Have you ever had one of those strokes of brilliance that happened entirely by accident? One of the longstanding problems I’ve had as a homeowner has been the disgusting nature of our outdoor garbage barrels.

We get trash pickup every two weeks, a 96-gallon trash barrel and two recycling barrels of the same size. We also don’t have a garage, so the barrels sit in the sun on the side of the house. You can imagine what it’s like after two weeks in the hot, summer sun. It’s disgusting. Not only does it smell, but the barrels are literally crawling with maggots. It’s so veery disgusting. (I hate maggots.) After every pickup, I used to have to hose down the trash barrel to clean it out.

Another fact about our home: When we grill, we grill exclusively on charcoal, not propane. I love the taste and smell of charcoal on grilled food and charcoal grilling is something I’ve become very good at. I also grill a lot in the summer, as often as the weather and other factors allow. This means I go through a lot of charcoal and create a lot of ashes. I used to dump them in an out of the way place in the backyard, but that got messy after a while so I just began dumping it straight into the trash barrel. It turns I should have been doing that all along.

Ever since I began dumping the ashes in the barrel, the problems of smell and pests have dramatically lessened. I never see maggots any more before or after pickup and while you can smell the trash right next to the barrel and when you lift the lid, it doesn’t waft over the whole side of the house and down the driveway like before.

Of course, it makes sense now. People pay a lot of money to buy charcoal filters to absorb odors inn various smelly places and by coating the entire interior of the barrel in the ashes, that’s essentially what I’ve done. Now, I’m no chemist and I’m not sure whether the ash is very base or acid or if it’s the moisture-absorbing qualities or what, but it also tends to keep flies from laying their eggs or their offspring from growing or something.

I’ve seen other people online suggest using charcoal ash in your garden. I’ve seen people online recommending you mix it with water and spray it around your plants to prevent unwanted insects. I use high-quality charcoal without lighter-fluid additives, nor do I use lighter fluid to light it, but you do have to be careful about unwanted stuff in your ash around vegetable plants. (I don’t think your flowers would care.) But if you use the ash in your trash barrels, this isn’t a concern.

In any case, this is a classic win-win. I get to cook with my favorite method and fix a common suburban problem at the same time.

Domenico Bettinelli, Jr., is a father of five and husband, a Roman Catholic, born in Boston, educated at Franciscan University of Steubenville, who has worked in Catholic media--print, broadcast, and online--since the mid-90s. Find out all about Dom on his About Me page. He is also the CEO of the StarQuest Production Network at sqpn.com. All opinions on this site are solely those of Domenico Bettinelli and do not reflect the opinions of anyone else. See the disclaimer for further details.