Barbecues are a major feature of garden socialising in the UK – more so in recent times because of lockdown restrictions. There’s a lot to love about them – who isn’t up for a beer and a burger (ideally plant-based!) in the sun with their favourite people?
But there’s no getting around it, they’re not great for the environment. From the pollution they create to the waste they produce, our favourite summer pastime comes with some red flags for the environmentally-savvy.
However, that doesn’t mean they’re off the agenda completely. Making some easy tweaks and changes to your summer sizzler can significantly reduce its impact. Here’s how to cook up a storm while staying climate conscious.
Ditch the disposables
Disposable barbecues might be cheap and convenient, but they’re an environmental nightmare. Not only do they require a huge amount of resources to make, they can’t be recycled, so all that aluminium just ends up in landfill. Campaigners estimate as many as one million disposable barbecues are sold in the UK every year – that’s a huge amount of waste. Instead, invest in a solid reusable model that will last for many summers to come.
Choose charcoal carefully
Gas-powered barbecues are relatively uncommon in the UK, so chances are you’ll be grilling on charcoal and wood. The UK imports thousands of tonnes of charcoal every year, often from unsustainable sources and coated in chemicals, so keep your barbecue’s impact to a minimum by choosing charcoal that’s been grown in Britain and bears the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo.
Manage the meat
Barbecues and burgers go hand-in-hand, but it’s no secret that meat consumption is taking its toll on the planet. It’s fine to keep meat on the menu, though, just opt for good-quality, locally-sourced organic options, and bump up the veggie choices so that meat isn’t the central focus of the event. Forget the token bowl of sad-looking lettuce leaves and try something a little more inventive, include more veggies on the grill and swap out some of the meat items for plant-based alternatives (a lot of people can’t even tell the difference!).
Drinks are a part of any good BBQ, alcoholic or soft. You can make your BBQ more sustainable by choosing drinks that don't cost the earth or make your own healthy and eco-friendly iced tea or lemonade & serve from your best glasses to impress even the best of the guests!
Say no to paper plates and plastic cups
It’s tempting to serve food on paper plates and drinks in disposable plastic cups, but opting for more durable, reusable alternatives will make a major dent in your barbecue’s environmental impact.
Melamine plates and stainless steel, glass or bamboo glasses can be reused time and time again, and let’s be honest, it’s not that much of a headache to use the metal knives and forks you already have, is it? Luckily there are many options to choose from today!
But if the prospect of washing up after a big get-together is too daunting, at least opt for compostable options from sustainable sources, such as palm leaf plates and bamboo cutlery.
Keep recycling bags to hand
Place recycling bags (or boxes, depending on your local collection rules) in a central position where everyone can see them. Even if you avoid using disposable plates, cups and cutlery, some waste from drinks bottles and food packaging is inevitable, so make sure it ends up in the recycling instead of being mistakenly chucked into the general waste and ending up in landfill.
Same with food waste, having a compost bags available makes it easy to clean up sustainably later.
Make sure everything has enough space to be cooked thoroughly, but grill as much at one time as possible so you’re using energy as efficiently as you can. If you have a hooded barbecue, keep the lid down while cooking to make things even more efficient – and to seal in those tasty barbecue aromas.
Look after leftover charcoal
Don’t let the coals continue to burn after the last burger comes off the grill. The fire will reduce the charcoal to ashes, creating unnecessary emissions and wasting charcoal that could be used at your next barbecue. Instead, close the grill and shutter the vent so the fire dies out faster. If your barbecue doesn’t close, extinguish the flames and heat with water and spread the remaining charcoal out to dry.
Send guests home with leftovers
There’s always a bag of hot dog buns or a few scoops of potato salad leftover at the end of a barbecue, no matter how much you try to plan ahead! If your household can’t feasibly eat these leftovers before they go off, give them to guests to take home to enjoy. Wrap them in reusable containers, beeswax wraps or reusable silicone food pouches instead of cling film or tin foil.
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