Sustainability at NRRI: Eco-friendly BBQ


Introducing a new monthly series by NRRI’s Tiffany SpragueSustainability Program Coordinator. She has long entertained NRRI staff with her witty and useful tips to live out our mission of sustainable and resilient communities. Now, we’ll share them with you in Sustainability at NRRI: Tiff's Tips for Eco-Living.

NRRI’s Sustainability Program Coordinator Tiffany Sprague

Tiff’s Tips for Eco-Living: 10 Tips for Summer Grilling.

Chill and grill with panache!

With the warmer weather, many of us are likely considering hosting a BBQ. So, for our first ever Tiff’s Tips, let's discuss options to keep the grillin' and chillin' and minimize the waste and land fillin'.

First, consider the bins.

Make available a tiny trash can, a medium recycling bin (do not bag your recycling, it can contaminate the recycling stream) and a medium-large compost bin (lined with a compostable bag). If you do not compost at home, check with your community or sanitary district to see if commercial-scale composting is locally available.

Second, double-check the compost bag truly is compostable.

Sometimes, bags may be labeled as eco, green, made from recycled materials or contain post-consumer materials. This does not necessarily mean the bag is compostable. Read the box thoroughly!

Third, DO NOT use compostable bags for trash and recycling...or in your home compost.

Jeez, so many rules about these compostable bags. I know. I know. Compost bags need that lovely, hot, sauna-like condition provided by a commercial compost system. Otherwise, they'll contaminate a recycling stream and just be another piece of ruddy garbage in the landfill. 

Fourth, consider keeping it REAL.

At a minimum, use REAL silverware, since we tend to buy plastic, one-time-use, throw-away silverware. Then, use paper or compostable plates and bowls. Consider your dish options as well for serving dishes and utensils. Do you really need aluminum trays and big plastic spoons? Sometimes you just can't with life, and you do. But sometimes, you might want to snazz it up with a set of real serveware.

Fifth, love thy compostable dishes. 

If using real dishes seems like a pain, then consider compostable dishes and silverware. Again, be careful to read the labels, as many times they may be labeled as eco, green or made with post-consumer recycled material. This does not mean compostable! Also, your old school basic paper plate is commercially compostable, so it can be a great option. 

Sixth, I'm really stressed - how do I know if what I bought is compostable?

You can check for certified products at the Biodegradable Products Institute website. For example, here is the list of compostable products by Eco-Products (what we use at NRRI - oh, work-sponsored lunch meetings, how I miss you...but more than wearing sweatpants everyday? Hmm, no. No. Sorry, not sorry, office, but you don’t compare to my Ultrasoft Sweats Slim-Leg Jogger in Charcoal Heather). 

Seventh, the red solo cup... so 2008. Ball (the canning jar company) just came out with aluminum cups!! Sturdier than your typical solo cup, can be reused, washed, and RECYCLED - and does not alter any cup related games or activities you may partake in at your BBQ...

Eighth, bottled water vs. water jug.

You want folks to stay hydrated, but is bottled water really the best option? Think about all that single-use plastic! What about your lovely giant sports jug?! You all know the one. Our trusty friend the orange Igloo water jug. Fill it up, place your aluminum cups next to it, and you are ready to party hardy while keeping thirst at bay.

Ninth, buy local food when possible.

Of course it isn't a BBQ without a suite of delicious foods. Consider the food miles of what you buy, and plan your menu around what is available seasonally. You don't have to shop at the hippie-dippie stores to get local produce. Many large grocery retailers -- like Cub and SuperOne in the midwest -- carry local fruits, veggies, meats and cheeses. Also check out the CSA options (Community Supported Agriculture) in your region. Skip the stress of grocery shopping and pay a farmer directly to get local produce!

Tenth, panic! Someone vegan is coming. What do I do? 

Boca burgers are elementary school “hamburger” lunch Thursdays (nothing compared to chicken nug day anyways...and the tiny ice cream with the wooden spoon...did I mention I now live in sweatpants -- you can see why). There are a lot of new alternative meats on the market. Feeling creative? (No, remember how I said panic!) Carrots can make a great hotdog and giant portobello mushrooms can sub for a hamburger. Labeling food can be a great option as well. Place a stack of index cards and a sharpie on the meal table, and ask guests to label their food. Typical things to note may include: gluten, dairy, eggs, nuts, and shellfish. This way folks don't have to wonder what they are eating and can feel included in the eating festivities!

Until next month, happy grilling!