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How to host a zero waste BBQ

After a pretty wet and cold spring, it’s finally BBQ season here in Ontario! It’s also Canada’s birthday this weekend – no better time to host a BBQ than that. But when it comes to throwing a backyard BBQ we tend to want easy clean up which doesn’t always mean low on waste. Hosting a zero-waste BBQ may also make cleaning up take a little longer, but you won’t have a single bag of trash!  You just need to decide that it’s important enough to put in the effort – and the fact that you are here indicates to me that you already know how important reducing our waste is. So let’s get into it!



Let’s start with the actual grill. Natural gas, propane and electric grills burn more efficiently and cleaner than charcoal or wood fire grills. If you do have a charcoal BBQ use the natural coal lumps instead of the briquettes. The Briquettes release more VOCs and carbon monoxide into the air when they are burning.


The Goods

Next, let’s chat about your grocery shopping trip. This is where I’m going to shake things up – make veggies the KING of the BBQ. There are so many delicious recipes you can make with vegetables on the BBQ. If you can’t stay away from the meat think about eliminating red meat from the event. Beef production required 28 times more land than chicken or pork do and leads to 5 times more climate-warming emissions. Also take meat orders so you don’t cook more than you need which will help eliminate food waste.

BBQ veggies

Next let’s get rid of the pre-packaged food waste. Now that it’s summer, you can easily buy what’s in season at the farmer’s market. This food will taste better and you’ll be supporting local farmers in the process. Make your own hummus and guacamole instead of getting those small plastic containers. Shop at the butcher if you are getting meat or fish to eliminate Styrofoam. Shopping at more sustainable, local markets will help you get to your goal of a zero waste bbq.



Don’t use plastic cups or have a cooler filled with plastic water bottles. Instead use large glass jugs or large drink dispensers and reusable cups (you could even use mason jars as glasses if you don’t have enough cups). If you used lemon, lime or orange in your cooking, use the peels to infuse your water. It elevates your plain tap water to a whole other level.

zero waste bbq ideas

My favourite alcoholic party drink to serve is Sangria – you can make a big batch and let it sit and infuse. The recipe for my favourite one is below.

– 3 cups of red wine
– 1/8 cup of Grand Marnier
– 1/8 cup of Brandy
– 1/4 cup of sugar (start with less and adjust sweetness)
– 2 cups of soda water
– 2 oranges & 1 lemon (sliced)
Mix all ingredients except soda water and let sit for a minimum of 2 hours. Add the soda water and ice just before serving.



Keep it simple – it’s an outdoor BBQ! If you don’t already have a lot of flowers in your garden, pick up some local ones at the farmer’s market. To get the most bang for your buck pick up little wildflowers and place them in small mason jars down your table.

zero waste bbq ideas

I picked up a couple sets of these outdoor Edison bulb string lights at Costco and they are perfect for an outdoor BBQ. We put ours up in the spring and leave them up until it’s too cold to sit outside. They are super durable and last year after year.

And if it’s Canada Day weekend – don’t forget your Canada flag!

If you are looking for additional eco-friendly decor ideas check out my eco-friendly decor blog post. You will find ideas on how to upcycle items you already have, use rentals to your advantage and more.


While cooking up a storm:

Stay away from the disposables! You can get great stainless steel skewers that can be reused and don’t have a risk of breaking on the grill. Don’t use aluminum foil! Believe it or not, aluminum foil is worse than plastic wrap – including fossil fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, human health impacts and aquatic toxicity. Instead get one of these BBQ trays or this BBQ mat depending on what you are cooking.

Try to use the leftovers in your cooking – try making a rainbow slaw by shredding the leftover broccoli stems, deformed carrots and red cabbage. Keep the potato skins on your potatoes when cooking and toast the ends of bread to create crunchy croutons for your salad. Using what you typically qualify as “cooking waste” is a great way create a more zero waste bbq.

broccoli stems - zero waste bbq ideas


The Service

This one is easy – use your regular dishes or a special set of non-breakable outdoor plates and cups. You can find these everywhere right now at super affordable prices and can add to your decor. I have seen some great tropical ones with flamingos, more elegant ones that look like coloured glass and fun geometric patterns so get creative. I have also invested in great linen napkins that can be thrown in the washing machine after the party.

reusable plates - zero wate bbq ideas

The clean-up

Ok! So let’s make this one as easy as possible. It all starts with the preparation. Start by having a clearly labeled compost bin for food scraps and recycling bin. Have them in a location easily accessible to guests. If guests see it – they will use it. Keep a number of old pasta jars or mason jars on hand for the leftovers.


Put a large bin (clean recycling bin or beverage bin) and put a bit of soapy water in the bottom. Ask guests to put their used plates and utensils there giving them a soak so the food doesn’t get stuck on. Rinse them outside with your hose and then the dishes are ready to go into the dishwasher. No dishwasher? Commandeer a few guests to stay behind and help – offer them some of the free leftovers in your jars for the help. Most people will be more than happy to stay and help.


So there you have it – hosting a zero waste BBQ doesn’t have to be hard. Enjoy this BBQ season while it lasts and always keep our planet in mind when entertaining.

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