There’s something wonderful about a summer barbecue. It’s an excuse to gather with friends and family, to enjoy some al fresco food and let’s face it, for some reason, everything tastes better when you eat it outdoors!
Sadly though, a barbecue can result in a lot of excess waste. It’s often a time when we rely on disposable items – paper towels, and plastic glassware if there are young children around. Then there is too much food (barbecue meats often come in large pack sizes), along with a desire to spend as little time in the kitchen as possible; so out come the disposable plates and ready-prepared food in mounds of plastic packaging.
As we always say on this site, living a Zero Waste lifestyle, isn’t about deprivation, so let’s see how to turn that barbecue into a more sustainable celebration:
Before we get onto the food and drink, let’s consider the actual barbecue itself. Supermarkets are piled high with disposable barbecues that you can pick up for a few pounds along with your weekly groceries. And you can grab them in a garage forecourt when you fill your car up. They are very tempting, but if you have more than a handful of barbecues each year, they are not economical and they aren’t good for the environment, unless you separate all the components and recycle them. And how many people do that?
You could borrow a reusable barbecue from a friend or a local lending site, or you could grab some bricks from Freecycle and make your own. If you like to have a lot of barbecues then why not invest in something more suited to the job? You don’t skimp on the oven in your kitchen and it’s the same if you’re an outdoor lover. There are various types of built in grills to suit all budgets and tastes. I have cousins who cook their Christmas dinner on their barbecue and do more cooking outside than inside!
When your barbecue is over and you’re left with ash to dispose of, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has this to say “Ash from lumpwood charcoal can be used as recommended for wood ashes. Ash where other fuels have been used including briquettes is best discarded.”
As a child I used to love getting bread rolls for a barbecue; it seemed so much more exciting than a slice of bread. And who doesn’t love a soft fresh bread roll oozing with a delicious filling?! While packaging is slowly getting better, many bread rolls are still sold in the crinkly plastic that breaks easily and cannot be recycled easily at home. Support a local baker if you have one available, and you may be able to buy the exact number of rolls you need without any packaging at all.
Failing that, do you have a bread maker? Most have a setting for rolls, so you can make the quantity you need. If you have no choice but to buy rolls and buns from a supermarket, try and find a brand sold in a stretchy plastic bag which you can either reuse or recycle at the supermarket with carrier bags.
We’ve already spoken about the huge number of disposable items that can find their way into a barbecue. And I understand that with a large gathering, nobody wants to spend their evening washing up. But avoid disposable table wear if you can. Yes, you get the hit and convenience, but at what cost to the environment? There can be a sense of camaraderie when a few friends gather with a glass of wine in their hand to muck in with the washing up. Another idea is to ask all guests to bring their own tableware, for which they are responsible. That way everyone takes care of their own washing up, leaving no one the complete task! Yes, it’s a cheeky ask, but good friends won’t mind.
If that won’t work for you, and you decide disposable is the only option, then look for compostable crockery. Compostable crockery is made from plant fibres that will eventually rot down in a home compost. If you offer paper towels, purchase a recycled option to close the loop and remember that used paper can also go into the compost heap.
Just like at Christmas, leftover are my favourite part of a barbecue! Meats and fish need to be cooled quickly and stored in the fridge in lidded containers. These can then be used for sandwiches, curries or casseroles the following day. Salads and vegetables make a great lunch on the go or can be made into soups and pasta sauces. None of the food needs to be wasted if you get any leftovers back into the fridge quickly and store it properly.
We understand the lure of a ‘value pack’ of sausages and burgers. It’s all there and looks tempting. However, rarely do you get true value. There are often animal welfare issues with cheap meat and sometimes disappointment when you realise its pumped full of water and you get little for your money. If that’s not enough, you’re then left with hard plastic trays and polystyrene which isn’t always recycleable.
Support a local butcher or farm shop wherever you can. This keeps money in your local economy and many independent stores now let you buy things in your own containers, to eliminate all packaging. You’ll be able to buy exactly the amount you need to reduce any potential food waste, and you’ll be purchasing better quality food.
There’s growing evidence which shows a plant based diet could be better for the environment. A barbecue is an ideal time to introduce some meat free options and many vegan sausages and burgers are available in simple packaging such as cardboard boxes. This can help reduce your overall carbon footprint, as well as packaging.
Make it easy for your guests to recycle, by providing containers for empty wine bottles, beer bottles, foil, juice cartons or cans. And whatever else you can recycle at your kerbside. Then all you need to do is assign someone to take the full containers out to the end of your driveway and there’s no clearing up to do! There is still quite a lot of confusing about recycling some items, as this article from Which reports.
When buying salads or veggies for skewers, opt for loose produce. Many supermarkets now sell loose varieties, or you might need to visit your local farmers market. If you’re an avid barbecue fan, why not plan ahead and grow some of your own food? In a small space you could be harvesting tomatoes and lettuce which means you can pick with zero food miles, no packaging and just the right amount that you need! If you do need to buy prepackaged, do the stretch test! If the packaging stretches without breaking, you’ve most likely got LDPE which can be recycled with some supermarket carrier bags.
What about you? How do you succeed with a Zero Waste barbecue?