fourthofjulyribbon.jpg It’s time for fireworks, barbeques and block parties. If there’s one thing Americans know how to do, it’s celebrate our independence. But that doesn’t mean having to be independent from living a green life. With a few simple adjustments, you can make your Fourth of July as green as it is fun. Below are some tips and tricks for having a sustainable Independence Day.

Cut out the disposable dinnerware

The cornerstone of a fun Fourth of July is usually grilling out with family and friends. But all those paper plates and drink cups can pile up in a hurry. A simple solution is to use plastic, reusable dinnerware. It’ll mean more dishes at the end of the night, but it beats filling up landfills with clutter.

Buy local, organic party food

When finding something to serve, remember to take a trip to the farmer’s market. You’ll probably be able to find cheese for cubing, fresh veggies to serve and organic dips like hummus. If you really want to have a sustainable theme, try serving a vegetarian menu. Meat can take a lot of resources to produce (between the animal feed and water, and space to keep the animals). Otherwise, if the idea of not having grilled meat appalls you, remember to go local and free-range with your meat choices.

Cut out the cans and bottles completely

Although recyclable, you can still cut back on party residue with pitchers of homemade drinks. Some great ideas include cold water with lemon and/or mint, homebrewed iced tea and homemade fruit juice. Buy beer by the keg to serve from the tap, and find locally produced wine.

Make your own frozen treats

When it comes time to serve up the frozen treats, try to make your own popsicles. Using the plastic mold kits will allow you to wash and use your popsicle materials again and again. No more wrappers and wooden sticks to throw out. Plus, you can customize your recipes to make healthy, organic snacks.

Go for reusable decorations

When looking to decorate, you don’t need to run to the party store for disposable party streamers. Go for reusable cloth decorations, like actual American flags. As long as they are not damaged, those cheap small cloth flags can come out year after year. Other options involve painted wood flags, red, white and blue painted mason jars, American flag pillows, patriotic-themed fabric banners and flag-themed wreathes, just to name a few reusable ideas when decorating. Stay away from the cheap, paper items.

Go to the city fireworks

With all the smoke and ash they leave behind, fireworks aren’t the most environmentally friendly of activities. So cut the pollution and enjoy the mass fireworks put on by your city. It’s a few bangs for a whole lot more eyeballs. Plus, city ordinances usually require strict permits to light off the good stuff at home. Keep it legal. And you won’t be bugging your neighbors this way (looking at you, house southwest of here). Everybody wins.

Use eco-friendly sunscreen

Your Fourth of July activities will probably require some good sunscreen. You can find great brands of sunscreen that are all-natural. Good Housekeeping has a good list of natural sunscreens that work. A word of caution, however. Many sites may tell you that you can make your own sunscreen at home out of oils, butters, titanium dioxide and zinc. But when it comes to UV rays and your skin’s health, it’s best to trust the professionals. “Homemade sunscreens do more harm than good, because oils can absorb light, making UV rays penetrate the skin more,” Joshua Zeichner, a dermatologist in New York City, told Allure. “That has the same effect as greasing up with baby lotion when you go to the beach. You’re increasing your risk for skin cancer.” Plus, zinc and titanium dioxide alone won’t protect against different UV ray wavelengths. “There’s a lot of chemistry that goes into an SPF,” said Zeichner.

Make homemade mosquito repellent

On the other hand, homemade mosquito repellant is more benign. You can tell right away if the bugs are staying away, versus a sunscreen, which will require hours of baking in the sun to see if it had any effect. By then, you’ve increased your risk for skin cancer. Wellnessmama has a good post for making your own homemade bug repellent. Many essential oils are supposed to have bug repellent properties, such as citronella (like in the candles), clover, rosemary, tea tree, eucalyptus, lavender and mint, to name a few common ones. The spray recipe also calls for natural witch hazel, distilled water and vegetable glycerin. You just fill a spray bottle half way with water, fill the rest with witch hazel, add a half teaspoon of vegetable glycerin and add 30-50 drops of your chosen essential oil. The link also has some tutorials for making bug repellents out of dried herbs, a recipe for a super strong bug repellent using vinegar and dried herbs and some tips for more simple repelling ideas like putting vanilla extract on your skin. These are safe alternatives that can’t hurt to try unless you have allergies to any of the ingredients.

Remember to play outside

Summer is the perfect time for turning off the power and saving on electricity. There are plenty of great opportunities for getting some low-cost fun in the sun on the Fourth. Play outdoor, inexpensive games that require reusable sports equipment like volleyball, horseshoes, Frisbee, badminton and baseball (can’t get more American than baseball).

Get the whole neighborhood involved

The Fourth of July is the perfect time for block parties. Go ahead, bring back the block party tradition. And while you’re at it, get the whole neighborhood in on the zero-waste movement. ran a story about zero-waste block parties being on the rise. These parties feature some of the zero-waste options listed above, like beer served in kegs. Guests are asked to bring their own silverware and dishes, there is no Styrofoam and old bed sheets are used in favor of disposable vinyl tablecloths (which guests can write messages on with fabric markers). It’s a great way to get the zero-waste word out and connect with the community.