How To Plan An Eco-Friendly Barbecue

eco-friendly backyard barbecue

Planning a graduation party, family reunion, or just a backyard barbecue with a few friends? Grill up a tasty feast without the big carbon footprint.

If you’re planning a Memorial Day cookout, big or small, you’re probably tempted to reach for the old standbys: paper plates, plastic cutlery, canned beverages, and packaged meats. Unfortunately, along with ease and convenience, these American barbecue staples come with a lot of unnecessary waste and negative environmental impacts.

With a little planning and some flexibility, you can plan a gorgeous cookout with delicious food that won’t leave you with a big case of eco-guilt. Here are some tips that will get you started.

Skip The Charcoal Briquettes

Sure, they’re available at just about every grocery store, but that cheap charcoal isn’t as innocent as it seems. “Burning charcoal or wood produces clouds of sooty particles that can lodge in lungs, irritating asthma and other respiratory problems,” writes Brian Howard for the Daily Green. “Carcinogenic volatile organic compounds like benzene are released. The whole mess can contribute to smog.”

Instead, grab a bag of lump or ‘natural charcoal’ which is made from hardwood, contains no additives, and produces less ash when burned than briquettes. You’ll still get that smoky sear you want, without worrying about lighter fluid soaking into your food. Check out the 365 brand of real hardwood charcoal available at Whole Foods.

Opt For Non-Plastic Plates & Flatware

It may feel great, just tossing all the used plates and forks into the trash when the barbecue’s over, but the few minutes you save are doing years of harm to the planet. In addition to being a waste of money, disposable dishes and cutlery contribute to the mountain of plastic waste already swirling around in our landfills and oceans.

If you’re cooking out in your own backyard, simply use the plates, cups, and traditional cutlery in your kitchen. If that’s not viable, choose reusable plastic options, such as Recycline’s Preserve Tableware, or compostable alternatives made from bamboo or sugar cane. Check out the Sustainable Earth line of compostable cutlery offered at Staples.

Choose Local Meat & Produce

Around the country, many farmers markets and CSAs are gearing up for the summer season. Plan to visit your local market the weekend before your cookout. Load up on grassfed beef, and delicious fruits and veggies that were likely grown by the same person who rings up your order. Many farmers markets even offer locally made cheeses, breads, salsas, and sauces. If you’re planning a potluck affair, email a list of market vendors to your guests, and encourage them to choose their contribution from a local artisan. Check out to find a farmers market or CSA near you, and browse Ecosalon’s Top 10 Picnic Foods.

Bring Better Beverages

Sure, it’s easy to buy a couple of cases of soda and cheap domestic beer, dump them into the cooler and call it a day. Americans discard about 2.7 million tons of aluminum each year, mostly in the form of beverage containers. Only around 50 percent get recycled, so that’s a lot of usable metal heading to the landfill. If possible, make large batches of lemonade, iced tea, or punch in pitchers or glass jars that have an easy pour spigot.

For the adults, choose local and/or organic beers in a keg (no waste!), or if you’re not planning on drinking that much, in glass bottles. Glass is one of the few materials that can be recycled infinitely without losing strength, purity or quality. Set up a special barrel where your guests can deposit their empty bottles, so they can be easily recycled when the party’s over. Check out the Organic Authority’s guide to choosing eco-friendly beer.

Image: kevinmarsh