9 Essentials for a Low-Impact Summer BBQ

Editorís note: This Care2 favorite was originally posted on†May 12, 2014.

Whether it’s a graduation, birthday, retirement party, July Fourth or Father’s Day,†if it occurs over the summer, you’d better believe we’re celebrating al fresco.

Unfortunately, most of us use the backyard BBQ as an excuse to waste lots of money on disposable†items that barely get†used before ending up in the landfill. Being outside and enjoying the natural world has so many benefits — why muck it up by leaving behind a huge bag of paper and plastic trash?

With a little planning and a tiny splash of extra effort, you can save lots of money — and trips to the garbage can — just by swapping in some eco-friendly alternatives and avoiding a few lazy habits.

Here are nine things you need to have a low-impact summer barbecue:

1. Washable Dishes and Cutlery

There’s no rule that says an outdoor meal must be served on paper plates and consumed with plastic cutlery. The only reasons we do so are because: a) we’re afraid we might break dishes, and b) we hate washing dishes.

This year, suck it up and use real, eco-friendly dinnerware. If your event takes place on grass, the risk of breakage is minimal. Yes, you’ll have to do some dishes, but that really isn’t the end of the world. If disposable is an absolute MUST, use something compostable like bamboo.

2. Cloth Napkins

One ton of paper towels consumes 17 trees and 20,000 gallons of water are consumed. Every day, over 3,000 tons of paper towel waste is produced in the U.S. alone. This is absolutely preposterous, especially when you consider how many times you can reuse a cloth napkin. Leave a stack out for your guests, and provide a hamper in which they can be collected for washing. Easy peasy.

Don’t want to buy cloth napkins? Use this tutorial to make them out of old shirts.

3. A Low-Carbon Grill


Photo Credit: Sunny Lapin/Flickr

A big part of the average cookout’s carbon footprint comes from how you fuel your grill. Cheap charcoal is full of chemicals and contributes to air pollution. Natural gas comes from fracking, and we all know how nasty that is. Electric, infrared grills are a cleaner option if you’re looking to buy a new grill. If not, use†’natural charcoal’ which is made from hardwood, contains no additives, and produces less ash when burned than briquettes. If you’re really brave (and patient) try a solar grill.

Check out†5 Green Grilling Options for a Smog-Free Summer.

4. Local Veggies and Ethical Meat


Photo Credit: Juja Han/Unsplash

The freshest, most nutritious food can be found at your local farmers’ market. Hit it up the morning of the barbecue for all the edible supplies you need, and support a local farmer while you’re at it.

For inspiration check out†10 Mouthwatering Heirloom Vegetables and Fruits for Your Table and How to Be a More Ethical Meat Eater.

5. Recycling and Composting Bins

If you’re serving glass bottled or canned beverages, provide a separate bin for empties. Doing this at the start means no digging through soggy trash later, and makes for an easy transfer to your municipal recycling bin. Ideally, you’ll do the same thing for food scraps, so people can scrap their plates and reduce landfill waste.

Check out 80+ Things You Can Compost and 2 Portable Bins That Make Outdoor Recycling Easy.

6. DIY Condiments

Ketchup, mustard, and relish are staples at any American barbecue, but who says you’ve got to buy the conventional brands in plastic containers? Reduce waste and save money by making your own and storing in reusable glass jars.

Learn more by reading The Top 5 Worst Condiments and 4 Homemade Condiment Recipes.

7. Natural Bug Repellent

No one likes to feel like a blood buffet for biting insects. This year, skip the toxic sprays by making your own natural repellent or try one of these 3 chemical-free gadgets.

8. Solar-Powered Tunes

No outdoor party is complete without a rockin’ playlist, but batteries and cords can be a nuisance. Instead, invest in a solar powered boombox like the Eton Rukus. Use the on-board Bluetooth technology to stream your favorite Pandora station, and use the sun’s free energy to keep your phone charged all day!

9. Reusable Bags and Storage Containers

Getting all these supplies to and from your home can be a little tricky. Resist the urge to buy plastic garbage bags and use fabric ones instead. Larger, washable containers like those made by Rubbermaid or wicker baskets can also be ideal for carrying stacks of plates and cups without damaging them.

How do you green up your cookout? Share ideas in the comments!

Photo Credit: Nick Torontali/Unsplash


Marie W
Marie W4 months ago

thanks for posting

hELEN h6 months ago


Anna R
Anna R7 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

michela c
michela c7 months ago


Paula A
Past Member 7 months ago

thanks for posting

hELEN h8 months ago


Janis K
Janis K9 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

Amanda M
Amanda McConnell9 months ago

Thanks for sharing

Amanda M
Amanda McConnell9 months ago

Thanks for sharing

Amanda M
Amanda McConnell9 months ago

Thanks for Sharing