5 Tips to Celebrate Sustainably This Independence Day

"And the perchlorates' strontium glare, the calcium chloride bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.

That just doesn't have the same ring to it, does it? But that is one thing that has come to symbolize the Fourth of July: fireworks. Fireworks are fun and exciting to see, but what are they really? Chemical compounds packed in cardboard casing that is launched into the sky and often detonated over lakes and rivers, leaving smoky particulates clouding our air and potential toxins raining into our waterways.

I love fireworks and I love the Fourth of July, but I wonder about the ways we choose to celebrate.

Granted, a once-a-year event may not have an unforgivable environmental impact, and studies have not conclusively linked fireworks to adverse health effects. I just want to preserve the good and prevent the rest -- and preserving our nation's natural beauty and resources, as well as our people's health and well-being, is important.

The spirit of patriotism runs deep in my bloodlines, from my distant relative, John Hancock who signed the Declaration of Independence, to my children who have served in the military. Unfortunately, as our society has marched forward in the name of progress, we have often neglected to preserve the natural bounty this land has provided for us. All of the disposable decorations, the paper plates and plastic cups, the countless sparklers and party favors come at a cost. Our throwaway culture is hurting the very land we mean to celebrate each Fourth of July. Fortunately, American ingenuity is alive and well. Here are a few of my favorite alternatives to wasteful practices so you can celebrate sustainably:

1. Upcycle: Instead of following the motto, "Out with the old, in with the new," don't buy new decorations that will have a short lifespan and quickly end up in the dumpster (along with their packaging). Pinterest is overflowing with ideas for patriotic upcycling!

2. Serve with style: Ditch disposable dishes and use the real deal. Using glassware and cloth napkins will be better for your budget and the environment, not to mention the fact that no one will have to worry about baked beans leaking through their flimsy paper plate!

3. Bulk up: Avoid innumerable soda cans, water and beer bottles, by using large water containers where people can refill cups or reusable bottles and consider offering a keg of beer or root beer for partygoers.

4. The more the merrier: Gathering a large group of people doesn't just increase the fun, it uses less energy by having people in a central location instead of multiple individual homes all drawing on the power supply. If your party is outdoors, the energy savings are even greater!

5. Remember to recycle: Make sure there are clearly marked and readily available receptacles for recycling so that if plastic water bottles or other recyclable items are used, it will be easier to keep them out of the landfill.

You don't have to be a revolutionary to do something great for your country. Some of the best advice I've heard has been to focus on doing just one thing well rather than a lot of things with mediocrity, and that can be applied to every aspect of our lives. Imagine the difference we could make if we focused our energy toward creating just one sustainable habit. Independence from an unsustainable lifestyle is a beautiful thing to celebrate this Independence Day!