The Fourth of July is synonymous with backyard barbecues and late-night fireworks, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the unglamorous reality — fireworks are both a health and environmental hazard.

Aside from more obvious concerns — like accidentally starting a fire or self-injury from holding a firework for too long — the amount of pollution released from millions of people lighting off fireworks every summer is one that’s often left out of the conversation. Although the chemicals do dissipate, the bottom line is our actions have direct consequences on the environment. Yes, they’re big, and yes, they’re beautiful, but make no mistake, the fireworks you light off at the start of July are releasing chemicals into the air. Here are just a few.

Carbon monoxide: A highly toxic gas that can cause neurological problems, respiratory stress, and severe poisoning that can even be fatal.

Carbon dioxide: An environmental pollutant associated with nervous system and lung damage in humans.

Sulfur dioxide: An environmental pollutant that harms plant life, as well as lung tissues.

Aluminum, manganese, and cadmium: Proven carcinogens that have been linked to lung cancer, hand tremors, neurological impairments — even Alzheimer’s disease.

Particulate matter: Small particles that can get into your lungs, causing everything from difficulty breathing to non-fatal heart attacks.

No matter how much you love sparklers and bottle rockets, fireworks are toxic to humans, plants, and animal life — not to mention, create a massive amount of waste.

The good news is there is plenty of other fun, loud, and messy ways to celebrate Independence Day. Biodegradable, non-toxic, and safe, these fireworks alternatives will allow you to create new Fourth of July traditions that leave a smaller footprint on our planet and fresher air for us all to breathe.

Fourth of July Fireworks

No matter how much you love sparklers and bottle rockets, fireworks are toxic to humans, plants, and animal life — not to mention, create a massive amount of waste. Photo courtesy of Twenty20.

Read more: Easy Tips for an Eco-Friendly 4th of July

Fill Balloons With Confetti

Missing the bright colors and boom of fireworks? You don’t have to light off thirty spinners to get it. Just fill some balloons with your favorite biodegradable confetti, blow them up, and set them loose amongst your party guests. Pop them for a burst of sparkle and color during the daylight hours for your own alternative fireworks display.

You can even get biodegradable balloons made from sustainably harvested latex here!

 

Make Homemade Mentos Bottle Rockets

This is much better than buying bottle rockets from a fireworks stand. Pick up a two-liter of Diet Coke and a pack of Mentos, and let everyone launch their own backyard rockets. (Just make sure to recycle those two-liter bottles when you’re done.)

You can learn how to make a Diet Coke and Mentos rocket here.

 

Whip Up Glow-in-the-Dark Bubbles

While I’m not crazy about the chemical concoctions required to make things glow in the dark, this idea is too cool not to suggest. If nothing else, it beats the pants off setting smoke bombs off all night, and it’s a 100 percent kid-friendly Fourth of July activity.

Try out this recipe to make your very own DIY glow-in-the-dark bubbles. Wait until the sun sets, then set them loose into the night sky.

Child Playing With Bubbles

Try out this recipe to make your very own DIY glow-in-the-dark bubbles. Photo courtesy of Twenty20.

Read more: 17 Ways to Cut Back on Waste When You Have Kids

Go to a Laser Show

If backyard barbecues aren’t really your thing, use Independence Day as an excuse to go to a laser show instead. You’ll still get the bright and shiny effect of fireworks with none of the pollution and all of the wow. Make an evening out of it with drinks and dinner afterward.

 

Put Up a Fourth of July Piñata

Piñatas are generally made of biodegradable materials — as long as you get them sans glittery, foil materials — and are a superb, eco-friendly way to celebrate the holiday. Buy one from your local party supply store, or make your own.

 

Make Confetti Poppers

Confetti poppers are a fun way to make a big, biodegradable mess that doesn’t pollute or wear your lungs out. Sure, you can buy them, but they’re usually made with plastic tubes. Instead, use this tutorial to make your own — it’s a creative Fourth of July activity to do with the kids.

Read more: Red, White, & Blueberry: A Raw Vegan Cheesecake for July 4th

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