How to Have a Zero-Waste Picnic

By Maureen Wise in Thinking Sustainably

Warmer weather means more opportunities to get outdoors and enjoy nature, so why not have a meal outside with your family and friends this summer? A picnic can be a romantic time with your sweetie, a time to catch up with friends, or a fun time with the kids. And rest assured, you can host a picnic without compromising your commitment to the health of the planet—but it will take some planning. Here are some zero-waste picnic tips to help you prepare and have more fun outside.

What Is Zero-Waste?

A zero-waste event means that nearly all waste is either composted, recycled, or upcycled in another way. It's okay to have a very small amount of waste, such as a few mint wrappers, at the end of the day. But with some planning, going 100% zero-waste is not hard at all. You just need to think ahead! By limiting waste, you will be reducing the amount of single-use plastics being thrown in the landfill, as well as the methane gas they release.

two ladies have a picnic in a field

Pick Your Spot and Plan Your Meal

Will you sit and eat at a picnic table, or do you need to bring a blanket to sit on the ground for your zero-waste picnic? Maybe you can carry in your camp chairs? Pick a spot where you'll enjoy the view and be able to focus on the people you're with.

Consider what you'll be eating. Unless you plan on grilling on-site, you'll want food that is tasty to eat cold. Think fruits, salads, sandwiches, and pasta salads. If you will be doing some light prep-work during the picnic, make sure you have the right tools, such as knives, serving spoons, or a grater.

Bring Your Own Everything

Plan to pack your own utensils, cups, bowls, and plates—not disposable or single-use. You probably shouldn't bring your best china to a picnic, so be sure to pack your more durable dishes. To ensure your picnic is zero-waste, use cloth napkins, reusable straws, reusable food containers, and totes. (We can't recommend ditching single-use everything every day enough!)

If you need to throw something away, consider what you can use as an alternative first. Also, if you find yourself lacking a few essential items, you can always ask your picnicking buddies to bring their own wares as well. It can be nice to pack a big cutting board or tray to have a stable surface for cups or bowls that might topple over on a blanket on the ground. And if this is a romantic venture, a candle or tiny vase with a single bud can help to set the mood!

basket containing 2 mugs, silverware, plate and tea towel

Prepare to Clean Up

Within your picnic basket or bag, you may want to use your cloth napkins or some extra towels to wrap around those durable plates or cups. Have a plan for transporting the dirty dishes that isn't a single-use plastic grocery bag!

I recommend scraping everything you can into a compost container and then wrapping dirty dishes in a large tea towel. An important part of your eco-friendly picnic plan is to consider how you will transport that compost home. Will you have a specific container for the scraps, or can you reuse one of your food containers?

Linger a Bit

Once you're done eating, there's a good chance you're not going to clean and pack everything up right away. Go for a hike, collect seashells, or watch the clouds. A scavenger hunt in a new and unique locale can get the kids exploring, too. Enjoy some dessert and nature with a full heart and full belly, knowing you've done right by the Earth.

Discover more green living tips on the Thinking Sustainably board by @tomsofmaine on Pinterest!

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Why It's Good

Enjoying a picnic outside with the people you love is a wonderful thing, and being kind to the Earth at the same time is even better!