Quick, which is worse for the environment: driving a massive, exhaust-belching diesel-sucking big rig 100 miles or walking down the street in hemp sandals, bamboo shorts and a reclaimed burlap poncho to a locally-owned restaurant, and ordering a grass-fed, locally-farmed angus beef hamburger?
It's the burger. You monster.
A study from UC Riverside found that the particulate air pollution from a commercial kitchens (that means pretty much any restaurant, from industrial fast food shithole to adorable café) cooking charbroiled burgers was worse than pollution from diesel trucks.
How much worse? Here's what the principal development engineer, Bill Welch has to say:
"For comparison, an 18-wheeler diesel engine truck would have to drive 143 miles on the freeway to put out the same mass of particulates as a single charbroiled hamburger patty."
Diesel exhaust, which certainly generates its share of airborne nastiness, is very well regulated, and many mechanisms are in place to help control it. Charbroiling, however, while releasing plenty of particulates (grease, smoke, heat, water vapor, and combustion products) has almost no regulation in place to control emissions. The study found that these uncontrolled emissions actually are more than twice the output of all heavy-duty diesel trucks, and is the second-largest source of particulate pollution in the South Coast Air Basin.
The researchers aren't just complaining — they're currently testing a device that removes grease from the exhaust and traps it in water, and on top of that all the test burgers they cooked up in their research have been donated to local food banks. And I bet some researchers had delicious burgers for lunch for weeks.
No one will ever stop cooking juicy, life-affirming burgers as long as most Americans have anything to say about it, but there's really no reason not to pump a bunch of oily burger-soot into the air. We figured it out for diesel engines, I'm sure clever people can solve this for our grills.