It’s July 4. It’s a Friday. It’s a Holiday. The last thing anyone wants is to be pestered about their carbon footprint and their contribution to global warming.
The fact is, though, that Fourth of July barbecues across the country cause a considerable amount of carbon to be pumped into the air. It’s by no means a huge amount compared to how much carbon the United States emits collectively in one year — in fact, it’s relatively insignificant in comparison. But if you’re a conscientious person who cares about the environment, you deserve to know the impacts: It’s the number one most popular holiday for outdoor cooking, and more than two-thirds of Americans turn on their grills. The emissions from all those grills add up — at least 225,000 metric tons of carbon is released into the atmosphere on the Fourth alone, the annual emissions equivalent of 47,368 cars.
Don’t worry about ditching the grill. But there are a few things you could do to reduce your emissions on that day — and the best part is, they’re all pretty simple. No pestering necessary.
1. Use a propane grill instead of charcoal
It’s no secret that propane grilling has a much lower carbon footprint than grilling with charcoal. According to a 2009 study published in Elsevier’s Environmental Impact Assessment Review, charcoal grilling produces three times more greenhouse gases than propane grilling on average, with each charcoal cookout having twice the carbon footprint of a propane cookout. Using propane also reduces how many times you have to drive to the store to buy fuel for your grill, cutting emissions from your car.
The Department of Energy has estimated that, if all the charcoal grills in America were replaced with propane grills, carbon dioxide emissions on the Fourth of July could be reduced by about 26 percent, or about 59,000 metric tons. That’s the equivalent of taking 12,421 cars off the road for an entire year.
2. If you do use charcoal, don’t use lighter fluid
If you really can’t do without the flavor of using charcoal for grilling, or if you don’t have a propane grill, never fear. There is a more climate-friendly way to use charcoal — not using lighter fluid.
Lighter fluid, according to a study by the Environmental Protection Agency, is comprised entirely of volatile organic compounds (VOC) — dangerous air pollutants which form ozone gas. The EPA estimates that Americans release more than 14,000 tons of VOCs into the atmosphere every year from burning lighter fluid. When combusted, the VOCs in lighter fluid also form carbon dioxide and water vapor, both of which are emitted into the atmosphere.
3. Put a lot of food on the grill at once
The more time you have food cooking on the grill, the more time your propane or charcoal is burning. The more time your propane or charcoal is burning, the more carbon is emitted into the air. What to do?
One solution could be to cook less food, thereby reducing time on the grill. But what sounds just a little bit better is just making sure every bit of space on the grill is being used for cooking — really pushing those hot dogs against those kabobs. Efficiency is the name of the game.
4. Eat a little more veggies, and a little less beef
Not to say that burgers and all-beef hot dogs should be thrown out of the equation here, but out of all meats, beef has the second-highest carbon emissions, generating nearly of 60 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilo consumed, according to a study by the Environmental Working Group. That’s more than twice the emissions of pork, approximately four times the emissions of chicken, and more than 13 times those of beans, lentils and tofu.
So instead of buying enough beef burgers for all 20 of the guests at your Fourth of July cookout, consider replacing some with alternatives — turkey burgers, chicken breasts, or pork sausages — all which contribute less greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. And maybe make some veggie and tofu kabobs, too, while you’re at it.
5. Buy local food where possible
This is a good rule to follow in general, but it also applies to the Fourth of July, a day when you’re probably using a good deal of tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and meats. Because locally-grown and raised foods take less time to get to your table, that means less fuel has been used to transport them, meaning less greenhouse gases have been emitted.
There has been some debate about the importance of this. After all, only 11 percent of carbon emissions caused by food production comes from transportation. The majority of food’s emissions — 86 percent — comes from actual production of the food, meaning it’s important to look at the farm’s whole operation to really understand its energy consumption.
But for the purposes of a carefree Fourth of July, buying locally really never hurts.