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Think green when it comes to barbecues as Waitrose and Aldi announce they will stop selling disposable barbecues because of their impact on wildlife and the environment

The Indie's Green Watch columnist Louise Tennekoon writes about environmental matters in Bishop's Stortford...

It's a beautiful spring day and I'm looking forward to getting outside in nature this weekend. I'm sure I'm not alone in that. No doubt the supermarkets will soon be stocking up with barbecue essentials in time for the Easter break.

Many people will reach for a disposable barbecue – light, portable, convenient, what's not to like?

Well, you won't find them in Waitrose and Aldi this year as these two retailers have announced they will stop selling them before the summer because of their impact on wildlife and the environment.

This follows a catastrophic fire in Wareham Forest in Dorset in 2020 which is believed to have been started by a disposable barbecue or camp fire. The fire burned for two weeks, damaging more than 220 hectares of woodland, much of which is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and home to rare birds, plants and invertebrates.

That same summer, fire crews extinguished more than 60 unsafe, unattended barbecues in the New Forest in a single weekend, leading to the entire forest being declared a no barbecue and fire zone.

A firefighter tackling the Wareham Forest blaze in 2020 (55522132)
A firefighter tackling the Wareham Forest blaze in 2020 (55522132)

This week, a Private Members' Bill to prohibit the use of disposable barbecues on open moorland and to grant local authorities the power to ban their sale will receive its second reading in the House of Commons.

The impacts of disposable barbecues go far beyond their misuse. Disposable does not mean recyclable and so an estimated one million of them end up in landfill each year. Waitrose estimates its ban will save about 70,000 disposable barbecues from being sold in a year, saving 7.4 tonnes of foil and 1.1 tonnes of shrink-wrap plastic. At Aldi, the savings will be greater with an estimated 35 tonnes of single-use material avoided.

At the other end of the supply chain is the question of charcoal production. In 2018, the UK imported nearly 90,000 tonnes of charcoal, much of it sourced from tropical and subtropical forests in South America, West Africa and south-east Asia, where charcoal production can add to deforestation.

Many of the large UK retailers stock only charcoal carrying the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) logo, which should ensure that it comes from well-managed forests. However, the FSC itself describes the complex charcoal supply chains as "high risk". This issue was around 30 years ago when I worked as a consultant for B&Q and, frustratingly, despite the company's pioneering of sustainable forestry, it's still an issue today.

Burnt out disposable barbecues (55522130)
Burnt out disposable barbecues (55522130)

But I'm not going to rain on your summer parade entirely. Liz Fox, corporate responsibility director at Aldi, offers an alternative: "We would encourage customers to opt for more environmentally friendly and sustainable options such as mini portable barbecues, ensuring they are used responsibly."

For your fuel, look for locally sourced, sustainably produced UK charcoal. This is typically the product of traditional woodland management techniques such as coppicing. UK producers selling online abound, from the Lake District to Thundersley in Essex, and you will find UK charcoal in some big-name stores too. UK charcoal is additive free (no nasty chemical firelighters), easy to light and quick to heat up. Choose this and you can feel confident your barbecue is helping to support sound management of our native woodlands for future generations.

Now there's just the matter of that burger…

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