Sustainable Ethical Barbeques 2023

Big Green Egg shaped barbecue in a field

Here’s hoping that this year’s summer is condusive to lots of outdoor parties! Whether it’s a communal Streetfeast or a private soiree everyone loves a good get together. But how can we make our gatherings greener? Quite easily actually, read on for 10 ways to have an eco friendly barbeque.

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Cook on a Sustainable Barbeque

It goes without saying that single-use disposable bbq sets are not sustainable, so better to invest in a reusable one. But what type is more sustainable? The debate about whether to cook with gas or charcoal is as old as Methuselah. Charcoal enthusiastic can’t imagine cooking with anything else and gas barbeques see their choice as far superior, but which is more more eco friendly; gas or charcoal?

In a 2009 study conducted by Eric Johnson, an environmental consultant based in Switzerland, found that the grilling footprint of charcoal to be almost three times as large as that for LPG, with charcoal producing 6.7 kg of CO2 per grilling session, and LPG producing only 2.3 kg.

The difference boil down to the fact that LPG is more efficient than charcoal, both in how it’s produced but also as a fuel for cooking. The research estimates that an average grilling session using charcoal is equivalent to driving a standard passenger car for 35 km. For LPG, this falls to 13 km. That said, in 2018 a study found methane emissions from gas fields are 60% more than previously expected, which would inevitably impact on LPG’s efficiency score, although still keeping it below charcoals.

Whatever type of barbecue you buy aim to get one with a lifetime guarantee like the Big Green Egg Charcoal Barbecue, (see image above) as this is more likely to be better built and long-lasting.

Pieces of lump charcoal

If you already have a charcoal barbecue and don’t intend to switch then bear in mind that most charcoal briquettes (pillow shaped) available in stores are a combination of lighter fluid, sawdust and wood by-products, a binder such as starch, and other random additives and some contain borax, mineral carbon and limestone (to turn the ashes white). In addition to heat and smoke these briquettes release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that may cause cancer and other diseases.

Lump charcoal is a chemical-free alternative to charcoal briquettes and is available to buy in Ireland. Most of it has been imported from far off places like South Africa, adding to it’s carbon footprint.  A much more sustainable option is to buy locally grown and made lump charcoal from companies such as;

  • Biochar Ireland‘ s Lough Derg Charcoal is made from locally sourced timber within the environs of Lough Derg. The company also state
  • The Oxford Charcoal Company in the UK make lump charcoal from 100% British trees from certified sustainable woodlands.
  • Marienburg in Latvia make organic charcoal from alder or oak that I have seen on sale in my local Supervalu store.

If you can’t afford locally sourced lump charcoal try to ensure that whatever you use is sourced is at least from a sustainably managed forest, i.e. FSC certified.

If you want to take your barbeque to the next level consider getting some smoking chips made from whiskey barrels from Cork based company Irish Whiskey Barrel

Sustainable Gifts to bring to a Barbeque

There’s nothing worse than working hard to avoid plastic only to have it descend on you in the form of gifts. We typically ask guests to either bring some homemade food in reusable containers or a bottle of wine in lieu of flowers or shop bought food. Alternatively you could turn your event into a fundraiser and invite people to donate to a cause close to your heart in lieu of a present. A win, win all round.

Ban Balloons at Barbeques

These bad boys are terribly polluting, lasting for decades after use and the the biodegradable ones aren’t certified as compostable so who knows how long they actually take to disintegrate. Also helium is in finite supply and is running out and personally I’d much rather keep it for medicinal use than waste it on a bit of party frippery.

Tin Can Laterns

Decorating your Barbeque Sustainably 

I looooove party decorations, too much in fact! It’s completely unsustainable to buy new decorations for each and every party so I reuse mine, which means I avoid buying themed decorations and opting for well-made generic ones that suit a variety of events. You can find fabulous fabric bunting on sale on Etsy. I’ve pinned my favourite decorating idea of outdoor parties on Pinterest, click on the link to see them. I love these DIY tin can lanterns by Elise Engh Studios.

If you do want to theme your event how about renting props instead of buying them. It’s not cheap but it’ll set your event apart from the others. Some companies in this sphere include Prop Box and Prop House.

Make your Barbeque Plastic Straw Free

This is a no-brainer. Don’t let the blighters make an appearance if you can, but if you feel some guests will need them, offer reusable ones, or paper ones instead. As always with zero waste buy the biggest box you’re going to need to reduce packaging.

bamboo plates

Ditch Disposable Tableware

Aim to use real crockery and cutlery instead of disposables if you can. If you don’t have enough at home consider borrowing from friends and family or hiring it from companies like Select Hire or Cater Hire.

If real crockery isn’t a runner consider borrowing reusable plastic tableware from friends and family. Or if you’re at the start of your ‘party career’ maybe it’d be worth investing in some reusable plastic tableware. You might even be able to buy them with friends or family, cutting down on expense and waste even further. Alternatively borrow from Rainbow Rentals, which lend out plates for kids parties for a small fee.

If you can’t avoid disposables then consider compostable cups and un-coated paper plates and when buying try to buy the largest packet available to limit packaging. For something a little bit more up-market you can get compostable paper plateware from Klee Paper in Dublin 8. Or for a more exotic feel there’s palm leaf and sugarcane tableware from Down to Earth or Zeus Packaging.  Just be sure to explain to your guests that compostable cups and plates should go into the brown bin and not the recycling bin.

Limit Single-use Napkins

Some zero wasters use cloth napkins instead of paper ones and it might be worth investing in some organic cotton, linen or hemp ones if you intend on having quite a few parties. If paper napkins are more your scene then just avoid leaving a large stack out. Research has found that large quantities of anything encourage waste so by limiting what’s on view you’ll limit what’s used.

Popcorn in brown paper cones

Provide Non-plastic Nibbles

I love crisps but hate that they only come in foil-lined plastic bags, which in Ireland generally go for incineration. Although not quite as lip-smacking as MSG coated potato crisps or tortillas, home-popped popcorn is a great low-waste alternative, particularly if you buy it packaged-free from zero waste stalls or shops. I love this serving suggestion from French Country Cottage. You can have it straight with just salt, or sugar, or both, or dress it up with Parmesan cheese, truffle oil or chilli flakes. Personally I like to pour homemade caramel over it to make sweet popcorn.

Another options is to get loose nuts and dried fruit from zero waste stalls or stores or Nutty Delights in Georges St Arcade, D2. My friend makes the most delicious salted almonds for parties. I’ve been enthusiastically informed that homemade kale crisps are divine so maybe these are worth a go too!

Avoiding Food Packaging

It’s easy enough to buy unpackaged fruit, veg and bread if you’re willing to spend the time seeking it out, but meat can take a bit trickier. That said I find local butchers are generally fine with me using my own container, pre-Covid, and anecdotally I’ve heard of a few taking them again now.

Even if you can’t buy in your own containers we find that buying from a butchers counter results in far less plastic than buying pre-packaged items from a supermarket shelf.

Protect Food without Cling Film

If you’re laying out food self-service style it’s a good idea to protect it from little critters. A few years ago I invested in some reusable food cover umbrellas and they work brilliantly. If you don’t have such a thing there’s no need to reach for the cling film, just pop a plate over the bowl of salad or an upturned bowl or tea towel over the plate of bread rolls and you’re good to go.

Avoiding Food & Packaging Waste

Personally I’m not a huge fan of bbqs because it’s often just a huge meat-feast with little in the way of fruit and veg. Considering that the production of meat, particularly red meat, is a huge contributor to climate change don’t forget to balance out the meat on the meat on the menu with fruit and veg and some vegetarian / vegan meat alternatives Or if you fancy making your own vegan burgers Jamie Oliver has a great recipe that is relatively quick and doesn’t require any expensive, hard-to-get ingredients.

We’ve given up burger buns in our house. Instead we buy individual round rolls in Lidl or Tesco in our own bag. Not only do these have a more natural taste and texture they’re more filling than the air-like burger buns we’re used to.

It’s so easy to over-buy or over-provide at parties so to avoid this buy reserve food that you know can be frozen if it’s not needed. Also to avoid having too much perishable food left over get some compostable disposable containers so you can give guests doggy bags of leftover food. I like the paper lunch bags from Irish company Walsh Packaging, which you can get in most supermarkets in Ireland and the companies mentioned above that offer compostable tableware typically do compostable cardboard takeaway containers.

Provide separate bins

At parties I frequently see everything put into the same bin meaning everything ends up in landfill. To avoid this, provide as many bins as you have waste streams and label them accordingly. For example in our house we have compostable waste (food, napkins, compostable tableware), dry recyclables (paper and some plastic) and glass, and then the landfill bin for everything else. I’m a waste nerd and so relish the opportunity to educate (annoy) guests about waste, explaining what goes into which bin and why.

Row of Belvoir Cordials

Plastic-free Drinks

Waste-less Alcohol-Free Drinks

The only way to reduce the waste from fizzy drinks is to use a soda syphon or soda maker for the event, which use recyclable and, in the case of soda makers, refillable canisters. You can use these to just make soda water or flavour them to taste like 7Up, cola, etc

We have a soda maker, which I swear by, although CO2 refills are becoming increasingly expensive. From my research it seems that soda syphon don’t generate the same level of fizz as soda maker so bear this in mind when choosing.

Another way to avoid packaging is to make your own cordials. Here are links to recipes for orange cordialfruit-infused water or lime & mint cordial, or fruity lemonades.

Alternatively there are a few high-end cordial brands on the market now and readily available in most Supervalu stores, such as Longford based Richmount Cordials and Wexford based Naturally Cordial or the UK brand Belvoir offer a few organic options.

Options for Sustainable Alcoholic Drinks

For ideas on reducing the impact of your boozy tipples check out my article for Sustainable Alcohol Brands

Enjoy your sustainable summer soiree.


Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

5 thoughts on “Sustainable Ethical Barbeques 2023

  1. Great ideas. We like the gas BBQ for keeping heat out of the house (curse of a kitchen that faces SW in the summer) and thus as you might expect as you know us, BBQ a lot of vegetables and fruit. We also BBQ pizza which comes out MUCH better than the cooker (and is much faster). BBQ the crust on one side for a few minutes, flip it, top it, put it back on (we’ve timed it. 12-15 minutes) total. We also BBQ courgette, aubergine, peppers, broccoli, Little Gem lettuces (the best! Slice in half through the middle, sear on one side, toss with a salad dressing), asparagus (when we can get it – what’s with the complete lack of spring asparagus this year?!), sustainably caught fish, halloumi. Dessert BBQ: pineapple, firm pears. We need to have you over for a vegetarian BBQ this summer!


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