5 of the Worst Things You Can Do at a Cookout — And What to Do Instead

published Jul 29, 2021
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Five friends sitting at a table on a rooftop making a toast
Credit: Getty Images | monkeybusinessimages

The advent of summer means there’s no better time to perfect your outdoor dinner party routine and enjoy the weather with your family and friends. Barbecue season is here, bringing with it classic dishes, outdoor games like beanbags and croquet, and sparkling conversations with people you love on those endless summer nights. But with all of that merriment can come a lot of waste if you aren’t careful — and it’s never been more important to keep an eye on how much your party might be contributing to that overflowing trash can in the corner of the park. 

The average American tosses out about 1,700 pounds of trash per year, a 2019 report by Verisk Maplecroft estimated. That’s not a small amount by any means, and any small action you can take to care for the earth definitely counts. So before you stock up on red Solo cups, check out these tips for a “greener” summer barbecue, whatever you’re serving. 

Don’t: Use disposable plastic plates, cups, and cutlery.

Do: Invest in shatterproof, reusable wares.

Disposable dishware is one of the biggest problems of a barbecue. Yes, it’s easy to opt for plastic or styrofoam plates and bowls, especially when you’re outdoors, but the trash you create simply isn’t worth the convenience. Instead of using throwaway dishes that will sit in a landfill for decades or even centuries, opt for reusable plastic plates, cups, and cutlery for outdoor dining, or swap the disposables for compostable versions, which you can now easily get at major stores like Target. (Convenience at its best, right?)

If you’re serving a special punch or cocktail, reduce single-use plastics and invest in a set of stylish reusable glasses for all your summer entertaining. Instead of tossing them in the trash at the end of the party, pop them in the dishwasher for next time. Do the same with napkins and opt for washable cloth instead of paper; as an added bonus, they’re heavier, so they’re less likely to fly away should a breeze blow through.

Don’t: Toss cans and bottles instead of recycling them.

Do: Set up a designated recycling spot before the party starts.

If you’re pitching your space at a campground or public park and there aren’t designated recycling bins nearby, it can be tempting to toss your beer bottles and soda cans so you don’t have to deal with them later. Resist the urge and take them with you to recycle them post-party. 

If you’re grilling out at your home, make recycling easy post-party by setting out trash and recycling bins and clearly labeling each so your guests can toss their empties in the correct spot. Many areas allow you to recycle aluminum foil if food residue has been removed, so check out your local regulations before tossing those foil packets or trays into the trash, too.

Don’t: Throw away leftovers if you can help it!

Do: Send your guests home with food or compost.

Food waste is another drain on the environment; when such waste is sent to a landfill, it produces methane, which Move for Hunger calls a “more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2.” Do you have composting available in your area? Take advantage of it! Set out a compost bin and encourage your guests to empty their leftovers there. However, take note of the basics of composting — some experts warn against composting meat and dairy, so try to only make what you plan to eat where those ingredients are involved. 

Barbecues and dinner parties can be difficult to plan for because you don’t want to run out of food, so you often make too much — just in case. If you’re running into this problem consistently, consider buying some biodegradable containers and sending your guests home with leftovers for their workday lunch.

Don’t: Use the grill improperly.

Do: Be mindful of how much you burn and when.

The grill is the centerpiece of your BBQ, so use it responsibly. Avoid opening and closing it constantly, which can make the cooking process take longer and thus use more energy. As tempting as it is to peek at your skewers, veggies, and hot dogs, keep that lid closed! 

If you’re grill shopping, opt for a grill powered by gas instead of charcoal — the latter emits more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the former. 

Don’t: Feel pressured to buy new furniture and decor just because you’re throwing a party.

Do: Get creative and repurpose or shop secondhand.

It’s undeniably fun to purchase festive decor and outdoor furniture for a big event, but you don’t need to overhaul your space just to throw a party. If you’re on the hunt for enough seating or spaces, try shopping secondhand on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. You might find plenty of lawn chairs or bundles of party supplies there! You can also ask friends if you can borrow their chairs, or ask them to bring their own. Your party will be picture-perfect either way, and the earth will thank you.

This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy. See it there: The 5 Most Wasteful Things You Can Do at an Outdoor Party or Barbecue — and What to Do Instead