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Because You Asked

How Should I Get Rid of Grill Ashes?

By Recyclebank |

Charcoal makes grilled foods delicious, but its leftovers aren’t so savory.

Dear Recyclebank,

How should I dispose of charcoal ashes?

Corena S., Indian Harbor, FL


Dear Corena,

Charcoal ashes should only be handled after they are completely cooled. Once cooled, they can be collected in a non-combustible container such as an old coffee can or an empty, dry paint can. Or you can wrap the ashes in aluminum foil — a perfect reuse for food-contaminated foil, which cannot be recycled. The contained ashes should then be placed in the trash for pick-up. If you were thinking about spreading the ashes outside, first consider where those ashes came from.

Ash can make excellent fertilizer when alkaline soil is needed, but most charcoal ash should not be spread in your garden or compost. Popular brands of charcoal briquettes, which represent 93 percent of all charcoal shipped, contain additives that can affect the ash’s value as fertilizer and may pose a human health risk. Briquettes begin with scrap wood, but coal, borax, lighter fluid, and fillers may be added before the whole thing is pressed into a pillow shape. The shape and additives ensure an effective, consistent product.

Lump charcoal, the alternative to briquettes, also begins with scrap wood, but chemicals aren’t added during the manufacturing process. It is essentially burned wood and is therefore safe to add to your compost. Lump charcoal represents just 7 percent of charcoal shipped, but its use has steadily increased for at least a decade. Consider choosing it next time you grill; afterward, you can dispose of the ashes in your garden or compost pile. Or, skip charcoal entirely and go with the greener grilling option: a gas grill.

USA Today
Oregon State University Extension Service
Heath, Patio, & Barbecue Association
NPR: The Salt

What kind fuel do you use for your grill-outs and barbecues? Tell us in the comments below.

Share with Your Friends & Family
  • joanna l. 1 year ago
    My grandmother had a"grilling pan" for her stove. It had heat vents on the bottom and a big domed lid to keep in the heat. She used it mostly for peppers.
  • Rhonda O. 3 years ago
    I have 3 mesquite trees. We haven't bought charcoal for years.
  • Matthew L. 3 years ago
    I don't buy the "food-contaminated foil, which cannot be recycled" claim. It's all going into a furnace, so surely trace amounts of food won't matter?
  • Christine G. 4 years ago
    Because I only cook over maple that comes from pruning my 2 trees or fallen branches I place the ashes in my compost bin when completely cool. It adds lime and potassium.
  • Laura L. 4 years ago
    I've read that grilled food causes carcinogenic elements in the part of the food that gets blackened, regardless of the method of heat-gas or charcoal. So I think it's something that should be done very sparingly or not at all. This article tells about that in an easy to understand way
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