Steps for a waste free BBQ

by Heather Kallevig

If you’ve taken a walk through your neighborhood lately, you’ve probably noticed spring has sprung. Flowers are on the trees, the grass is green, birds are in full song, and there’s a new scent on the air – the smell of grills and BBQ. That’s right, with the passing of the seasons comes a time-honored event, the year’s first outdoor get togethers.   As you’re planning your upcoming events, think about the ways you can make an impression, by lessening your footprint and increasing the fun.

The common go-to for outdoor events is disposable consumer products including paper plates, napkins, plastic cups and cutlery. While these may save you time the day of the event, think about the years it requires for these convenience products to decompose. For this year’s BBQs, consider a little earlier preparation, so you can throw away these bad habits and throw a WASTE FREE BBQ.

Step 1: Buy reusable plastic goods

A new plastic set, especially for a larger party can be expensive at the store. No worries, there’s a secret to overcoming this quandary. Your local goodwill is likely filled with many different plastic sets of cups, plates, pitchers, and serving platters. I was able to buy 12 plates for $.99 and they’re still in good shape.

If you can’t find a matching set in the numbers you need, consider picking and choose different and fun, unmatching sets. Your guests will enjoy picking their own goods, and they’ll have no problem remembering whose is whose.

As for cutlery, goodwill usually has trays and trays of utensil sets, but if you can’t find what you’re looking for don’t worry! We use our own silverware and spend the 10 minutes washing them at the end of the evening rather than throwing away mounds of plastic utensils.

To keep these goods from taking up space in your kitchen, consider storing a BBQ tote with your reusable goods. If this is not an option, return the items to good will – at $10 a set, you’re spending little more than you would have on disposable plasticware.

Step 2: Reusable Linens


Paper napkins are also very wasteful, so replace these items with sturdy, reusable cloth napkins. They work better than cheap paper napkins, and there are several options. Choose which works best for you!

Go to your local fabric store – “Fat Quarters” are large square pieces of material for $.99 a square. You can pick 12 different colors so each person has their own napkin and remembers whose is whose.

Handkerchiefs also make great napkins. You can find these cheaply online, or you can look at your local Walmart, goodwill, etc.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for in a store, 12 packs of napkins can be as cheap as $10-$15 for a set. You can order these on Amazon and have them delivered to your home w/in a few days.


Tablecloths are also something to consider for your BBQ. There are a few good options for these too.

The best choice for reusable tablecloths are bed sheets. Believe it or not, these can be pretty, light, and recycled! For a large picnic table, fitted bed sheets are fantastic. My mom has been using them for years. They band around the table edges, stay in place, don’t blow away, and are a sustainable option for sheets you may no longer use as bedding.

If you do not have any sheets to use, find a set on clearance at the store. It’s ok if they’re a bit scratchy because you’re not sleeping in them.  Also, if the décor is a bit unusual – it will only add to your fun picnic set.

When the BBQ is done, throw your napkins and sheets in the washer and fold them up for future outdoor get togethers. You’ll never have to buy paper napkins or vinyl tablecloths again.

Step 3: Décor

For your BBQ décor, it can be fun to have unique outdoor décor. However, once the BBQ is over, there’s often no use for these items and they end up in storage or the trash. Save your money and choose reusable, outdoor friendly décor. Goodwill is packed with extremely cheap glass vases and canning jars – fill these with wildflowers, fallen tree branches, or rocks and sand. You can return the old vases to goodwill when you’re done and save your storage space. Your choice of décor will accentuate the outdoor beauty and save you money and energy for enjoying your time outdoors rather than messing with decorations.

Step 4: Enjoy – Eat, Drink, and be Merry

Once you’ve developed your waste free BBQ consider other ways you can make a difference – fill your grill with fresh, local vegetables, sustainably produced grass-fed beef, and make sure it’s only as much as you can eat. Make your waste-free BBQ, food waste free too.

Happy Spring!!