QU: What are the environmental impacts of the many BBQ’s held throughout the summer?
Summer? What summer? Thank goodness that autumn has arrived and we no longer have to live with the disappointment of grey and drizzling days. Roll on frosty mornings and ripening orchards… Sorry, I digress, despite the highest rainfall since records began this summer many people still stoically pulled their trusty bbqs from the back of the garage to enjoy their traditional if slightly soggy, carbonized sausages.
During the summer at the slightest hint of a dry evening people all over the country flocked to the shops to buy the necessary bbq paraphernalia; meat, salads, charcoal, fire lighters, dousing liquids, throw-away one-time-use barbeques and more. And why not – it’s a chance to invite the neighbours over to admire your garden while you fumigate theirs. As we race to sear the salmonella from the chicken before the last rays of sunshine fade the environmental impact rarely crosses our minds. Perhaps it should; when you add up all the BBQ’s taking place across the globe the effect is greater than you might think.
Let’s start with the actual cooking device; throwaway bbqs are a total waste of material and an extra burden on already overtaxed rubbish disposal systems – you wouldn’t buy throwaway saucepans would you?
But permanent bbqs are expensive I hear you cry. Indeed they are – or can be. Cheap bbqs made in Asia are increasingly popular but the air freight makes them an environmental no-no. Have you ever tried to buy a bbq made in the UK? I have and it’s a bit of a challenge, the closest manufacturer I could find was in Germany, which is better than China in terms of “bbq miles” but not ideal. The best thing is to make your own.
Take the grill out of our oven and place it over a base built of bricks. The base can stay till the next use and the grill returns to it’s rightful place at the end of the feast. You can even take your grill camping with you and build an impromptu BBQ on the beach with the help of a few large stones.
Now that’s sorted let’s consider your fuel. To get that smoky bbq taste most people opt for charcoal – this might be good for flavour but not it’s not so good for forests: 97 percent of the grilling charcoal consumed in Britain comes from non-sustainable forests.
On top of that, briquettes, which are the most popular form of grilling charcoal, are often doused in petroleum solvents.
“Charcoal grills and lighter fluid contribute to ground-level ozone, which is produced when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic chemicals [VOCs] combine in hot weather conditions.” says Ana Gomez, of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. (source) Not only is it bad for our respiratory system, it also irritates the eyes is generally unpleasant for anyone in the area.
You can buy British charcoal that’s made from properly managed native woodland, it’s more expensive but well worth it. Eco-charcoal is available at Tesco, Sainsbury’s, B&Q and some Co-Op stores (source) . Or give give the forests a break and use natural gas instead, though as natural gas is tricky to extract it is more expensive to buy.
You could avoid emissions altogether by using a solar stove, though you’d have to be really lucky with the weather! It cooks slower but as it’s flameless it also eliminates the carcinogens formed when meats are grilled or broiled at extremely high temperatures or when fat from meat, fish, or poultry drips onto hot coals and deposits back onto the food via smoke.
Which brings me nicely onto the subject of what’s cooking on your grill. A report by Friends of the Earth highlights the deforestation of the rainforests for intensive production of palm oil and soy, which is used in the chicken, beef burgers, and veggie burgers.
So, in short, build your own bbq, choose your fuel wisely, keep processed meats off the menu and, weather permitting, you can still enjoy your annual bbq.