• How Much Pollution Comes from Barbecues?

Air Clean Up

How Much Pollution Comes from Barbecues?

Aug 25 2018

With the 2018 British summer exceeding all expectations so far, homeowners up and down the country have been all too keen to make the most of the warm weather by wheeling out the barbecue and eating al-fresco. Grateful for the opportunity to soak up some sun and enjoy a steak or burger, few of us give any thought to the effect of our activities on the environment.

Unfortunately, the fuel sources favoured by most backyard barbecues have damaging effects on our environment. Not only do the emissions produced when burning coal, wood or gas negatively impact the planet, but there are also troubling issues surrounding their extraction at the source. Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to forego the pleasures of a British barbecue altogether, but it pays to be mindful when lighting up this summer.

Dirty fuels

Perhaps the greatest environmental concern surrounding barbecue use are the emissions produced by burning their fuel. The majority of domestic barbecues use coal, which is the most damaging of fossil fuels and which can have serious implications for not only the planet, but human health as well. “Burning coal may have its attractions, but it unfortunately releases clouds of harmful particulate matter into the air,” explained Jenny Bates, a campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “This is an especially harmful pollutant that worsens heart and lung disease and causes lung cancer.”

With the UK on the brink of a transition towards biomethane and shale, gas barbecues are becoming more and more popular. While these are less damaging than their coal counterparts, they are still not an ideal solution to the problem and involve the emission of a significant amount of carbon on their own. As such, the best choice is an electric grill powered by renewable energy. The intermittency of renewable power sources means that these still need to be connected to the mains to account for a shortfall in solar power should the clouds obscure the sun, but they’re a definite upgrade on fossil fuel alternatives.

Problems at the source

The environmental problems with using barbecues have led to their being banned altogether in Beijing, but these issues don’t begin here. The processes used to find and extract fossil fuels can be just as detrimental to the health of the planet as well. In 2017, the UK imported a whopping 90,000 tonnes of coal. Some of this comes from tropical parts of the world where forests are being cleared to make way for mining operations, which causes significant problems for the planet and exacerbates manmade climate change.

The biggest exporter to the EU is Namibia, which has faced a raft of accusations surrounding its environmental and human rights policies. Other big exporting countries like Nigeria and Paraguay are dogged by similar controversies. Concerned consumers are encouraged to buy only charcoal produced in the UK, or, if that’s not possible, to make sure that the product carries Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. This small step can do wonders to discourage the production and sale of unethical and un-environmental coal and charcoal, making barbecues that little bit more palatable to Mother Nature.


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