The decision to use a gas barbecue versus a charcoal barbeque goes a bit deeper than the issue of taste and convenience. If you are making an effort to live sustainably and reduce your impact on the earth it is important to consider which is the most eco-friendly option.
While both use natural resources to generate heat, in their environmental impact they are not created equal. Charcoal can come from a renewable resource, but most charcoal found in stores contains byproducts such as sawdust, cornstarch and lighter fluid. When burned these emit more carbon monoxide than their gas burning counterpart.
Real charcoal, also known as “lump charcoal,” does not contain additives and is carbon neutral when burnt. Although considering the fact that lump charcoal comes from wood, there is the issue of deforestation to consider. This can be avoided by purchasing lump charcoal that comes from certified sustainably harvested wood. The problem is it is not easily found in stores.
So let’s consider gas. Gas burning grills come from fossil fuels so it is not derived from a natural resource. However, when burned gas grills emit significantly less emissions than typical store bought charcoal. Gas grilling is not entirely clean burning but when compared to charcoal it is clearly the best choice to avoid carbon monoxide emissions, which contribute to air pollution.
In the issue of disposal gas grills come out on top. A propane tank can be traded in and used again and again. While the disposal of lump charcoal has little impact on the environment, the alternative charcoal contains chemicals which are harmful to environment. So if you are aiming to reduce your carbon footprint gas grilling is the better of the two options. Unless, of course, you are careful about the charcoal you choose.