How to Host a Waste-Free Barbecue

Summer season is grillin’ season. And, for those of us with noses primed to sniff out a neighborhood barbecue, this can present quite a sustainability conundrum. See, even though most of us love a good food-related gathering, there’s one thing most of us don’t especially love: dirty dishes. Unfortunately, the unsightly side effect of a sink filled with dirty dishes often accompanies the prospect of a sizeable spread. For most, disposable options seem like the best and most convenient alternative. Just eat, toss, and fah-gedda-boudit! 

There’s just one teenie-tiny little problem: landfills. We can’t see them (which is great for our noses), but they’re there… lurking… growing ever larger every day… and not going away anytime in our foreseeable future. Because there’s really no way to get rid of it completely (and because our consumption has led to weird, super-hellacious things like Texas-sized islands of plastic floating in the ocean), the only real way to slow the growth of our literally ever-expanding trash heap is to curb our consumption of disposable goods.

This is where much of our trash ends up, so it’s time to find a better alternative.

And paper plates, plastic forks, and everyone’s favorite plastic party cups are at the top of that list. 

We know. Boooooo inconvenient washing. (Super sad face). 

But yaaaaaay saving the planet! (Exploding firework emoji).

If the prospect of cleaning up after approximately 5,000 of your closest barbecue buddies sounds like bad news bears, just commit to substituting one or two disposable items with a reusable alternative. Here are a few simple ideas to choose from:

Cut ties with paper napkins. 4 billion pounds of paper waste is created by paper napkins alone. Because, let’s be honest, we aren’t just using them to wipe the hickory sauce from our mouths… we’re using 20 of them to clean up the soda spill your nephew, Henry, so lovingly left on your brand new outdoor rug. We’re using them as coasters. We’re watching helplessly as 57 of them fly away into the wind before Aunt Barbara has a chance to paperweight them with a nearby beer bottle. Cloth napkins – like these from The Global Trunk – are a great alternative. They’re beautiful, stylish, charming, and extremely multi-purpose. 

Cloth napkins – like these blue beauties from sustainable textile company The Global Trunk – are an ideal and multi-functional alternative to paper.

Say “no” to straws. There has been so much hoopla recently about straws, and for good reason: 500 million of these puppies are used daily in the U.S. alone. Many of them end up in the ocean, and while it may come as a surprise to some, fish don’t really need them. The good news is that there are LOTS of ultra-cool, washable alternative options made of steel, glass, or more durable plastic, many of which make an extremely hip addition to a lunchtime tablescape. You could also consider going straw-less and using good old fashioned spoons to stir your cocktails. They’re probably pretty lonely sitting in that silverware drawer…

Just do the dishes. We see you stacking 20 paper plates so your pulled pork sandwich doesn’t wind up in your lap or all over the lawn. Wouldn’t a nice, durable, reusable plate be so much safer? And how many times do you really want to snap that plastic fork in two trying to cut your toddler cousin’s hamburger into bite-sized pieces? Reusable utensils – like these from Bohemian Bowls – are the answer, people! Sure, you’ll be elbow-deep in dish soap for the foreseeable future. But enlist the help of a few friends to create a wash-and-dry assembly line, and BAM! You’ll be done in no time. As a bonus, take along your very own set of reusable cutlery or drinkware (we’re craving these gorgeous glass bottles by The Etching Bee) for earth-saving superpowers on-the-go. Mother Nature thanks you. 

Reusable dishes may require more elbow grease during post-party cleanup, but they make for a beautifully old-world tablescape while encouraging less waste.

Tupperware: it’s not just for 1950’s home parties anymore. Okay, on the surface, this one is tricky. Because reusable storage containers = plastic. But saving (or even serving) your food in these handy-dandy washable alternatives can help rid the planet of nasty plastic food wrap and – worse – foil which increases fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, causes health concerns, and contributes to aquatic toxicity. And these days, there are SO many wonderfully multi-functional and aesthetically appealing storage container options (like these gorgeous hammered copper creations from Godinger) to satisfy even the pickiest of culinary artists. Mason jars are also an eye-catching, earth-friendly alternative, for both food (think parfaits, salads, or salsas) and beverages. Cheers to that!

Aside from taking these eco-friendly steps, arguably the best way to “green” your next gathering is to strategize sustainably, keeping earth-friendly practices in mind during the planning process. There are so many ways (in addition to choosing reusable options over disposable) to creatively manage and reduce waste. 

You can create a spread of finger foods and dips designed for easy, plate-less grazing. 

You can make a game of asking guests to bring their own utensils or cups. 

You can request that guests RSVP to ensure just enough food for everyone, leaving less for the landfills. 

The opportunities for a greener barbecue or gathering are truly limitless! Got some cool ideas? Share them below for all to benefit – happy grilling!

Take that food to go… on a picnic! Check out our post on zero-waste outdoor eating.