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4 popular summer products that are hurting the environment

globe model in plastic bag, save the world environment
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Let’s do a little exercise. Raise your hand if summer is your favorite season (*raises hand*). Raise your hand if fireworks fill your heart with patriotic joy (*raises hand*). Now, raise your hand if you realized some popular summer products also happen to be pretty darn bad for the environment and the animals in it (*raises…* wait, what?!).

Ignorance is bliss, as it’s said, and most of us tend to lean into that bliss when summer (& fourth of July) rolls around. But the fact of the matter remains that the products we use during our festive celebrations are decidedly harmful to our planet.

Need help getting into the habit of an eco-friendlier summer? Here are some popular products that are bad for the environment — and alternatives that are more sustainable.

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Insect repellent

For many states in America, summer weather is hot and muggy. In other words, bugs most certainly crash your parties in some form or another. And to fend off the onslaught of mosquitoes, ants, ticks and any other creepy crawlers, it’s very tempting to reach for that can of bug spray that promises total insect annihilation. However, a study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine in 2017 found that “evidence suggests that insect repellents may trigger undesirable hazardous interactions with biological systems with a potential to generate harmful effects.”

Of course, you don’t very well want to go sans repellent and wind up on the menu yourself. Thankfully, there are plenty of non-toxic, plant-based, natural bug sprays to protect you and the environment, some of which you can see here.

MORE: 9 products that will help you save money—and the earth

Single-use plastics

Single-use plastics are arguably the most common threat to the environment. Why? We, as consumers, can’t deny their convenience. We scoop up plastic plates, plastic cups and plastic cutlery. We buy plastic tubs filled with potato salad and ice cream. We tote it all home in our single-use plastic-bags. And in doing so, we’re contributing to the plastic pollution epidemic.

Are you ready for this number? Over 2 trillion plastic bags have been produced globally this year, with that number expected to reach 5 million by year’s end. Less than 1 percent of that will be recycled. Some 10 percent will end up in oceans, where it will turn into toxic “plastic soup” (the plastic soup currently floating in the Pacific Ocean is almost the size of Russia, and it could double in size over the next decade).

What can we do? Every little thing helps. Use reusable shopping bags. Don’t buy food or products in plastic containers, opting instead to buy fresh ingredients to make your own, or seek out products with glass or recyclable paper packaging. If you’re going to offer straws to your guests, forgo the cheap plastic variety in favor of reusable stainless steel or copper.

Sunscreen

Since summer shenanigans often include trips to the beach, sunscreen lands on the list of products to avoid. But, let us be clear, we’re not advocating you don’t wear sunscreen at all. No one wants the “red” in red, white and blue to be from their sunburned body. However, you should think twice before you toss that standard bottle of sunscreen in your beach bag.

Per National Geographic, 14,000 tons of sunscreen are thought to wash into our oceans each year — a number that is troubling when you consider the chemicals commonly found in sunscreen are contributing to the widespread bleaching (and ultimate dying off) of our oceans’ oh-so-important coral reefs.

While some states have already passed legislation banning certain types of particularly harmful sunscreen, it is still an issue that is largely unregulated.

Do your part to help by switching your old sunscreen for a biodegradable, eco-friendly, non-aerosol version like Raw Elements or Kokua Sun Care’s zinc SPF. You can also wear a rash guard with built-in SPF, so you will need less sunscreen overall.

MORE: Pet safety tips for 4th of July

Fireworks

It’s hard to imagine the summer or the Fourth of July without fireworks, isn’t it? Well, here’s the bad news: A study released in 2013 shows that fireworks cause a spike in air pollution — and that’s to say nothing of the overwhelming amount of litter they create as they fall and are left behind to find their way into the local environment and waterways.

Don’t mourn the loss of your annual pyrotechnic shows just yet, though. While traditional fireworks create atmospheric pollution, environmentally-friendly fireworks have been developed in recent years. These burn clean, thanks to a nitrogen-based fuel. Sadly, these haven’t gone mainstream yet, so you’ll need to be proactive in order to determine if you can order any ahead of time.

Another way to minimize atmospheric pollution from fireworks is to skip doing any DIY shows at your home. Instead, round up everyone to head to a local community-based fireworks show that is more likely to have a clean-up crew devoted to ensuring waste is minimized.

Before you go, watch kids try to explain the history of 4th of July. It’s a hoot.

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