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Sizzling Sustainably: BBQ with Earth in Mind

Dearbhlá shares how a simple barbeque can be damaging to the planet, and how we can still enjoy outdoor grilling in a more sustainable way.

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You guessed it, it’s that time of year again: BBQ season. Your Dad, your Mum and just about everyone else has had the same idea: to head down to the local shop and purchase a disposable barbecue as soon as the sun is out. Cooking food outdoors has always been appealing, as it adds a smoky, chargrilled quality to food that cannot be fully replicated in a kitchen, as well as being a good social activity to get everyone outdoors when the weather is beautiful.

Why are BBQs bad for the planet?

Whether you’re camping or just enjoying a BBQ in your own garden, there are multiple dangers associated with barbecuing, especially in regards to the environment and the health of our planet. It is important as consumers that we fully understand the impact that our food and dietary choices have upon the planet. A study led by The University of Manchester found that a BBQ for 4 people can emit the CO2 emissions equivalent to driving a car 80 miles. This same study found that the biggest factor determining the greenhouse gas (GHG) output of a BBQ is determined by what foods are cooked and consumed from it, with a vegan BBQ producing less GHG emissions than a typical meat BBQ.

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BBQs are one of the main causes of some of the most uncontrollable wildfires, along with cigarettes and open fires. Given global rising temperatures and a lack of rainfall, forests have become even more difficult to protect from the risk of fires, and as seen recently in Rhodes are difficult to control. In 2022, a wildfire in Dorset was suspectedly caused by a BBQ and required 10 fire engines and 90 firefighters to put out the fire. Using disposable BBQs is discouraged in many parks and forested areas, and The Woodland Trust encourages people to opt for a picnic instead when visiting forests and woodland areas.

In regards to human health, BBQs can have serious risks. Charcoal is the most commonly used fuel for BBQs as it produces more heat and less smoke than wood. Although a popular fuel choice not only for its efficiency but also for the unique taste it gives the food, its combustion can add trace elements of dangerous metals to food and air such as cadmium, copper and nickel to name a few of many which can be inhaled or consumed.

How can we make barbecuing safer for people and our planet?

The choices of consumers' past have led us to the situation our planet finds itself in today, and therefore the choices we make today will be responsible for the state of our planet tomorrow. There are multiple decisions that can be made to make BBQs better for the planet.

There are many alternatives to meat that you can barbecue including veggie sausages and veggie burgers. These substitutions have a much lower carbon footprint than beef and chicken. There are many recipes for vegetarian meals that can be cooked on a BBQ, including this BBC Good Food recipe for charred aubergine and these carrot and sesame burgers.

Another way to reduce the environmental impact of barbecuing is to invest in a built in barbecue. If maintained properly, a built-in BBQ is a better option financially and environmentally speaking than disposable BBQs. There is a wide range of BBQs available on the market ranging in price, appearance and size depending on your barbecuing needs.

Image Credit: neikverlaan on EveryPixel

Choosing to use natural lump charcoal as fuel for your BBQ is a better option than using charcoal briquettes as these have health risks by getting into the food as it cooks. Although buying this natural alternative can be more expensive, this is not only an investment for your own health but also will improve the taste of your barbecued food.

Despite having discussed many of the cons of barbecuing, the process of cooking food outdoors is still and will probably continue to be embraced by many of us around the world. It often gives us the perfect excuse to gather with our friends and family to share food, stories and experiences. Using some of the tips above can ensure that we can continue to enjoy barbecued foods in the safest and healthiest way for our bodies and our planet.

About the Author: Dearbhlá is a 2nd-year Environmental Science student at The University of York from Ireland. She enjoys getting stuck into crafts and baking in her spare time whilst also volunteering with various environmental action groups.

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