4 Steps to a Climate-Friendly Summer Cookout
There's nothing like firing up the grill, playing some lawn games and enjoying the long days of summer with some of your best friends or closest family. But, let's face it; burning charcoal, sipping out of Solo cups and noshing on disposable plates isn't the most eco-friendly way to enjoy summer. In fact, here's a mind blowing set of stats from the Department of Energy, July 4th cookouts release 225,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, burn the equivalent of 2,300 acres of forest, and use enough charcoal, lighter fuel and gas to power 20,000 households for one year.
If you want a smaller carbon footprint after your alfresco eating, just follow a few of these simple tips.
1. Green Your Gear
Ditch the charcoal grill to reduce your carbon footprint. Propane, natural gas and electric grills all burn cleaner than charcoal. Remember, propane and natural gas are not renewable energy sources. So, if you really want to up your eco-grilling game, opt for a solar powered grill. The technology has advanced so far that your grill is ready five times faster than charcoal.
If solar isn't happening for you this summer, Greener Ideal suggests a dome grill as an elegant and durable option. It traps and recirculates heat so effectively it will drastically reduce how much fuel is needed to cook your food.
If your motto is charcoal or nothing, shoot for a sustainably sourced natural briquette without chemicals that are made from local plants instead of wood from tropical forests. And, use a starter chimney to eliminate the need for chemical-heavy lighter fluid.
2. Ditch the Disposables
Make sure you've got the right reusable grilling tools like this eco-friendly kit that Greener Ideal suggests. It's got all your essentials — including a multipurpose flipper, basting brush, knife and hot mitt. Plus, a nifty carrying case means you're less likely to lose any parts.
Before setting up those Hefty bags to hold all those plastic plates and forks headed to a landfill, consider reusable plates, cups and cutlery. If you're thinking of using paper plates, don't. It's a waste of water. A single paper plate takes eight gallons of water to make. That's a lot of water when you consider how many plates you'll run through. By contrast, a dishwasher uses six to 10 gallons of water to clean a full load, research shows.
Yet, if disposable is necessary, go for a green alternative to paper and plastic. Plates made from bamboo, palm or plant fibers are fully compostable. It's easy to go green with drinking straws. Try reusable metal and bamboo straws, or disposable straws made from hay or seaweed. And reusable kebab sticks are an elegant way to serve up all those local, grilled veggies.
3. Think Local
The bulk of any barbecue's greenhouse gas emissions is in food choices. The Sierra Club suggests shrinking your BBQs carbon footprint by buying local fruits, veggies and meat. Your local farmers market may even have a homemade potato chip stand. Buying locally grown foods cuts down on the energy required to store, transport and package food across long distances.
Buying at your farmers market will support your local economy and help build a relationship with the person who grew your food. Plus, as GoodShop points out, during summer, local fruits and veggies are usually at their peak, so your BBQ will have that much more flavor.
Have fun serving up a sample of local wines and craft beers.
4. More Veggies. Sustainably Sourced Meat
A veggie burger.
While burgers and dogs usually take center-stage at a summer barbecue, an eco-friendly picnic should restructure that paradigm. Every pound of beef you eliminate from your barbecue makes a big difference in your carbon footprint. British chefs told the Guardian to reduce beef, pork and chicken and going for sustainable seafood like Arctic char, tilapia and squid. And, if red meat is necessary, go for lamb, which is almost always raised on grass pastures.
And, there are no shortages of meat replacements these days. Treehugger suggests using portobello mushrooms or chickpea burgers. The Sierra Club has a recipe for a sweet potato black bean burger. And Beyond Meat burgers are available at most major grocery stores.
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Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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