Whether at the beach or on a grassy lawn, a picnic is a relaxing activity that doesn’t require much planning or money. While picnics are a great way to connect with the natural world as well as with others, many neglect to consider the ecological impact of their actions. Zero-waste living, which focuses on the conservation of resources and methods behind waste prevention, is an important concept to understand and apply. Buying sustainable products and consciously using them will help you live a more zero-waste lifestyle. From reusing napkins to growing your own produce, there are many simple ways you can minimize waste and ensure an eco-friendly picnic experience. Below are a few tips to utilize to create a sustainable picnic.
- Grow your own food
Although buying locally sourced food from the farmer’s market is one way to minimize your environmental impact, growing your own food offers additional levels of benefits. Locally grown vegetables reduce carbon emissions, reduce fertilizer and pesticide use, and provide more vitamins and nutrients. A freshly harvested tomato or watermelon often provides more depth of flavor than supermarket varieties. Try making your own jams and preserves for sandwiches. Seasonal vegetables such as tomatoes, cabbage, and potatoes can be incorporated into coleslaw, salads, quiches and other vegetable dishes. Fruits and herbs are great additions to pies and drinks.
Vego Garden has a collection of metal raised garden beds made from galvanized steel that is well suited for growing all kinds of crops. Popular plants to grow that you can include in your picnic include peas, chives, thyme, potatoes, and strawberries. If you enjoy vegetables, consider preparing crudités, which are appetizers of raw vegetables with various dipping sauces.
- Use reusable items
Single use paper or plastic plates are often used on picnics due to their convenience and disposability. However, they are wasteful and generate a large amount of litter. They also decompose very slowly in landfills compared to other paper products due to additives intended to reinforce their structure. Alternatives to paper plates include ceramic plates or reusable plastic plates. Many common picnic items such as sandwiches can be stored in reusable plastic containers. Likewise, cut down on costs by using reusable utensils, which can be your typical ones or a designated set reserved for picnics. Bamboo is a lightweight option that fits inside a picnic basket.
- Use bug spray and sunscreen that contain natural ingredients
Not many people bother reading the labels on sunscreen as it is a boring product. Conventional sunscreens contain chemicals that pose threats to ecological marine systems and to personal health. The chemicals in sunscreen can cause skin irritation and rashes and get absorbed into the skin at potentially harmful levels; it has even been suspected to link to certain types of cancer. Natural sunscreen, also known as mineral sunscreen, is recommended as an alternative, as it contains zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or a combination to help block the sun’s harmful rays from your skin. If you do not like the feel of natural sunscreen, it is advisable to research the products and understand which ingredients in chemical sunscreen can be harmful. Homosalate and oxybenzone are marked as toxic ingredients to avoid, while avobenzone and octisalate are slightly more tolerable.
- Avoid disposable items
Bring reusable utensils, water bottles, cups, and plates and avoid disposable items like paper plates and soda cans. Many picnic items can easily be transported in a metal or plastic container or a travel pack. You can bring cloth napkins instead of paper ones. If it’s not convenient to take items home to wash, you should purchase eco-friendly compostable bamboo utensils, which have a far less negative impact than their plastic counterparts.
- Keep Children and Pets away from Plants
Children and pets have a tendency to stray and may interfere with the natural habitats of native plants, birds, and other small creatures. Situate your picnic in a place that is away from native foliage or nesting birds and tell kids to stay away from those places. Bringing your pets is a good way to keep children occupied. Make sure that your pet is on a leash to keep it from running amok. You can feed pets remains of the picnic as long as it is safe for them to consume.
- Choose a durable, waterproof blanket
Outdoor blankets are an important aspect of picnics that often gets overlooked. You will want to have a durable blanket that won’t fade or grow moldy in damp environments. A vibrantly patterned blanket can brighten the atmosphere and have a mood boosting effect. To ensure an eco-friendly experience, look for blankets or towels that are made with upcycled materials and natural fibers. For an extensive list of options you can select from, check out this article.
- Pack eco-friendly food
While large, lavish plates filled with gourmet meats may seem appealing, you should strive to pack sustainable meals that stay fresh and easily fit inside your containers. Choose foods that are vegan or plant-based and avoid pre-packaged or take-out items. Many do not consider the environmental impact of their diet and do not know that meat production causes large amounts of environmental damage associated with carbon emissions, deforestation, and energy consumption. Good options include sandwiches and spreads like hummus and pesto, which are easy to make at home. Cherry tomatoes and seasonal fruits are also popular choices that will appeal to even picky eaters. Before adapting to a new diet, you should also realize that some produce travels long distances, which incurs a high carbon footprint and correlates to higher fertilizer use and artificial coloring. It is recommended that you purchase local produce from farmer’s markets or grow your own food.
- Have the picnic at a local location
Try to find a location that is easy to access by walking or biking, which will reduce pollution associated with transportation as well as fuel costs. In addition, navigating an unknown place can be tiresome, leaving you too tired for a picnic. If there are no good places nearby, you can also take public transportation or carpool. For those that have expansive gardens, you can even have a picnic in the comfort of your backyard.
It is easy to feel lazy and not want to move around after finishing your picnic. Picking up trash and cleaning can be annoying when you just want to head home. However, you should always recycle leftover items like plastics, juice boxes, and soda cans. Use any leftover water from the ice cooler to water nearby plants. Take your trash with you if there is no recycling or trash bins; do not leave litter behind.
- Only carry what you need
It can be easy to overpack for a picnic and end up with heavy or bulky items. Begin planning your picnic ahead of time to identify what you need to bring. Avoid breakable materials like glass, which is often heavy and difficult to carry, and opt for lightweight, reusable options.