As summer winds down, many Americans are relishing the last backyard barbecues of the season. Distant splashes and adolescent laughter can be heard from nearby pools, while tantalizing aromas from firing grills fill the air. We’re soaking up that last bit of summer as the sun calls us outside to socialize, play, and revel in the splendid weather.
But, before you slip into your flip-flops, slather on toxic sunscreen and douse your taste buds in toxic chemicals, you’ll want to be equipped with a few eco-friendly barbecue must-haves to ensure safe and healthy get-togethers.
1. Grill Mats and Greener Cleaners
I must admit, I’m in a bit of shock at the current greenwashing tactics being used to sell the so-called nontoxic grill mats marketed ubiquitously these days. When I first discovered these miracle mats, I was all ears. But, upon further investigation, I discovered these brands are unanimously touting themselves as PFOA-free (that stands for perfluorooctanoic acid). Instead, they’re coated with a synthetic polymer, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), best known by the brand name, Teflon. According to the scientists at the Environmental Working Group (EWG):
Toxic fumes released from [nonstick] pots and pans at high temperatures may kill pet birds and cause people to develop flu-like symptoms (called “Teflon Flu” or, as scientists describe it, “Polymer fume fever”).
So, no. I would not call these PTFE-coated grill mats nontoxic since, at low temperatures, PTFE off-gases particulate matter, which is composed of small molecules of PTFE, according to the EWG. In addition, some brands even advertise that they’re BPA-free (bisphenol-A). Sounds healthy, right? Except that it’s an irrelevant statement. Bisphenol-A is a chemical used to harden polycarbonate plastics, so it would never be required in a soft, flexible grill mat. The verdict? Grill greenwashing: guilty as charged.
So, what’s a healthy-grill-seeking guy or gal to do? Instead, opt instead for good old-fashioned grilling with aluminum foil or safe stainless-steel grill baskets.
But the toxic buck doesn’t stop there. Most name-brand grill cleaners (including one uber-popular green brand) are loaded with harmful substances. See the complete dirty list with their accompanying toxicity ratings at the EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning.
Solution? Let robots do the work. If you haven’t heard of the Grillbot, run, don’t walk, to snag one of these cool gadgets. They’ll do all the greasy work for you with the push of a button, powered by a rechargeable battery.
But if that’s too high-tech for you, clean the grill before and after with half of a white onion. You’ll need a long grilling fork so you don’t burn your hands. While keeping the grill hot, use the grilling fork to rub the onion along the grills, removing dirt and food debris. For a deeper cleaning, you can make a mixture of baking soda with a few drops of natural dish soap for a more thorough cleaning: Brush and rinse.
2. Toxic-Free Mosquito Control
Pesky. There’s really no other word to describe annoying mosquitoes. But don’t resort to toxic sprays. Instead, try geraniol, a naturally derived ingredient extracted from geranium oil contained in BugBand. This DEET-free repellant has been shown in studies to repel mosquitoes, house flies, stable flies, horn flies, fire ants, fleas, gnats, dog ticks, lone star ticks and no-see-ums. It’s made with all-natural ingredients and is available in wristbands, towelettes, and a spray lotion that’s safe for pets and people. BugBand will also repel ticks when applied to the skin.
The wristband works up to 120 hours and can be stored in the reusable plastic “pod” sealed to preserve the active ingredients when not in use. You can even attach a band to your dog’s collar. It’s available in a glow-in-the-dark option, which is great for nighttime barbecues or to find your wandering kiddos in the evening.
Alternately, skip the packaging and make your own natural insect repellent using essential oils and herbs.
3. Compostable Napkins
Just because you’re dining under the sun doesn’t mean you have to pass on the class at your next BBQ. You can keep it luxurious and green by using eco-friendly, disposable napkins that are also compostable! The Bamboo Blend Collection from The Napkins will turn your drab to fab by creating an elegant, entertaining tablescape. These eco-chic fiber napkins offer the luxurious appeal of cloth napkins, without water waste and washing headaches. They come in beautiful colors and designs made from bamboo fibers that are 100 percent biodegradable.
4. Reusable Glassware
Chin up! There’s no need to cry over spilled wine — at least not with the gorgeously colorful and reusable cups from Bendiware. Whether you’re clumsy or crafting conscious cocktails and sipping rosé outdoors, these silicone-made wine glasses are flexible, BPA-free (which makes sense in this case!), dishwasher safe, and freezable. Create a colorful bash with pops of summer colors — including pink, purple, orange, blue, and white — and enjoy an unbreakable backyard BBQ.
Have a toxin-free barbecue to remember!
Do you have a favorite tip for an eco-friendly barbecue?
Editor’s note: Originally posted on May 23, 2017, this article was updated in August 2018.