During the summer months especially, busting out the grill makes for a favorite pastime for many. There are few things that can quite match the experience of firing up the grill, cooking up a great meal, and spending time with friends and family.
There comes a question, however, that many of us don’t really think about: what happens when it comes time to dispose of the ashes that get created during the cooking? Do you just throw them away or is there a way to compost them?
In recent years, composting has become a popular option for turning waste into recyclable materials. With more and more environmental and recycling issues becoming present, people are trying to find ways to make better usage of their wasteful materials.
With this becoming a reality, the question becomes whether you can take the ashes from your grill – things such as charcoal – and recycle or compost them. But first, we need to have a better understanding of what compositing is and how it works.
What Is Composting?
Composting is a method of taking waste matter and converting into mineral-rich compost that can be used for growing plants and crops. This is done through microbial activity. Being able to reuse that wasted material means less actual waste that goes into pits and landfills.
To compost, a pit has to be dug, a pile must be made, or a compost bin has to be put into use. From there, things such as small twigs, grass, food scraps, and other organic materials are introduced to the storage receptacle.
The material inside of the storage containers is covered for several weeks until bacteria acts on the organic matter, increasing what is known as its NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium) ratio. This is what makes it usable for manure to be used again in gardens.
There are times where adding worms (such as earthworms) to the compost pile can actually speed up this process. This is known as vermicomposting. Composting on a smaller scale is ideal for those with a garden.
Composting household waste as well as garden refuse can make for less overall waste and better manure options as well. But those who run their barbeque on a regular basis may be curious as to whether or not the ashes of their barbeque make for suitable composting options.
What you may not have realized is that charcoal is actually the product of burned wood with some other additives included. Wood ash is definitely compostable. This means that other wood products, including charcoal, are also capable of being composted.
There are two conditions to be aware of, however. The first is that the charcoal should be basic wood. This means being aware of any additives or preservatives that can be implemented to make the product burn. These components might not be environmentally compatible.
There are some charcoals, for instance, that burn the wood aspect of the charcoal, leaving only the binder chemical. This makes the ash unsuitable for composting.
The other condition of composting charcoal ash is that the wood ash itself can only be used in composts to a certain limited degree. This equates to around one cup per foot of actual compost since large amounts of wood can result in a loss of nitrogen produced in the soil.
So long as you aren’t barbequing every single day, it is likely safe to put the ash from your grill onto your compost pile or into your bin. Just be aware of the amount of ash going into the pile and maybe try to limit the amount going in at one particular time.
Disposing of Your Used Charcoal
It needs to be reiterated that you have to ensure that your charcoal is wood-based and free of additives. This guide will tell you how to dispose of any kind of charcoal but also how to use those additive-free charcoals for other, better uses.
Extinguishing the Charcoal
If you want to get rid of the charcoal ashes in short order, the key is to make sure that they are extinguished first. Make certain to close the lid and any vents to your grill or barbeque. Let it sit for around 48 hours or so to ensure that the ash has completely cooled and is suitable for safe handling.
This part needs to be emphasized. Handling charcoal when it is still hot can lead to potential risk of fire and those are the types of hazards that you just do not want to have to deal with.
If you are ultimately just looking to get rid of your charcoal ashes, it is important to not just dump them in a trash receptacle, down a drain, or anywhere else. This is especially true if they have additives or preservatives in them that can be harmful to the environment.
If you are looking to dispose of your charcoal ashes in a responsible way, but don’t particularly care to compost them, take the briquettes and wrap everything in aluminum foil. Throw the packet in a bin that is noncombustible and set it out for garbage pickup.
When using wood-based, additive-free charcoal, you can absolutely use it as a fertilizer. This is because the ash contains what is known as potash (potassium carbonate). Potash is nutritious for most plants and can also increase the overall pH levels in your soil. Depending on what you are trying to grow, you may want to use your charcoal-based fertilizer sparingly.
It is important to note that you should not use charcoal ash with acid-loving plants. These are plants such as hydrangeas, azaleas, and blueberries. You would also not want to use your charcoal ash for newly planted seeds and seedlings, either.
Keep Pests Away
With any outdoor space, pests can become a real problem. Beetles, potato bugs, mosquitos, and other pests can make your outdoor space feel a bit bothersome. That is why getting rid of those pests can become a major point of contention.
What you may not have realized is that your charcoal ash can be used to keep those pests away. There are some grillers that have claimed that you can spray a mix of water, ash, and lime around your vegetable garden. This helps to keep beetles away.
All you need to do is mix about an ounce of hydrated lime and an ounce of your ash to a gallon of water. When your concoction has been mixed together, you can spray it around your plants as well as the perimeter of your garden as a whole.
Wood charcoal ash is also a good deterrent for lice and mites if you have bird cages or chicken coops on your property. Those are particularly hazardous creatures as they can spread to humans and that is something no one should have to deal with.
Use it for Cleaning
What’s even crazier is that the ash from your wood-based charcoal can be actually used to make lye soap. Even crazier is that it can be used to shine silver or even de-skunk a pet that has been sprayed.
Wood charcoal ash can even be used in your ponds to help keep the algae under control. All it takes is a tablespoon per 1,000 gallons of water to strengthen the other plants in the pond and slow down the growth rate of the algae.
Making Use of Unused Charcoal
The ashes aren’t the only useful part of charcoal. You can actually implement unused charcoal for various uses around your home or property in ways that you may have never realized. This makes charcoal a highly versatile thing to have around your house.
Reducing Odors and Rust
By placing a few pieces of your unused charcoal in a perforated bag and then placing it in the fridge or freezer, you can take that stink out of your fridge that can creep up from time to time. At the same time, you can also place that unused charcoal in a shoe to reduce the odor there. Just make certain to put it in a sock or cloth to keep it from staining your shoes.
Likewise, if you have rust issues on things such as your toolbox, charcoal can be used to absorb moisture. Keep in mind that this won’t have much of an impact on things that are already dealing with significant rust, but it can make a wonderful preventative.
Use It in the Garden
Charcoal is also versatile when it comes to your garden. They can be used to make cut flowers last slightly longer by placing a piece of unused charcoal in a flower vase. You can also use crushed charcoal in the garden itself.
Adding crushed charcoal to your garden can help to suppress weeds (we all hate weeding). With orchids in particular, adding crushed charcoal to the soil can be highly beneficial. There are many flower enthusiasts that believe that the charcoal absorbs toxins and will improve the alkalinity of the soil itself.