As our country celebrates its 231st birthday today, many of us are planning a fun-filled day of barbecues, sun, and fireworks. Whatever your level of patriotism towards the good old U.S. of A., we can all do our best to protect our beautiful earth by keeping green in mind for the holiday. Here are a few ways we can all make our star-spangled banner a bit more green.

1. Choose your food wisely Opt for locally-grown and/or organic produce, avoid foods produced or raised on factory farms or with chemicals and nasty preservatives. Or go a step further and go the vegetarian route, which, aside from the pro-animal argument, is an excellent health and culinary choice in its environmental benefits (industrial meat production accounts for much of the world’s water resources, emissions, land use, and oil consumption, and giving up meat is the single most important thing you can do for to fight global warming). Jill would like to remind you that veggie burgers and tofu-pups taste great and are healthier, cheaper and easier to cook than traditional burgers – so give them a try on your BBQ this year. The Center For Informed Food Choices is a great resource for finding information about the food you buy, and eventually put on the table.

2. Eco-friendly Picnicware Instead of grabbing the stack of styrofoam plates, opt for greener tableware and utensils. Options like Eatwarecompostable food containers, bamboo plates, and biodegradable cups are all readily available and inexpensive. Check out Branch’s great selection of eco-friendly kitchen and picnic items.

3. Alternative fireworks Unfortunately, fireworks are not the safest or greenest spectacle around, but they’re just so darn pretty that they’re hard to cut out of the 4th of July experience entirely. From gunpowder fall out to smoke and dust that contain various heavy metals, sulfur-coal compounds and other noxious chemicals, fireworks are decidedly un-green. Your best bet is to say no to home fireworks and sparklers and opt for other colorful decorations like ribbon streamers (maybe even home-made recycled newspaper ones!). And maybe even have a chat with your local fireworks authorities- they might be willing to look into using Sekon biodegradable fireworks next year (the gunpowder-free “air launch” technology that Disney now uses).

4. A Greener Grill Despite all the smoke and ash, barbecuing can actually be a relatively eco-friendly process if you choose your material wisely. There are a variety of sustainably-produced charcoal, including Wicked Good Charcoal, made from industrial scrap wood, or Kingsford Charwood, which is produced using clean-energy turbine heat. And surprisingly, propane isn’t as evil as you might think- granted its origins are less than wonderful in terms of sustainability, but it still produces close to half the emissions of generic charcoals.

5. RECYCLE! This one should be a no-brainer by now, but once midnight rolls around and your picnic grounds are littered with soda cans and glass beer bottles, make sure to round them all up and deliver them to the proper recycling facilities.

The fourth of July is about independence, and a good time to celebrate the idea not just historically, but by looking forward towards American energy independence and a more value-based and far-reaching environmental policy. We live in a great country, have come a long way, but still have a long way to go. Here’s to progress, independence, and living good green lives as American citizens.