How to Have a Sustainable Barbecue

By: Lauren Ramakrishna

There’s no greater summer joy than inviting friends and family over to fire up the grill, share a meal, and enjoy the warm weather… But the traditional summer barbecue isn’t exactly great for the environment.

Love grilled favorites, like burgers and hot dogs? Meat production around the globe has led to a significant rise in greenhouse gas emissions. Greenpeace reports that the livestock sector generates as many emissions as cars, trucks, and automobiles combined.

Appreciate the convenience of plastic cutlery, cups, and straws that make party clean-up a breeze? Single-use plastics are wreaking havoc on the oceans, harming animals, and overtaking habitats. The plastic ends up in our food supply—and even inside our bodies.

Yet these concerns do not have to ruin the fun! Just a few small tweaks will make your next outdoor soiree more sustainable—and memorable.

Ditch the meat, not the flavor.

Eating a diet that’s largely plant-based can benefit your health and the planet’s. (Even Burger King offers a veggie option!) Change up the typical barbecue menu with plant-based alternatives to traditional meats. Consider these meat-less options when you’re food shopping.

  • Sustainable ground beef burger alternative: Beyond Meat Burgers. True story: these plant-based patties have been mistaken for actual meat by more than a few eaters.
  • Sustainable hot dog alternative: Morningstar Farms Veggie Dog. Reviews say it cooks up nicely on a grill!
  • Sustainable sausage alternative: Tofurkey’s Beer Brats. This Oregon company also makes a variety of plant-based sausage options, so you can try several different flavors at your next barbecue!

Choose seafood carefully.

Grilled shrimp kebabs are a classic summertime barbecue dish, but according to PCC Community Markets, nearly 90 percent of the shrimp consumed in the United States is imported from overseas, and much of it comes from farms that contribute to global warming. Follow Seafood Watch’s recommendations for sustainably-raised seafood.

Embrace plastic alternatives.

Having a plastic-free barbecue doesn’t mean you’ll have to spend loads of time washing your guests’ plates, cups, and silverware. There are a number of sturdy, affordable plastic alternatives for cutlery, cups, and straws. Try these for your next outdoor or indoor party.

  • Sustainable plastic cutlery alternative: biodegradable, plant-based cutlery made from bamboo or wood is easy to find at most party supply stores, or from a quick search online.
  • Sustainable plastic cup alternatives: biodegradable or compostable cups made from starch are the most reliable. They’re also easily found online or sold at most party supple stores.
  • Sustainable plastic straw alternatives: check out five easy-to-find options!

Support planet-loving brewers and wine makers.

Yes, even beer can be earth-friendly. Many brewers are adopting sustainable packaging for their six-packs. Saltwater Brewery is an industry leader, developing a biodegradable and edible six-pack ring to help protect marine animals who could ingest it. Or, if you’re a wine drinker, look for California varieties with a “CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE” label on the bottle. It verifies the a winery or vineyard in the state adopts and implements sustainable practices according to industry best practices.

Buy veggies and grains from a farmers’ market.

Shopping at your local farmers’ market boosts the community’s economy and helps reduce your environmental footprint, as produce and grains from the chain grocery stores often travels a long way before making it to the grill. Veggies like corn, peppers, potatoes, zucchini, eggplant, carrots, and onions are in season throughout the country, so they shouldn’t be hard to get, no matter where you live. Bonus: seasonal fruits, veggies, and herbs makes for fresher-tasting salads!