Having a more sustainable cookout is easy with these 12 tips. The motto to take your cookout from ocean-polluting to eco-friendly: just do it.

If you need motivation, just remember that having a sustainable cookout saves you money and you’re not throwing disposable stuff “away.” You’re throwing it into the ground.

The Supplies 

1. Forgo the plastic disposable tablecloth for paper or a real tablecloth/ What would your grandma do if she were hosting this party? She wouldn’t go buy a dollar store disposable table cloth. She’d pull out a real one and wash it afterwards, then use it again and again.

Bed sheets are an easy alternative if you don’t have table cloths on hand, and guests can’t tell the difference. This also fits well into the Buyerarchy of Needs (further down). 

2. Use real cutlery instead of disposable / Hand washing utensils doesn’t take that long, and if you have a dish washer than the work is done for you.

If you don’t have enough cutlery for your number of guests, you can always pick some up at a thrift store (usually just cents per piece), or ask to borrow from someone.

You don’t need to feel weird making this request of your friends. What do people always ask when you invite them to a cookout? “What can I bring!” Here’s what I say:

Hey, random question! Could you bring some cutlery to the cookout on Saturday? I don’t have enough for everyone, and I’m not buying disposable because it’s so wasteful. Could you bring X forks and knives? 

I’ve done this before on the holidays and when people understand the mission of reducing waste, they’re always happy to help. The same goes for the next item on the list.


3. Real plates / If you don‘t have enough plates for you guests, it’s a little bit more of an investment to keep a stack of thrift store plates around given they take up more space than cutlery.

It’s still a very easy fix, but if you live in a tiny space (I live in a tiny home so I know the struggle), borrowing may be the best option for you.

If you absolutely cannot get real plates to use, make a better choice when purchasing:

  • no styrofoam
  • no plastic-coated plates
  • uncoated paper is okay
  • biodegradable is best. Beware, these are not cheap. It’s cheaper to use what you have, borrow or buy real plates second hand. 


4. No plastic cups / If you don’t have enough cups for all your guests, you can pick up cups second hand for very little money; or you can make it a part of the party: BYOC.

Bring Your Own Cup (BYOC): tell attendees to bring their own drinking vessel. This is quirky and fun, and most guests arriving by car probably already have a cup or bottle rolling around in there. If any guests forget to bring their own cup, you can provide them with one of the cups from your house.

You May Also Like: 6 Sustainable Laundry Ideas That Will Save You Money In The Whole House

Food and Beverages  

5. Serve less meat / Don’t storm off! No one’s telling you to skip the grilling – but you could eat less meat and still enjoy all the hot dogs and burgers you want.

Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on the Earth. A sustainable cookout cannot be without vegetarian and vegan options. 

Meat is frequently added into side dishes unnecessarily. Here are some side dishes that can easily be meatless, but frequently aren’t:

  • Brussels sprouts – often with bacon chunks on top
  • Pasta salad – often with salami pieces mixed in
  • Baked beans – often with ham included

You can have a smorgasbord of delicious cookout sides without serving meat in them. It’s likely no one will even notice, as long as there’s still burgers and hot dogs on the grill.


6. Skip the bottled water / If you have drinking water in your home, then bottled water is a downgrade: 

  • You’re buying something you already pay for
  • Bottled water is less regulated then tap water
  • You pay for inconvenience with bottled water – what could be more convenient then having drinking water coming out of the tap in your home? 
  • The footprint of water is much higher than just the bottle. Water is heavy and bulky to transport, giving it a high carbon footprint as it travels from the packaging to your local grocery store and then to your home

Set up a big jug with lots of ice for guests instead of putting out bottles – you’ll save waste and money.


7. Choose cases of soda cans instead of bottles / When it comes to buying soda, you have two chances to make a more informed purchase:

A. Buy cans over bottles. Cans are recyclable, and while bottles are too, they’re not the same

According to National Geographic, only 9% of all plastic ever made has been recycled. So the ole plastic defense of “at least it’s recyclable” is not really a valid argument anymore.

More than 90% of plastic doesn’t end up being made into something new, and and it has higher odds of ending up in a waterway.

Aluminum is much more valuable when recycled versus plastic, is is less toxic to the marine life if if does end up in the waterways. 

Buy cans, or even better for a frequent soda consumer: buy a soda stream and then you’ll never need to buy soda again.

B. Buy soda cans in cases and not 6-packs. Cases come in paper, which can potentially be recycled depending on the policies where you live. Six-pack rings are not recyclable and will not decompose.

soda cans in cases versus soda 6 packs-19.jpg

8. Avoid food packaging (and save money) by making things from scratch / Did you know that mustard is super easy to make from scratch? Not to mention cheap as well. Many items can be made from scratch and potentially save waste and cost:

  • Mustard, ketchup
  • Bread, tortillas, sandwich buns
  • Marshmallows for s’mores

Food (sorry, pun intended) for thought. In my home, we frequently make bread and tortillas from scratch and they’re always SO tasty compared to store bought, and surprisingly easily. 

This isn’t just a good tip for a sustainable cookout, but a sustainable home as well. Making things from scratch makes it possible for my household to stick to a very strict food budget, and it can stretch your cookout or party budget a lot further too!

You May Also Like: 9 Food Prep Ideas For Reducing Plastic Use (& Saving Money) When Traveling

9. Find food locally / Buying your food at a farmer’s market or locally-owned grocery store will mean a lot more than giving your dollars to Walmart. If you have a local option, then you should use it.

The most fun item to pick up locally: beer and wine! You can go do a tasting of local wineries and breweries if you’ve never done it before and make a day of it. A sustainable cookout is still a fun cookout 🥂

Putting Your Sustainable Cookout Together 

10. Use what you already have / Being creative and buying something new as a last resort will take you (and your budget) far.

Buyerarchy of needs-03

11. Signage / If you have a compost-recycle-landfill system, make sure it’s very clearly identified so guests aren’t sending everything to the landfill (the thought!).

If you’re providing drinks in bottles or cans (choose cans!), designate a bin for recycling and make sure there’s signage so cans aren’t accidentally put in the landfill bill instead.

Depending on where you live, throwing away cans might actually be throwing away money. You can check the state department’s website for your state’s recycling laws here.

If your state doesn’t have a policy for money back on high-valued recyclables, you can write to your representative by telling them you think a bottle deposit would increase recycling rates and be good for the community. You can find your state’s representatives’ name and contact information here 🤗

12. Cleaning up / With more cups and dishes than usual, you may find yourself out of sink space. You can easily accommodate this by putting out a bin, clothes hamper, bushel, plastic tote, etc. out for guests to place their dishes in.

It’s handy to keep the kitchen cleared during the party, and makes cleaning up easier. If you have a hose, you can gather dishes in a clothes basket and give them a quick spritz outside making clean up even faster!


Have you tried other techniques when planning for a sustainable cookout? 


Posted by:Kayla

<span style="font-weight: 400">Hello, friend! I'm Kayla. I help people shrink their footprint on the Earth and find freedom in owning less. On Writing From Nowhere, I share ideas on living more intentionally and sustainably.  </span>

2 replies on “Sustainable Cookout Guide: 12 Ways to Waste Less

  1. In France, where I live it is perfectly acceptable for party guests to bring their own plates etc (not plastic) and take them home to wash afterwards. We got caught out at the first school meal we went to and had to dash home to get our own!

Leave a Reply