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Nothing says summer more than red, white and green

by Lynn and Corey

For most Americans, July 4th marks the official start of summer and that means family and friends gathering together enjoying each other at picnics and barbecues. But all this celebrating can take a toll on the Earth (and cost a lot of green as well), so why not consider some alternatives to the ways we’ve traditionally celebrated summer. Here are just a few ideas:

Serve filtered tap water. It’s so easy to hit one of the big box stores and pick up cartons of water if you’re hosting a picnic or barbecue, but you can save money and the planet when you choose to drink and serve filtered tap water instead.

Knowing that bottled water (even by the case), is 240 to 10,000 times more expensive than tap water and that 40% of bottled water should be labeled tap water because that’s what it is, you may decide that the “convenience” is simply not worth the cost. Instead, set out pitchers of iced tap water (print out this tongue-in-cheek label if you like). Ask a willing helper to keep the pitchers full.

Substitute reusables for disposables when possible. Picnics and barbecues have become synonymous with throw aways–plates, cups, napkins, tablecloths and decor. While there are more choices for disposables made from recycled and biodegradable materials, using what you already own and remains a more earth-friendly (and budget-conscions) choice.

If you don’t own enough plates and glasses,why not:

  • Borrow. Friends and neighbors are usually happy to contribute
  • Ask everyone to bring their own place settings. That’s what people used to do B.P.P. (before paper plates).
  • Hit your local thrift store. You’ll likely be able to pick up dozens of plates very inexpensively and when you’re done, you can donate them back.

When it comes to napkins, tablecloths and decor, think outside the paper box by decorating with items you already own, like sheets. Supply guests with red, white and blue fabric markers and set them loose. You’ll end up with a unique tablecovering that you can use over and over again.

Washcloths make great napkins and if they’re stained with barbecue sauce, use them for rags.

No need to buy paper or plastic decor items when you scour your home (and ask your guests to if you like), for objects in your preferred color scheme and integrate them into the decor. If you’ve got scrap paper your colors, wrap it around empty cans and fill them with flowers (cans pictured, while made for the 4th, could be used all summer). Tie napkins with bits of ribbon and stick a flower, feather or leaves under the bow. If you’re in crafting mode, make banners from old pairs of blue jeans, or flatware caddies from towels like the one pictured (make extras for guests who might want to take these home–sans your silverware!–so they’ll always have their flatware at the ready). Pinwheels are fun, easy-to-make and decorative and here are instructions for making the recycled Christmas bulb candleholder shown above.

Clean up. You’re probably shaking your head, “Well, of course we’ll clean up, duh!” If you’re partying at your home, this is no doubt true, but be sure to provide bins for trash and recyclables as well as for items that can be composted, assuming these services are available in your community. Place signs on each container indicating what should be tossed in which bin and encourage everyone to use them.

And if you’re watching the town parade or or enjoying an outdoor movie at a local park where recycling bins are not provided, why not carry a bag so you can bring your trash home and dispose of it properly. This includes packaging from food items, cans and paper goods. While you’re at it, how about taking a bag to pick up a bit of trash left by thoughtless individuals? After all, not everyone is as conscientious as you!

Cook it green. When it comes to the environment, barbecues of all kinds are problematic. The best way to cook outside in an eco-friendly way? A solar oven. You can purchase one, but to save money, gather a bunch of kids and make your own. Choose from among dozens of configurations using everything from tires to pizza boxes to a windshielf shade. Yes, cooking with solar takes more time, but hey, it’s summer! And if you’re only ready for baby steps, start by cooking part of the meal via solar. Pick up some veggies at the local farmer’s market and grill them up. Once you see how easy it is and how yummy and fresh everything tastes, you may wave good bye to charcoal altogether.

Eco-tips for summer celebrations

    • The group that crafts together has loads of fun. At your next gathering, ask all your guests to bring a box of stuff they’d normally throw away. You supply hammers, nails, glue etc. Set everything out on a table and have everyone craft their own windchime or garden sign.
    • Choose local, organic foods whenever possible. Turn a visit to an organic farm into a party.Don’t be shy about asking the farmer for ideas and recipes.
    • Focus on no-cost fun including old-fashioned games and activities like an obstacle course or relay races that you adapt according to participants’ ages.
    • If you’re seriously into eco-friendly, ditch the personal fireworks as they are anything but.

Eco-picks for summer celebrations

  • Decorate yourself and/or your table with these clever and adorable pins made from zippers.
  • Choose Fair trade tablecloths from 1000 Villages.
  • This sustainably made tray will have guests giggling.
  • If you want to give your guests a neat gift, check out the family pack of To Go Ware utensils. They can carry their own bamboo set wherever they go, saving party hosts the hassle of finding extra tableware.

Long lead time? How about a story on greening up office parties and other business celebrations?

Many companies today are beginning to “think green,” but when it comes to partying, they may forget all about it. Here are a few tips for eco-friendly company galas (Many of these ideas are inexpensive too). If you are looking for more in depth information, just contact us.

  • Avoid choosing paper anything unless it’s treefree or 100% recycled and printed with vegetable inks.
  • If you are giving gifts, make them earth-friendly. Potted plants make great centerpieces and can be given away.
  • Instead of centering the party around food and drink, come up with some fun activities that may include poking gentle fun at management.
  • Provide drinks in pitchers, punch bowls or glass bottles. Avoid disposable cups and plates.
  • If you’re having the party catered, seek out one who emphasizes sustainable, local and organic food.
  • Giving out awards? Choose from recycled glass awards, fair trade picture frames, organic chocolate bars etc. You can find these and others at and
  • Have your party early enough in the day so that lights are not necessary. If you use decorative lighting, ensure that it is LED or solar.
  • Serve fair trade, organic coffee (shade grown if possible) and/or tea.
  • Plan carefully. Avoid overpurchasing food. If you have leftovers, compost, send home with guests or donate if you can. Unopened bags, boxes and cans can be taken to a local food bank.
  • Consider having your party or celebration benefit a local cause. Invite guests to bring books for local book drives, coats for a coat drive, school supplies or whatever else your local community needs.
  • Clean up with eco-friendly products and be sure to place recycling bins where guests will use them.

Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are mother and daughter and authors of  Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, and founders of Green Halloween®.

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