The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that 60 million Americans have BBQs on the Fourth.
These millions of BBQs release some 225,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, burn the equivalent of 2,300 acres of forest and consume the same amount of energy as the city of Flagstaff, Arizona, uses in a year.
And those are just the stats for Fourth of July cookouts. With environmental consequences like these, what's a griller to do?
I recently hosted a BBQ and, being an eco-minded person, felt confident I could make it an Earth-friendly event. But as the RSVP list grew to more than 60 people, I found myself making compromises on my green intentions.
Take food, for example — I know buying local, organic and sustainably raised meat is better for the environment, but when it came time to stock up for the party, I let my wallet rule. Which meant shopping at the nearest big-chain grocery store and buying packages of cheap hot dogs.
When all was said and done, the party was a big success, but not necessarily my greenest moment. After the clean-up, I took stock and compiled my top 10 tips for greening a BBQ party.
Learn from my mistakes — and the things I did right — and make sure your summer cookouts aren't environmental disasters.
Top 10 Ways to Green Your BBQ Party (in no particular order):
- Use reusable or biodegradable plates and utensils. If you can't find those, at least go for products made from 100 percent recycled materials. Remember that your biodegradable plates will need to be cleaned before going in the compost bin — ketchup, hamburger grease and other-non-veggie food matter doesn't compost.
- Fill up pitchers of water, homemade lemonade and iced tea instead of buying huge quantities of personal-sized beverage containers.
- If you take heed of tip #2, you'll need to provide cups. If you use plastic or paper cups, provide markers at the drink counter so people can write their names on their cups — and therefore not use more than one.
- And even if you follow tip #2, you're likely to have beer and other individual-sized beverages in a cooler. Encourage recycling by putting out easily identifiable bins — you'll find fewer bottles and cans smeared with ketchup in the garbage.
- Use gas, propane or electric grills, which aren't perfect but burn more efficiently and cleaner than charcoal or wood. If you have a charcoal grill, make sure you burn natural lumps, not briquettes, and don't use more than you need.
- Grill locally grown veggies! One of our guests brought gobs of locally grown asparagus that were the hit of the party. While local doesn't necessarily mean organic, small farms are often more likely to be more sustainable and pesticide-free.
- Going vegetarian has been shown to be much better for the planet than eating meat. But if you do eat meat — or your guests do — don't compromise here. Spend the extra money to invest in organic, sustainably raised wieners and hamburgers.
- Encourage walking, biking or carpooling to your party. We live in a rural area, so it was impossible for everyone to come by foot, but we helped coordinate carpooling for our guests. Neighbors walked or biked over.
- Make sure mosquitoes don't drive your guests away. Before the party, take a look at prime mosquito breeding grounds — clean out rain gutters, check other spots with standing water and mow your grass (with a reel mower, of course). Even better, help the mosquito-problem year round by installing a bat house in your yard.
- Don't forget the little things. Choosing organic condiments, reusable napkins instead of paper ones, e-vites versus mail invitations, homemade decorations over store-bought and other details will help round off the finishing touches of your green BBQ.