Swap your charcoal for propane or gas. Charcoal-fired grills give off substances that contribute to poor air quality, so try using a propane or gas-fueled model instead. I know some die-hard charcoal fans won't want to give up that characteristic smoky flavor, but gas grills can't be beat in terms of convenience.
Upgrade your small-space grill. If you thought your only option for grilling on a tiny patio was one of those tailgating-style charcoal grills, you haven't seen this sleek number from Fuego. Slim enough to tuck into the tightest spot, this propane-fueled grill is impressively powerful for its size, handling everything from steaks to pizza with ease.
Step away from the lighter fluid. If you do use a charcoal grill, there are a few simple changes you can make to "green" your grill. First, avoid dousing your grill in lighter fluid, which releases VOCs into the atmosphere; try using a starter like the one shown here instead. Second, look for "lump charcoal" rather than briquettes, which can contain coal dust and chemical fillers.
Add a bit of old-fashioned charm. There is something so appealing about drinking from mason jars in the summer, and reusable glasses are a much sounder choice for the environment than throwaway plastic cups. Try this set of mason jar mugs or scoop up a flat of the real deal the next time you are at the supermarket — they're so reasonably priced, you can afford to stock up.
Use unbreakable plates. Having a set of dedicated outdoor dishes is a worthwhile investment — use them at backyard barbecues, bring them along on picnics and take them camping too. I love this cheerful gingham print set from The Curiosity Shoppe.
Use real napkins. It's not much trouble to throw a load of linens in the wash after a party, so why not use the real stuff instead of paper for your get-together? These linen "Eat" napkins from Terrain are an adorable choice. If you are the crafty type, you could try a DIY version with a bit of fabric paint and some alphabet stencils.
Take a step up from traditional paper. These plates are tree free, and you can throw them in your compost bin when you are done. Reusable plates are best, but in a pinch these are a great option.
Reuse, recycle or compost these napkins. MYdrap makes unique reusable cotton napkins that come in a roll like paper towels. The difference is they come in fun colors, and when they begin to wear out, you can recycle or compost them.
Green up your menu. Hormone-free meat, grass-fed beef, sustainable fish and local organic produce are the top picks for a green feast.
Make recycling easy for guests. Set out clearly marked bins in an easy-to-access location before the party to ensure that all of those cans and bottles make it to the proper place.
Don't let those food scraps go to waste. If you compost, let your guests know they can scape their plates into a bin for the compost rather than chucking food into the trash. Not composting yet? Consider trying it out this year; it will give you a place to throw your yard and kitchen waste, and will reward you with "black gold" — nutrient-rich compost for your garden.
Involve your friends. Let your guests know the reasons behind the changes you are making. You could inspire one of your friends or family to begin making green changes of their own!