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Are Barbecues Bad for the Environment?

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 23 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Carbon Neutral Ecofriendly Barbeque Bbq

The British summer can be highly variable but we all look forward to at least some hot and sunny weekends to relax outdoors, whether in the garden, the beach or at a local beauty spot. Fifty years ago, barbeques were unheard of but this method of Australian outdoor socialising has really taken off during the last couple of decades and many people with a garden or patio, now have some type of BBQ.

The idea of eating and drinking outside, with the BBQ sending out the aroma of grilling meat is very appealing and it is one form of cooking that most men find irresistible. But, no matter who actually cooks the food the great thing about a barbeque is that everyone can stay outside and enjoy the weather; no-one has to be inside, slaving over the indoor hot stove.

Are BBQs Healthy?

This question is probably one that occurs to few people but it is something that we need to take seriously. A single BBQ is not going to produce enough carbon emissions and other pollutants to make a difference globally, but on a hot summer Sunday, the number of BBQs in action can add up. Local environmental effects are the most concerning and do have some health implications. Soot and smoke particles produced by an empty BBQ can aggravate asthma and affect people with underlying respiratory diseases. The elderly are particularly at risk if they have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis or other chest problems.

The chemicals produced by charring meat on a BBQ are also considered quite unhealthy. Grilling meat on a BBQ is one of the least beneficial ways to cook. Not only do people tend to eat large amounts of red meat and processed meat - such as sausages - at a BBQ, the charring actually produces a higher level of carcinogenic chemicals. When eaten, these can have an impact on the colon, and people who eat a lot of charred meat substantially increased their risk of developing bowel cancer later in life.

Are BBQs Ecofriendly?

There are wider issues to consider when deciding which BBQ to invest in and use. The traditional charcoal BBQs are considered to have the highest carbon footprint, and are very damaging to the global environment if they use charcoal made from non-sustainable hard wood sources in the developing world. Evidence shows that around 97% of the charcoal bought for UK BBQs is of this type. It comes from hardwood that grows naturally in tropical regions. Once this is cut down, it is effectively gone forever, as it takes decades to regrow. The wood represents a large sink of stored carbon that is released very quickly when it is used to make charcoal.

In 2010, Britain brought in over four fifths of the charcoal sold for barbeques from developing countries and about half of that came from sub-Saharan Africa. The rest came from South America and southern Africa - from Brazil and Argentina and Nigeria and Namibia.

There are alternatives that are more esuriently; using charcoal from sustainably managed forests in the UK goes a long way to making your BBQ more esuriently. This is produced from trees grown using the technique of coppicing, in woods that are managed with the environment in mind. The coppiced trees grow quickly, can be cut down and used to make charcoal using traditional methods, and then replanted so that they grow again.

British BBQ Habits Need to Change

A recent survey discovered that most bags of charcoal that can be bought easily come from hardwood sources. If you want a charcoal BBQ, the least you can do is inspect the bags of charcoal that you buy and check where the country of origin is - if its not the UK, don’t buy it. If the market for this type of charcoal dries up, its importation will become too costly, and the practice might die out.

Scientific research also shows that if you want the most esuriently BBQ you can have, use a gas BBQ in preference to a charcoal burning model. LPG cannisters are readily available and produce far less carbon emissions than charcoal. The cooking results are also better as the heat is more controllable - more properly cooked food with less charring and less chance of food poisoning is another significant benefit of using LPG. To put this in perspective, tests have shown that an LPG barbeque has a carbon footprint that is only a third of that of a charcoal BBQ.

It is not possible to have a carbon neutral BBQ, and if you really want to avoid the health implications associated with them, perhaps the only answer is to have an outdoor picnic instead - and avoid the grilled food altogether.

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