The most popular day in the US for gathering and cooking outside with friends and family is July 4th, a day we celebrate the freedoms we enjoy as a nation. Increasingly, however, our Independence Day celebrations represent our dependence on disposable items that are destined for the landfill. For example, in 2022, clean-up volunteers in Lake Tahoe picked up more than 3,000 pounds of trash from the beaches after the holiday.
Single use plastics, food waste, balloons and other decor items can turn our festivities into rituals of extraction and widespread damage to our health and the environment (here are a few of our favorite zero-waste items). As proponents of sustainability, we want to remind ourselves and others that it doesn’t have to be this way. When we take the time to slow down and consider the impact of our choices, we realize that alternative approaches to some of these issues are everywhere you look.
The most prevalent source of waste from our outdoor summer celebrations are all of the disposable plates, cups, utensils, and tons of food packaging that are sold to us as necessary for convenience. But with a little bit of thought and planning, you and your family can bust those convenience myths, cut way down on the waste and still have a great time.
Six Ways to Cut Back Waste this Summer
- Choose real over disposable. I recently attended a potluck picnic where we were asked to bring our own plate, utensils, cup and napkin along with a dish to share. This might sound extreme, but it was actually very simple. Everyone complied, and as each of us finished our meal we rinsed our plates and packed them back up along with our dishes–and voila! No cleanup for the host, no trash!
- Find alternatives to processed food. When serving treats, try to think of alternatives to processed foods that come in wasteful packaging, such as homemade ice cream, for example. Avoid individually wrapped snacks and consider buying in bulk, or choosing fruits and vegetables that come in their own packaging provided by nature!
- Shop for fresh items. Visit your local farmer’s market to reduce packaging and to eat more locally. Remember to bring your own bag! Skip the plastic decor. Balloons, metallic centerpieces, tablecloths, etc. are often made from harmful plastics and quickly end up in the trash. Skip these and bring in the festive red, white and blue with colorful foods like strawberries and blueberries with cream or yogurt.
- Decorate with fresh local flowers. Forage from your own garden or find a small florist/farm to buy from.
- Fireworks are fun, but hard on the environment. Creative alternatives do exist, but aren’t that widespread yet. You might live near somewhere that hosts a drone show or a laser light display. This is becoming more common in areas that are prone to wildfires. Avoid glow sticks,which are nothing but toxic trash. Opt for a bonfire in areas where it’s safe and allowed, or sit outside in the dark and enjoy the fireflies.
The idea here is just to slow down and give some thought to your summer celebrations. See what you can come up with that’s different and less wasteful in some way. As always, there is no way to do it perfectly. Let’s just see if we can do it better, and have fun in the process!
Zero-Waste Items in the Market
Here are a few of our most-used zero-waste items during the busy summer months.
Our GOTS Certified (Global Organic Textile Standard) organic cotton produce bags are used all year-round, but get a lot of use during the busy summer months. These are used to collect our CSA and farmers market goodies, organize our items while traveling, and store snacks when we're on the go!
These sandwich bags are made of juco, a new eco fabric composed of 75% jute and 25% cotton. They are very durable and water resistant, making them a great bag for busy summer days at the park, near the pool, or on the water.
Kooshoo Organic Hair Scrunchies are not only 100% biodegradable, they are also strong enough for thick hair, and soft enough to not cause hair tie headaches. These hold up our hair all summer long as we tend the garden!