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At least in the northern hemisphere, the weather is getting warmer, and everyone wants to get outside (especially because of the quarantine). I love going out and having a picnic, but if done “conveniently”, they can be huge waste generators. Between paper plates and plastic forks, there’s not only a lot to throw away, but a lot that could potentially blow away into the environment. So here’s a complete guide to having a zero waste picnic instead!
The first thing you need for a zero waste picnic is something to sit on. If available, you can use a picnic table, but I like tossing out a blanket and sitting on the ground. Go through your linen closet and see if you have an old blanket or even a couple beach towels to lay out.
Or you can buy a blanket secondhand. We got ours at the thrift store, and although it’s covered in snowflakes, it works great in the summer!
Next you’ll need some zero waste eating supplies, including containers for food, dishes to eat from, utensils, napkins, and a basket or bag to store it all in.
Tupperware and other plastic containers work fine, but if you are going plastic free, opt for a metal or glass container. Mason jars are great for storing individual servings and doubling as a bowl to eat from. You can also check out this stainless steel snack container and 2-tier tiffin, or use these silicon stretch lids to cover bowls of food.
While personally I’d just pack individual portions in separate containers, you may be having a potluck-style picnic. If that’s the case, you’ll need to pack plates. Paper plates are obviously better than styrofoam or plastic, but they are still a single use product. Try these metal plates and bowls instead! As I said, make use of mason jars (or just other reused glass jars).
As for cups, be sure to pack your reusable water bottle. My husband and I don’t go anywhere without our Nalgene water bottles. They’re plastic, but they are still going strong so I’ll keep using it. You could also bring a thermos with its included cup or this stainless steel cup.
Next you need to bring along a fork, spoon, knife, or all three. My husband has this 3-in-1 titanium spork. You can also find yourself a set of bamboo utensils like this one with its handy case, or the easiest option is to pack some flatware from home. I do it that way by rolling up my flatware in a cloth napkin and securing it with a rubber band.
Speaking of napkins, don’t forget yours. I got my cute watermelon print napkin from someone at a little festival, but you can find fun prints online or make one yourself. Linen or cotton fabric will work best.
Basket Or Bag
What’s cuter than a wicker picnic basket? You can search your local thrift store or online marketplace for a nice basket big enough to hold your zero waste picnic materials, or settle for a big reusable bag. That’s what we use. Ours has a sheet of reinforcing plastic on the bottom so things stay in place better.
Don’t want to do all the leg work? Check out this zero waste picnic gift set from the ZERO Market (not affiliated). It comes with a 64 oz growler, a metal food container, two utensil sets with wraps, two steel cups, and a cotton sling bag.
So now that you have all the materials for your zero waste picnic, you need to decide what food to bring along. Here’s some tips for making it a zero waste meal as well.
What To Make?
A plant-based meal is best for the environment, and there’s loads of tasty recipes online like this tasty and customizable burrito bowl. Potato and pasta salads are picnic staples, so here’s an easy vegan potato salad recipe and a roundup of 15 vegan pasta salads.
Check your own kitchen and/or garden first. Try and build a dish from ingredients you have, especially those with shorter shelf lives. Googling the phrase “what can I make with [ingredients]” will help you figure out what to make.
When you go shopping, try to buy local. Do you have a farmers market near you? Farmers markets are great because the food was grown close by and usually 100% package free. Some vendors may also take back packaging like egg cartons for reuse.
If you go to a normal grocery store, look for zero waste, package free items. It’s best to stick to the store’s perimeter because all the packaged and processed foods are found in the middle aisles.
Skip the produce bag and leave your produce naked. Be sure to bring your own reusable bags to the store too (although currently some grocers have banned reusable bags due to the health crisis). To get around no bags, just fill your shopping cart back up after checkout and unload directly into bags or a box at your car.
After your zero waste picnic, keep the food waste to a minimum. Americans waste over six pounds of food every week. Pack up leftovers into containers to bring back home, and compost if possible. Be sure to keep those leftovers in a highly visible spot in the fridge so you don’t forget about them! You can find some more tips for reducing food waste in my post here.
Things To Do
Obviously, you’re going to eat at your zero waste picnic, but that’s a bit boring, don’t you think? Soak up some vitamin D and relax in the fresh air. Take a nice walk and appreciate Mother Nature. Be sure to protect your skin with some zero waste sunscreen though!
Getting outside is super important for our mental health during this time, especially as the weather gets better and the world starts opening up again. Be sure to continue taking proper social distancing measures.
Get off your phone and have a real conversation. We spend so much time looking at screens in our daily lives, it’s good to look at something real for a while. Catch up with friends and family, have deep conversations, shoot the breeze, or just enjoy being together in silence.
Instead of just eating and talking, get up and play some games! Throw a pack of cards in your basket or bring a ball along to play catch. If you’re someplace with pavement, have fun drawing with chalk or playing tic-tac-toe, making a maze, or playing hangman. In a large enough space, you could bring along some yard games.
Other Things To Do
Bring that new book and read a few pages while listening to the birds. Or perhaps you’d like to listen to music instead. Get your creative brain thinking and watch the clouds. Just do something you’ll enjoy!
After you’ve finished your zero waste picnic, you don’t want to leave anything behind. Be sure to leave your space better than you found it. If you need to, throw out any waste you’ve created. For some brownie points, clean up a few pieces of litter too!
It’s pretty simple to turn a typical picnic into a zero waste picnic. You just have to do a little extra planning, which is true for pretty much everything with zero waste. Although it requires a bit of extra work, it’s definitely worth it for protecting our planet.
What are some of your favorite picnic activities or games? Leave a comment below!