No holiday says “America” more than our beloved 4th of July and nothing is more associated with 4th of July than grilling and fireworks. With these essentials in mind, the Socket team would like to share a few thoughts on how to make your 4th of July not only red, white, and blue, but green as well.
Although the idea of grilling makes one feel more connected to nature, this outdoorsy activity raises a few environmental and health concerns. In the U.S., most outdoor grillers use either gas or charcoal. You might be wondering which option is better for both you and our planet. Answer: it depends on how one defines sustainability.
Let’s start with charcoal. When burning this material, a significant amount of carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere, especially when compared to the burning of gas. Research conducted at Oak Ridge National Laboratory shows that “gas grills generate 5.6 pounds of carbon dioxide per hour, while charcoal grills produce 11 pounds per hour” (Slate). However, when you look at the components of charcoal, it is only the remains of natural hardwoods when burnt in the absence of oxygen. So when grilling with charcoal, you are essentially burning wood, which is considered a renewable resource if the trees hewed for the production of charcoal are replanted at a rate equivalent to how often they get cut down.
Gas, however, is not a renewable resource. Once it burns, you are unable to sequester the released carbon dioxide and place it back underground in its original form as petroleum, or at least not for millions of years.
A comprehensive study was conducted in the UK to compare the carbon footprint from gas versus charcoal grills, taking into account their entire life cycle, including production, combustion, packaging and transport, and disposal. The study’s conclusion was that gas grills are more environmentally-sound, as their carbon footprint was approximately one-third of the charcoal grills.
If upon considering both of these options, you decide to use charcoal, make sure to buy lump charcoal, as opposed to briquettes. Briquettes are made with additives including nitrate and coal dust that emit Volatile Organic Compounds and contribute to environmental and health problems. Also, less residue ash will be left behind after your grilling session with lump charcoal. Lastly, make sure your charcoal is Forest Stewardship Council-certified so that a new tree is planted whenever another one is cut down.
Finally, when meat is charred at high temperatures (as with grilling), two chemicals are produced: heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Both of these compounds have been classified as mutagenic, which means they have the ability to alter a person’s DNA. Extended exposure to HCAs and PAHs is associated with higher a risk of cancer development. Consider avoiding these chemicals altogether by trying some meatless recipes this year. Here are some tasty recipes to get you started!
Fireworks can create unforgettable experiences and excite everyone in a crowd - except for most dogs and a few people who aren’t quite fond of the loud noises they make. Socket the Dog is not a fan of the noisy light show … he much prefers eating leftover hamburgers (or veggie burgers) from the grill! However, this unique Fourth of July tradition is here to stay, so let’s take a look at it through a sustainability lens. Hint: although fireworks look beautiful while brightening up a dark sky, their sustainability record is not as bright.
What gives color to fireworks are different kinds of metal, including copper and strontium. When fireworks burst up into the sky, the air surrounding them becomes contaminated with airborne metallic particles. The particles can remain in higher-than-usual concentrations for a few days in the air and many eventually dissolve in nearby waterways. Also, most fireworks used across the nation contain a chemical called perchlorate. In the environment, perchlorate can exist either in its solid form; or, when water is present, it will quickly dissolve in it. From a health perspective, this chemical is known for preventing the human thyroid from taking up iodine. Extended exposure to perchlorate can lead to hypothyroidism, which is a disorder characterized by an individual’s thyroid gland’s inability to produce thyroid hormone in sufficient amounts. A study published by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in 2007 shows that the perchlorate used in the firework displays near the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth ends up contaminating the waterways and soil of nearby areas. If you’d like to learn more about what “ingredients” are used in the making of fireworks, check out this document from the American Chemical Society.
With this in mind, don’t try to have a private firework display in your own backyard. Besides this being illegal in Nashville, it is also polluting and dangerous. So leave it to the experts, and join your fellow Tennesseans as thousands of people convene in downtown Nashville to see the Music City’s famous 4th of July fireworks show. If you are able, consider walking, carpooling, or biking to the show. Remember to bring your own water bottle so you won’t have to spend money and create waste by buying bottled water. Then, settle in, look up, and enjoy the magnificent display we are lucky to enjoy once per year!