Every year when summer rolls around, it can be tempting to get outside and enjoy the weather; even letting your employees take advantage of “summer Fridays,” whereby they get to head out on a three-day weekend from time to time.
For those of us working (or interested) in sustainability, however, there can be some nagging questions. Are fireworks bad for the environment? Is my sunscreen hurting the coral reefs? Does my charcoal grill pollute the air around me?
We’re here to help you live a more sustainable summer. Read on to find out how this is possible for you, your business, and your employees.
Are Fireworks Bad for the Environment?
While a big fireworks show might be your favorite part about the Fourth of July, it’s not necessarily eco-friendly.
Fireworks combine elements like charcoal, sulfur fuel, potassium nitrate, and perchlorates. Perchlorates are oxidizers that produce the oxygen required for that dazzling explosion, and metallic compounds are used to create different colors.
When fireworks explode, the smoke, toxins, and metal particles don’t always fully decompose. Exposure to these particles is linked to coughing, wheezing, and asthma attacks, particularly in children and the elderly.
Particles that fall to the ground after a firework explodes contain propellant chemicals and colorants. These can dissolve in water and seep into the groundwater.
There are a number of sustainable alternatives to traditional fireworks. Sydney’s fireworks are made from biodegradable paper. The Australian city also purchases carbon offsets for each show to make them have zero carbon impact events. There are also some cleaner fireworks that don’t use perchlorates, instead using compressed air to create the explosion.
Are Charcoal or Gas Grills Better for the Environment?
Gas grills are more energy efficient and emit less carbon dioxide than charcoal grills. They can heat up and be ready to use in half the time. Researcher Eric Johnson found that charcoal grills emit up to eleven pounds of carbon dioxide per grilling session, while propane grills emit 5.6 pounds per session.
If you can’t switch to a gas grill, look for additive-free or natural lump charcoal. Natural charcoal uses furniture scraps and waste wood, so it burns cleaner.
Looking for other tips to make your barbecues more environmentally friendly? Don’t use petroleum-based lighter fluids or self-lighting charcoal, since these release chemicals into the air. And remember to clean your grill regularly, since grease buildup increases smoke.
All in all, the greenest way to grill is using natural gas with a gas grill.
Is Sunscreen Harmful to Coral Reefs?
Not all sunscreens are created equal. Studies have shown that a common ingredient in sunscreen can harm coral reefs. Oxybenzone and Octinoxate help prevent sunburns, but they can also help to prevent a coral reef from defending itself against bleaching, and in turn, damage their DNA.
According to the Ocean Conservancy, coral reefs in Hawaii are exposed to more than 6,000 tons of sunscreen each year. Even if you’re not swimming near a coral reef, your sunscreen can still make its way there. These harmful chemicals can be carried through sewage treatment plant outflows and enter marine ecosystems.
When shopping for your next bottle of sunscreen, try to be thoughtful about your SPF choices. Make sure to choose mineral and reef-safe sunscreens. Look for non-nano zinc dioxide as the active ingredient. Non-nano particles cannot be ingested by coral reefs, so they’re a safe choice.
For a comprehensive list of sunscreens that don’t harm coral reefs, check out this list from the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory.
Is Aerosol Spray Sunscreen Bad for the Environment?
Short answer: Yes. Long answer: When you apply aerosol spray sunscreen, much of the sunscreen goes on the sand around you. This sand washes back into the ocean, which brings even more harmful chemicals into the water.
Additionally, spray sunscreens are easily inhaled and aren’t as effective as a sunscreen lotion. Even though they’re quick and easy to apply, it’s a lose-lose. Go for a reef-safe lotion sunscreen instead.