There’s something very romantic about the idea of a zero waste picnic. I’m in love with the idea of sitting on grass by a babbling brook in a sundress with all my locally sourced food in reusables. Of course, picnics can be as simple as eating a sandwich on a picnic table, but you get the point. The goal should be to reduce waste, and choose food that nourishes both us and the planet. I’m going to attempt having a zero waste picnic day with my friends this summer (it’s been on my to-do list for a while now), so I’ll likely update this post when I do. Without further ado, here’s 6 tips for a low waste picnic.
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6 Tips for a Zero Waste Picnic Perfect For Date Night or Friends
How can we reduce picnic waste?
First, to reduce picnic waste, lets talk about what’s most important: The food! Before I get into all the picnic essentials, choosing locally sourced, plastic-free, and pesticide-free food is always best. Even better if it’s all plant based!
Reducing meat and dairy consumption is one of the best ways to make a positive impact on the planet. I recommend stepping up your game by shopping at the farmers market for your produce, or visiting a local farm stand.
Making your own meals from scratch using healthy ingredients that don’t hurt the planet is ideal. Some yummy summer picnic meal ideas are pasta salad, peach + strawberry salad, quinoa salad and veggie sandwiches. For lighter picnics, think about cutting up some fruit, packing some homemade iced tea and my favorite bliss balls.
Now you’re probably wondering about how to handle the actual waste, right? Good news, I’ve got solutions.
But just as a friendly reminder – it’s okay to be imperfect. Just try your best and do what you can. We don’t exist in a circular economy just yet – so waste will absolutely be hard to avoid. But any steps we can take to build that kind of future, should be taken.
1. Get a picnic basket – or use a tote
First off, you’ll need something to hold your picnic stuff in! While it’s super cute to go out and get a picnic basket for the occasion, you might not necessarily need one. You can use a big tote bag or a beach bag for carrying all your picnic essentials.
If anything specifically needs to be kept cold, just bring a cooler (one you have on hand or borrow from a friend!). And if you do need a picnic basket, I recommend checking out Etsy for some insanely cool vintage picnic baskets!
2. Pack food containers
I always say using what you have is the most sustainable thing you can do. And this is still true when it comes to food containers! Look in your kitchen – see if you have any Tupperware or glassware you can use. If so, great! Use that.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to toss all your Tupperware out to be zero waste. In fact, that would be pretty wasteful. I say, as long as it works – keep it in use until it doesn’t. Then replace it with a more sustainable alternative.
Having some beeswax wrap around in place of plastic wrap is a good idea. For a more sustainable alternative to ziplock bags, try Stasher Bags instead – they’re great for packing snacks and sandwiches.
3. Drinks anyone?
For drinks, I always recommend telling whoever you’re having a picnic with to bring a reusable water bottle. Then, pack a big gallon of water with you in a cooler. This reduces waste (aka, no plastic water bottles needed), and makes it easier on everyone.
You can also make some homemade iced tea or lemonade and put it in a pretty upcycled glass bottle. Empty wine bottles are great for this, just make sure you have something to seal them with! Or hey, just take the wine itself (double points if it’s organic and uses a natural cork stopper). These etched glass water bottles are really cute too and perfect for holding drinks.
If you choose to go this route and make your own drinks, I suggest bringing some reusable cups with you. You can pack some from home, but if you’re worried about them breaking, I recommend these mini insulated tumblers that are sturdy and perfect for casual sipping.
4. Napkins + messes
Messes are bound to happen on a picnic, so be prepared by bringing some reusable napkins along.
I really love these organic cotton reusable napkins. They come in a 12 pack and you can easily toss them in the wash after use. They’re machine washable + dryer friendly.
You can also make your own cloth napkins if you’re sewing savvy (I am not). But it is a low cost option.
Now, if you MUST bring along some disposable napkins and/or paper towels, please hold onto these and compost them when you can. This will help reduce waste.
Speaking of messes – you’ll be bound to have some food scraps from your picnic. Don’t toss them out! Instead, pack an upcycled glass jar with you and just stuff all your food scraps (and paper waste) in there.
I call this the compost jar. It’s saved me on numerous occasions, especially when I’m on vacation. Take it home with you and compost the scraps that remain.
5. Plates + silverware
Can’t forget this – what are you eating your food with? This is especially important if you’re not eating finger foods or straight out of the Tupperware.
To reduce waste, skip the disposable paper plates and plastic utensils. Instead, why not pack some actual plates from home? If you’re worried about damaging them, here’s a hack that’s worked for me: Wrap them in several layers of beeswax wraps. This will keep them nice and secure, even in a tote bag.
If you’re still nervous, you could buy some cheap plates from a thrift shop that you won’t mind taking a little damage. Or, try providing Stojo bowls – these are made from silicone, so they’re very durable and easy to clean! People can take what they want and eat it out of there comfortably.
As for utensils, you can pack some from home and wrap them in a cloth napkin, or put them in a stasher bag. Be sure to have a method of separating the dirty ones (like napkin = clean, stasher bag = dirty). Thrift stores also sell a bunch of utensils, including stuff like serving spoons, for cheap!
6. Where to sit?
On picnics, you do have the option to sit at picnic tables in some locations. But not all. And I’ve noticed a lot of places want you to make reservations to use park picnic tables (at least by me – in NY).
You can always setup your own picnic somewhere else. I think it’s a really cute idea to grab a big blanket and just settle down on it for a picnic.
I love Sand Cloud’s XL towels – they’re perfect for picnic blankets (or a day on the beach). I have one of them and ALWAYS bring it with me for stuff like this. It’s made from Turkish organic cotton and 10% of profits go toward marine conservation. Definitely a worthwhile investment.
You can also use some beach chairs or lawn chairs you have at home. Just take them with you and set them up in a good spot.
So, what do you think of these zero waste picnic tips + tricks? Let me know in the comments!
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