Hey Barbie, wanna BBQ?
Updated: May 19, 2020
Barbecues... I’ve always thought of them as the human population’s drunk cigarette; you know its really bad for the environment, but it is so damn difficult to resist when the smell of grilled bacon wafts over your neighbours’ hedge. It really makes trying to be eco-friendly a serious challenge! Fortunately for the trusty grill where raw meat is turned into divine gifts from the great creator (BBZeus?) and has a very long history going back to the invention of fire. I am joking about mythology including BBQs, but Prometheus really does trick Zeus into leaving the tastiest parts of sacrifice to the humans for the BBQs in ancient Greek mythology!
However, we cannot ignore the health and fuel issues. Charcoal is carbonised wood which is classically created by stacking wood very tightly into domes and burning it with restrained oxygen availability. Although now there are a plethora of different charcoals available, some even so high grade you could be looking at £80 (€90 for those on the continent) for 10KG (e.g. Binchō-tan), very few are sourced responsibly. So, should we have a global ban BBQs? Well, not only would Australia probably start world war three over it but I’m pretty sure most governments would face outright revolt, so probably not.
Are there alternative fuels, will we ever have guilt-free grilling times? It came as a great surprise to find out there actually is! The best part about it is that it has come from the ingenuity of a small start-up in Kenya called Kencoco and has now made it all the way to the UK and Europe. A few innovative individuals realised that converting coconut waste (husks, etc.) into charcoal was a renewable and near-free resource. In Kenya, the government has banned the unlicensed production of charcoal, this created a massive issue for households who can’t afford the cost of the licenced product but rely on it as a fuel source. So far Kencoco has managed to improve health conditions in a high number of households by allowing for a licenced fuel energy low in black smoke emission. On top of health conditions melioration, the benefit for the environmental is uncanny as the brickets produce less black smoke than other types of charcoal and the releases less CO2 whilst burning.
A key feature about this that I love is that while on paper it is just lower than carbon neutral as an industry, obviously the workers have to travel and the equipment they use requires energy. However, in the long run, the industry is actually carbon negative. The use of coconuts will stimulate the growth of coconut tree plantations to meet the rising demand for the fuel, which is actually superior in burning time than classic wooden based charcoal. The development of those trees will absorb carbon, but the only release will be through the fraction of their biomass they drop in the form of coconuts. As an extra effect, the use of the coconuts will also limit deforestation in Kenya as traditional charcoal is no longer the best source of fuel. The CO2 effect is not the only benefit from this industry. As it turns out coconut husks were considered waste and did not have a reusable benefit prior to this innovation. Kencoco has found a way to reduce waste by turning previously considered trash into a viable market for CO2 reduction.
From all of us at the Next Wave, we salute you Kencoco, grill on!