How To: Host a Zero Waste BBQ

Package-free ingredients for a BBQ featuring grilled chicken kebabs; grilled vegetables; garden-fresh tomato & cucumber (mozzarella) salad; homemade beets, pickles and dilly beans; and a delicious apple crisp. ZW Success: reusable skewers, grill basket & serviceware. ZW Fail: packaged mozzarella.   Photo by: MaryEllen Etienne

Package-free ingredients for a BBQ featuring grilled chicken kebabs; grilled vegetables; garden-fresh tomato & cucumber (mozzarella) salad; homemade beets, pickles and dilly beans; and a delicious apple crisp. ZW Success: reusable skewers, grill basket & serviceware. ZW Fail: packaged mozzarella. 

Photo by: MaryEllen Etienne

How To: Host a Zero Waste BBQ (Just in time for your 4th of July festivities!)

We all know that barbecues can create a lot of waste (aluminum foil, plastic wrap, plastic cutlery and cups, paper plates and napkins, disposable skewers, food packaging, etc) but they don’t have to! There are tons of ways to enjoy your cookout without creating a ton of trash. Here's how to embrace the package-free, the homemade, the reusable and the compostable—in order to create a Zero Waste BBQ!  

Start Out Strong

Set the tone for a waste free BBQ with paper-free invitations. You can choose a fun invite using an online service such as Evite, but at the end of the day a simple email or text inviting your friends and family will help them get in a festive mood.

Get Ahead of the Curve

Homemade, canned foods like relish, pickles, dilly beans and beets will keep for a year or more. So preserve your foods in bulk, and you’ll have enough fixings for several waste-free events.

Green Your Shopping

When you’re shopping for your favorite cuts of meat for your BBQ bring your own reusable containers—as this eliminates excessive, non-recyclable packaging. For sides and salads, ditch the premade deli counter fare in excessive packaging loaded with preservatives and make your own. Fresh ingredients and herbs means reduced waste and happy taste buds. Also, ask guests to bring their own reusable containers so they can bring home some yummy leftovers.  

Use the Fresh Herbs

Do you have a collection of potted herbs? Then bring them to your buffet table and let people clip their own basil and chives. Great taste and waste-free decor all in one!

Ditch the Single-Use

Plastic cups and paper napkins are a waste of natural resources and money. Put out a collection of cloth napkins (buy them in bulk, make them yourself, or try inexpensive and colorful bandanas), a slew of cups and old jam jars, mismatched plates, and a variety of silverware. You can add to your collection with items from a local thrift shop or by borrowing from friends. Doing your part for the environment will also give your cookout a fun and funky feel.

Choose a Better Beverage

While the preference is to choose beverages you can make yourself with no waste—think homemade iced tea and fresh lemonade (spiked or virgin)—you may still want to offer some other selections in cans and bottles. If so, please be sure that you're "pre-cycling", or purchasing only those single use materials you know can be recycled in your community. Items like locally made soda and beer in highly recyclable aluminum cans are a good option.   

Sustainable Grilling

When grilling vegetables use a stainless-steel grilling basket and/or reusable skewers (I found some at a garage sale), or for some extra flavor you can use some (compostable) rosemary stems. Corn can be grilled in-husk, and if you feel compelled to wrap your meat in something try using banana leaves instead of aluminum foil. 

Consider the Source

The type of grill you use will affect not only flavor, but also your carbon footprint. Here's a few things to consider: from a carbon standpoint, gas grills win out because natural gas and propane burn cleaner and leave behind less waste than charcoal grills. Charcoal may give your burgers more "flavor", but the particulate matter from burning briquettes includes carbon monoxide and other nasty VOCs. If you do use coal, choose the natural lump varieties, which remove the additives you find in briquettes. If your home uses renewable power (solar, wind, etc), consider buying a energy-efficient electric grill. If you've opted for charcoal, lighting up can be a daunting task. But petroleum-based lighter fluid can contain even more VOCs. There are alternatives to get your coals burning include charcoal chimneys, electrical charcoal starters, and DIY fire starters.  

Simplify your Clean-Up

Many hands make light work! For small and informal events, ask your guests to empty food scraps into a compost bin and bring their dishes and napkins inside for washing. For larger events, put out clearly labeled bins for dirty dishes, another for napkins, and a pail for compost. Recyclables can be put into a large, marked garbage pail. Keep an eye on these bins in order to correct any mistakes. And please remember to put out your recyclables loose in a bin (no plastic bags!).

Compost the Scraps

All of your fruits, vegetables, bakery items, egg shells, coffee grinds and more, are easily composted in a backyard composter (meat and dairy should only be composted if you have a special system like a Green Cone). If you aren’t already composting, ask a neighbor that does if you can bring them your scraps, or perhaps a nearby community garden accepts compostables. 

Spread the Word

Green is the new black. Your guests will be happy to play their part in reducing waste and will enjoy hearing about the ways in which you’ve worked to make your BBQ a zero waste event.

Other Ideas?

How do you minimize waste at your events? Please feel free to share your top tips in the comments section below.