Those of us who can’t wait to fire up the barbie will rejoice that May is National BBQ Month! In fact, with the pandemic waning in some areas, many homeowners are catching up on kitchen renovations and depending on outdoor grills for cooking meals. But BBQs don’t usually come to mind as being eco-friendly. According to the Stone Pier Press, one charcoal grilling session releases as much carbon dioxide as a fossil fuel burning car motoring 26 miles. Should we be sacrificing this summer ritual? Only you can decide, but here are some tips for making BBQs a little or a lot more sustainable:
1) Avoid petroleum-based lighter fluids and self-lighting charcoal.
They release volatile petrochemicals into the atmosphere. Instead, choose an electric charcoal starter, a charcoal chimney, or natural lighter (petroleum free) lighter fluid to get the fire going.
2) Use the right grill. Propane and natural gas grills are relatively more environmentally friendly than charcoal, but we can't forget that both use planet warming fuels. Your best option is to use a solar grill or an electric grill. Here are the various options and their impact on the planet.
- OKAY: Gas grills that use propane are better than charcoal grills. While energy output starts the moment you turn on a gas grill (or soon after preheating), it takes 20 – 30 minutes before charcoal briquettes are ready for grilling. Meanwhile, they are spewing harmful chemicals, toxic particulate matter, and CO2 into the air. According to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, after one hour, charcoal grills release 11 pounds of CO2 compared to 5.3 pounds of CO2 from gas grills.
- BETTER: Natural gas grills are better than propane gas grills. Natural gas is more plentiful than propane and can be tapped into the home’s natural gas line, which eliminates the inconvenience of tanks running dry in the middle of making dinner. Additionally, natural gas is also about 1/3 cheaper than propane, burns slightly cleaner because it requires less oxygen for combustion, is slightly safer, and doesn’t use unwieldy tanks. Unfortunately, natural gas is mostly made from methane, one of the most powerful global heating pollutants there is. Incidentally, third party manufacturers do make conversion kits to convert propane grills into natural gas ones; however, some brands like Weber warn against it and will void their warranties. Do-it-yourself “drill and bore” instructions from the Internet can also be dangerous. Grillmasters also typically buy new charcoal grills every three or four years on average, which is not only resource-wasteful but puts a heavy load on landfills. To learn more about how natural gas is refined, go HERE.
- EVEN BETTER: Here's an article on the pros and cons of electric grills. Even with "standard" electricity (a mix of natural gas power plants and renewable sources), electricity is more clean than burning natural gas at home. If your power comes from a 100% renewable source, the electric grill is a super "clean" choice!
- BEST: Grills that use solar energy are better than any grill powered by fossil fuels, and they do exist! Check out Best Solar Grills of 2021. Solar grills are a pricier investment, but the UV-light collecting tube is so powerful at absorbing sunlight that you don't have to grill during the daytime or when it's sunny out.
3) Cut out or cut down on meat.
Those burgers put a huge strain on the environment. One pound of beef requires 2,000 gallons of water, 12 pounds of grain, 35 pounds of topsoil, and the same amount of energy in one pound of gasoline. Animal agriculture is responsible for about 20% of greenhouse gas emissions. For really cutting down on your carbon footprint, going vegetarian is better and vegan is best. But if that's too hardcore, try grilling a blended burger (a combination of beef with mushrooms); plant-based burger (such as Impossible Burger) with all the toppings; or savor the “steak of all mushrooms,” beautiful Portobellos! Here are some mouthwatering Portobello recipes! If you can't part with a traditional burger, you know local and organic meat is the way to go.
4) Patronize restaurants that serve Beyond Burgers and similar fare.
Visit Walnut Creek's Veggie Grill or cult favorite Gotts, which serves a new item, Impossible Chicken Nuggets. In Berkeley, The Butcher's Vegan Son has an all vegan deli/market and restaurant and 100% plant based vegan items like chicken parm and smoked pastrami reuben, and brunch items such as hemp milk pancakes.
5) Strive for zero waste actions when hosting a BBQ.
A few years ago, SCOCO posted this article on hosting Zero Waste BBQ gatherings.
Here are a just two takeaway tips that can help turn your next BBQ into a more sustainable one!:
- Borrowing is better than buying. If you’re having a large graduation party, for example, ask friends and neighbors if they can loan you extra tables or folding chairs. Or, throw an even wider net on Nextdoor.
- Use reusables instead of single use plastic plates, cups, and utensils. That shiny plastic material is often low-grade plastic and not truly recyclable or compostable. Perhaps they are recyclable but never quite make it to your recycle bin in the busy aftermath of a party. (Some people even hide their trash cans and put out labeled bins for recycling or composting.) Consider using “real” dinnerware that can be tossed in the dishwasher. If you don’t have enough for a large party, borrow some from friends or purchase inexpensive sets from thrift shops. Some hosts even ask close and casual friends to bring their own sets of utensils and tumblers. If you have kids or worry about breakage around pool areas, check out post consumer recycled plastic alternatives from Preserve. For additional tips on zero waste, visit HERE.
6) View The Game Changers movie
The Game Changers, narrated by Arnold Schwarzeneggar, Jackie Chan, and other celebrity athletes, explores how our society looks at meat and the advantages of evolving towards a plant-based diet. This movie will be shown on May 18 as part of SCOCO’s “Green Sofa Cinema” series that features online discussions afterwards. REGISTER HERE.