How to have a more eco-friendly barbecue

Let the garden grow wild, avoid balloons and forgo the red meat

It’s barbecue season. In Ireland – that means gathering, in hope rather than expectation, to socialise outside. Barbecues can have a bit of the music festival vibe, what with the open-air drinking, food cooked by someone else and music. Indeed, your attendees may once have been music festival-goers but are now too tired and beaten down by small children to go farther than a neighbour’s garden. At a barbecue, like a music festival, there is still every possibility of finding someone asleep in a hedge.

Music festivals have changed a lot since you last sat in a turnip field in Tipperary with a plastic bottle of Scrumpy Jack listening to Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. Guidelines from Fáilte Ireland, created in consultation with 80 of Ireland’s festivals, aim to inspire event organisers to be more sustainable. You could try applying the same sustainable thinking to your barbecue.

Green day

It’s nice to make the garden look festive, or to put something on the front door to signal a party. Just don’t make it balloons. Even so-called biodegradable balloons made of latex can take from six months to four years to fully decompose.

The same goes for Chinese lantern and balloon releases. Once released, lanterns with metal or sharp bamboo frames or balloons are just another form of litter. Bits of balloon poison, choke and entangle wildlife. Not cool.

Sound garden

When guests are coming, there can be a drive to tidy. Try to resist this in the garden for the sake of the bees. One-third of wild bees on the island of Ireland are threatened with extinction. This is mainly because of hunger – there isn’t enough food to support them in our landscape, according to the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

If we all put away our lawnmowers for one month and let “weeds” and wildflowers grow, we could start creating a network of places where pollinators can survive and thrive. If you’ve missed No Mow May, tell your guests you’re doing “Let it Bloom June” or “Help them Fly July”.

Pulp

Single-use plastic cutlery, straws, cups and containers have been banned since July 2021, so these are definitely out of fashion. If you entertain big a few times a year, you could borrow some extra plates and cutlery for the occasion or invest in an extra set that will last. Do the kids really need individually packaged juices boxes with plastic straws? Try a jug of cordial instead.

Paper napkins or towels? That’s so 10 years ago. Fossil fuels are used to produce the paper pulp. Paper towel production also requires agricultural land to grow trees. You could invest in reusable cloth napkins, line-drying them after washing.

The killers

You could argue in circles about whether a gas or a charcoal barbecue is the more environmentally friendly. The bigger environmental impact is what you cook on it.

Barbecues are synonymous with red meat. That’s not great for the environment. Beef has a high carbon footprint. Cows raised for the production of burgers and steaks contribute 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse-gas emissions each year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN. Lamb has the next highest environmental footprint, but these emissions are 50 per cent less than beef.

If you are keen on meat, try cooking less red meat and more poultry and pork – chickens and pigs are responsible for less emissions than cows. Go big on in-season, locally sourced salads. Stopfoodwaste.ie has a handy seasonal calendar.

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