This Memorial Day, will you fire up your grill? If hosting a barbecue is in your plans this season, you are among the 75 percent of American homes that own at least one grill and one of the 60 million Americans who will use a grill during the summer holidays. However, you are also contributing to the 225,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide released during these celebrations. No need to ban the ‘cue from your party, though. Grilling can be fun, healthy and sustainable throughout the summer with some simple considerations.

Propane, natural gas or charcoal

Propane, natural gas and charcoal all have their benefits and disadvantages.

In terms of derivation, propane and natural gas are non-renewable resources whereas charcoal is a renewable resource. Propane and natural gas are fossil fuels derived from an accumulation of remains of organic matter. On the other hand, charcoal is a bio-fuel produced by burning a carbon based material such as wood.

The manufacturing processes used to extract these materials from their natural states are all energy intensive, and they also have many environmental impacts.

Propane and natural gas are extracted by methods which can create pollution and disrupt natural habitats.  The production of charcoal, though, emits a myriad of carcinogenic industrial chemicals including methanol and acetone. Whereas charcoal briquettes are recycled from waste wood and sawdust, many commercial varieties also contain substances such as nitrate accelerants, binding agents and ash whitening agents that can leach onto foods. Natural lump charcoal is manufactured from new wood and can contribute to deforestation if the sources are improperly managed, but it usually contains fewer additives.

Emissions are another consideration for these fuels. Propane and natural gas burn cleaner than charcoal. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, charcoal briquettes are the most common form of charcoal used on home grills, but they release 105 times more carbon monoxide than propane. An Environmental Impact Assessment Review conducted in Britain discovered that a charcoal grill emits 2,200 pounds of carbon dioxide in its life whereas a natural gas grill emits 769 pounds of carbon dioxide in its life. Self-lighting charcoal and the lighter fluids used to ignite charcoal fires also release volatile, organic compounds into the air when they are burned. Each year, Americans burn 46,000 tons of lighter fluid that send over 14,000 tons of VOCs into the atmosphere.

Furthermore, waste can be a concern when selecting propane, natural gas or charcoal. Propane and natural gas generate no waste because their receptacles can be reused or recycled. Charcoal creates waste that must be properly handled to prevent residual fire.

Ultimately, propane and natural gas are more environmentally sound than charcoal.

If you prefer to use charcoal however, the most sustainable option is natural, lump charcoal that is made from certified, sustainably harvested wood and contains no chemical additives. Charcoal chimneys, electric charcoal starters and natural combustion agents such as fat wood are environmentally preferred alternatives to lighter fluid.

Other green grilling ideas for your barbecue

Send invitations to your barbecue electronically to reduce paper waste.
  Encourage your guests to carpool, use mass transit, cycle or walk to your barbecue.
  Use locally harvested foods for your barbecue.
  Use reusable dishes instead of disposable options. If you must use disposable items, choose compostable or recyclable products. Avoid Styrofoam.
  Avoid single serving products to reduce waste created by excess packaging. 
  Buy products in recyclable or reusable containers. 
  Use your grill only in well-ventilated areas. If they are not used properly, grills can emit high levels of carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas.
  Extinguish your grill completely to prevent residual fires that can damage property and the natural environment. 
  Clean your grill with natural, biobased cleansers to prevent the transfer of chemicals from the grill to your food.
  Always place litter in an appropriate container.
  Recycle as much as possible.
  Send food home with your guests.

For further reading, visit http://www.treehugger.com/htgg/how-to-go-green-barbecues.html.

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