleum-based lighter fluid by using a charcoal chimney starter. According to Earth911, grills powered by propane, gas or electricity have smaller energy footprints, producing up to one-third less CO2 than a charcoal grill. Or you can avoid emissions completely with a slow-cooking solar stove. For all options, consider joining friends for the meal prep, and light only one grill, instead of several.

  1. Rethink fireworks

If your holiday isn’t complete without fireworks, save money and reduce your contribution to air pollution by attending a professional fireworks display, instead of buying your own. (Fireworks are illegal in most cities, including Kansas City, MO). For large gatherings there may be some COVID-19 restrictions and precautions, and some events may be broadcast for a virtual experience. To find a public fireworks displays in your state, check out the Parade list for 2021. In Kansas City, find more locations in the Visit KC list for public fireworks and other holiday events.

  1. Red, White & Blue fun

If you’re looking for a quieter way to commemorate the holiday, try a free Red, White & Blue Workshop, and create a nature print this weekend. The Missouri Department of Conservation is offering three workshop sessions where participants will learn how to use nature to make cyanotypes, a photographic printing process that uses the sun, plants and water to create cyan-blue prints from nature. Three workshops will be held on Saturday, July 3 at the Anita B. Gorman Conservation Discovery Center, 4750 Troost Ave., Kansas City, MO. The classes are designed for ages 12 and older and include a walk around the native plant gardens to collect leaves and grasses. To register, select a class time, and click on the link:

Photo: Cyanotype nature print by Bernd Hutschenreuther / CC