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It’s Easy Being Green: Marching into the Future

Spectators, marchers, and event planners alike can pitch in to make parades more energy efficient.

Marcher in an Independence Day parade in Philadelphia. (AP/Matt Rourke)
Marcher in an Independence Day parade in Philadelphia. (AP/Matt Rourke)

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For many Americans, no summer is complete without a parade. Causes like the Fourth of July, LGBT Pride, and other cultural celebrations draw marchers, float makers, and onlookers alike for festive processions. But these gatherings often have seriously negative environmental effects. Fortunately, some easy yet significant tweaks to common parading practices can ensure everyone enjoys their parades with a cleaner and greener conscience.

Port Adelaide Enfield, a city in Australia, calculated the carbon footprint of their Xmas Twilight Parade in 2008 and found that the event released 47.9 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is just one example of how gas-guzzling vehicles, shoddy waste management, and other practices involved in parading can collectively inflict a significant amount of damage.

Alternatives to the old pick-ups and gas-guzzling trucks commonly used in parades exist, and many parades have already incorporated greener practices, such as using more fuel-efficient cars that run off electricity or biodiesel. But the best solution to this problem is to cut out vehicles entirely. A combination of marchers and nonmotorized floats can achieve the same amount of spectacle as using vehicles, and the net effect is entirely carbon neutral. The Posy Parade in San Bruno, California has been nonmotorized since 1941 and doesnít plan on incorporating cars or trucks any time soon.

Then thereís disposing of all the waste accumulated at parades, which can be an ecological nightmare. Thereís no sadder sight than an empty street filled with litter and refuse the day after a parade. Event organizers can make sure events donít make parade grounds look like dumping grounds by putting more trash cans, recycling bins, and composting receptacles along the parade route, and making sure that each is clearly marked.

Of course, attendees also need to pitch in and do their part. Bringing a refillable water bottle and helping to pick up stray litter are simple things parade-goers can do to help ensure that parades leave no trace.

The biggest parade day of any summer is usually the Fourth of July, and the festivities on Independence Day culminate with fireworks. But fireworks harbor hidden harm to both human health and the earth. Potassium perchlorate, an oxidizer found in most fireworks, is known to have adverse affects on human health and wildlife. And the heavy metals used in fireworks contaminate bays, lakes, and rivers in addition to polluting the earth. Researchers have pioneered a new generation of greener fireworks that eliminate perchlorate in favor of cleaner, nitrogen-based formulas and use less color-producing chemicals, which greatly decrease fireworksí amount of heavy metal.

While these new fireworks tend to be pricey, imported fireworks are becoming less available because of high shipping costs and safety concerns with moving large amounts of explosives across the ocean. So the playing field could soon be leveled between imports and the new perchlorate-free brands.

Parades are a quintessential summer experience, but they need to become more sustainable. We can all do our part to make them cleaner and more efficient experiences.

Read more articles from the "It’s Easy Being Green" series

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