GREEN PIECE: July fourth follies, and how to fix them

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First Posted: 7/8/2013

Another year and another Fourth of July is behind us. With all of the festivities this past weekend it’s time to start thinking about how to clean up and maybe even reverse some of the damage caused on the environment over the holiday weekend. From fireworks, traveling and barbecuing, our carbon footprint over the last few days probably hasn’t been the best.

I would imagine that most people, including myself, participated in a good old fashioned Fourth of July cookout last weekend. Everyone’s probably heard how grills can sometimes put off toxins equivalent to a carton of cigarettes. Luckily, there are precautions we can take to reduce these types of risks. Avoid charcoal and wood grills and instead use propane grills to reduce air pollution.

For your next July 4th celebration, and upcoming summer barbecues, here are a few tips:

HCAs and PAHs are common carcinogens linked to grilling. HCAs form in meats and fish cooked at high temperatures when amino acids and creatine react. PAHs form when fat drips off of meat into a flame or other heating element. To lower your carcinogenic risk, try flipping meat more frequently while grilling. You can also marinate meats to decrease carcinogenic formations. Try trimming fat off of your meat and grilling leaner cuts to reduce PAH exposure. While grilling vegetables, veggie burgers and fruits might not be as appealing for the meat lovers out there, but it’s a great way to avoid all carcinogens. Another way to greener cookouts is to purchase organic vegetables, local, farm-raised meats, and even by simply using reusable containers.

Summertime is the peak season for travel. Not only is the Fourth of July weekend a busy travel time in the summer, every weekend of the season is. For your next summer festivity, choose a spot that is accessible through public transportation. If you’re throwing a party, encourage friends and family to carpool or even ride their bikes or walk to reduce traffic congestion and even improve air quality.

What about all of those fireworks? I’m not going to be a “debbie downer” right now and talk about how much I hate fireworks because I actually really enjoy them, but let’s face it: they aren’t so great for the environment. Fireworks contribute to environmental pollution because they are full of chemicals and heavy metals that are toxic to the environment. Let’s not forget the simple fact that fireworks also physically litter on the ground and into bodies of water for miles around from where they are used. Try going outside and picking up the litter strewn about to help clean up. Because three quarters of our country is in a drought, fireworks can be extremely dangerous. Many areas called off annual fireworks displays out of fear of triggering a wildfire. While celebrating one day a year with fireworks doesn’t seem harmful, imagine one small fire cracker starting a mass wildfire and wiping out thousands of acres of wildlife.

Even though this year’s Fourth of July is over there are still plenty of days left this summer to celebrate responsibly. Keep grilling and traveling, and even use up your leftover fireworks. Now you have a plan on how to continue having the most amazing summer and still help the environment in the process.