Picnics are great, a perfect occasion to share with friends and family, enjoy the outdoors and usually the nice weather, however they can lead to so much waste from disposable plastic items to food waste.
Last year for my birthday, I decided to organise a picnic at a local park and my aim was to make things a bit different to reduce the impact on the planet. Today I am sharing some of those changes.
Organise who’s bringing what
When asking people to bring something to share, I always try to organise it with them before hand, so that I ensure they bring different food and the amount is right for the number of people.
I remember one day, I was invited to a gathering in a park and they asked the guests to bring something to share. I was shocked: they had two big tables full of dips/spreads, crackers, chips and cheeses. OMG, it was unbelievable, everyone went to the supermarket and picked the same products, in some instances exactly the same brand. It was really sad to see all the amount of food that remained untouched (part of that food needed refrigeration and it was in the sun for hours) and it was probably wasted.
Cook and/or buy food that reduces waste
Cooking most of the food for these gathering is the way to go, but I have been there, I know it is hard and every circumstance is different. For me, it is about doing my best to cook or buy food that doesn’t generate a lot of waste.
For this last birthday, the idea was to eat different styles of sandwiches, so I asked some of my friends to bring a filling. These are some of the dishes/snacks I served:
- Dips: I prepared hummus and carrot dips. The friend staying with us prepared a tuna dill dip.
- Nibbles platter: carrots and celery sticks, bread, olives, sun-dried tomatoes (these last two items I can buy from a deli taking my own container and they are also easy to find in glass containers in the supermarket)
- Bread: I went to a bakery, took my own bags and bought different types of breads for the sandwiches.
- Snacks I bought in bulk: pretzels, rice crackers and sweets.
- Some extra ingredients for the sandwiches: tomatoes, cucumber and egg slices
- Fruits platter.
Buy bread taking your own bag
Some friends brought other dishes. They prepared savoury muffins, shredded chicken and other fillings for the sandwiches. We only had a handful of packaged products like a cheese, a pâté and a salad some friends bought.
Going to the supermarket and grabbing ready to eat snacks and food for picnics is very convenient, years ago that was probably my way to go, but unfortunately many of these products are usually highly processed and they often come packaged in plastic, generating so much waste.
In my efforts to reduce waste, supermarket products are usually my last option.
I don’t buy bottled water, so for this gathering I reused passata jars and I filled them with tap water. We took at least 10 of those and to transport them we used a medium size cardboard box. A glass drink dispenser would have been a good option, but mine was in use and I couldn’t find any.
Buy drinks in glass or make your own
I often skip drinks altogether because I don’t buy sodas or sugary drinks (sometimes I ask people to bring their own drinks). However, for this particular celebration we had a friend and family staying with us and I knew they like those sort of drinks, so I bought some sugary drinks in glass bottles.
Other drink options I have used in the past: home-made lemonade, kombucha (which we make ourselves) or sangria which I usually mix with orange juice. They can be served in a glass drink dispenser which you can probably borrow from friends or family (or you can use jars as I did with the water).
Cutlery, plates and cups
Plastic cutlery, plates and cups are so common in picnics and celebrations, unfortunately they are one of the biggest waste culprits because most of them can’t be recycled, so they end up in landfill.
For this last gathering, I used paper plates because I already had them, reusable plastic cups and wooden cutlery (forks and spoons).
My idea was to get some second hand cutlery from the op-shops, but I didn’t get the chance to do it, so I decided to go with the next best option. To give you an idea, I could have bought 6 items per $2, so I could have easily bought 30 forks for $10. You can keep them for future events, if you have space or simply re-donate them.
Another option is to borrow these items from friends and family.
Recycling & Compost
The park had regular recycling bins for cans and bottles, but we took some boxes to collect anything that could be recycled outside the standard council schema like soft-plastics.
For things like food waste, paper plates and cutlery, we took a couple of containers, labelled them for compost and asked everyone to kindly assist putting these items in the container instead of the bin.
We had very little waste that went to landfill!
For this event, I only used two tablecloth: one for the wooden table in the park and the other one for a foldable table a friend of mine lent us for the picnic.
If you need decorations, please skip balloons. These little items are real polluters and if they blow ever worse because they are eaten by wildlife. Did you know there have been helium shortages too?
Consider these environmentally friendly alternatives from Balloonsblow.org. I love tissue paper pompoms.
I know this one probably doesn’t apply to all the picnics, but in my case it did. I asked people not to bring any present, and told them that I would collect money for an orphanage in Venezuela in case they wanted to donate.
I took a glass jar, I did a mini presentation explaining everyone why I was collecting money for that organisation and told them about the jar.
It was a great choice, because instead of more stuff I really didn’t need, together we all made a difference and helped this place which has been struggling to feed these kids due to the really bad economic and social crisis the country is in. I was really happy about it!
“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” – The Dalai Lama
Note: I wish I had nice pictures to show you, but I only took some pictures with my friends and family (and I doubt they want me to post them here). This one below shows the cake my mum prepared (we reused some old birthday candles), the wooden cutlery, some cardboard plates and the jar where I collected the money to donate!
That’s it for today. I hope you have found some ideas for your next picnic. Have you done an environmentally friendly picnic? Any tips to share? Let me know in the comments below.