Green-up Your Picnics

Make Simple Switches to Have an Environmentally-friendly Excursion

Hooray, summer’s here! It’s the time of year to gather family and friends, pack a picnic basket and head for the beach, the park or that secret spot only you know about. As you plan your next picnic, in addition to including healthy local organic foods, take another look at those familiar picnic staples. Consider switching from traditional items that generate pollution and waste, such as charcoal briquettes and disposable cutlery, to greener, more conscious choices.

You can feel good about eliminating the downside of outdoor picnics simply by implementing a few alternatives. These substitutions will make cookouts cleaner and meal prep through cleanup an easy exercise in reuse and recycling.

Cooking ~ A camp stove that runs on white gas or propane is cleaner burning than charcoal, because it produces fewer toxic emissions. If you don’t own a camp stove or want to cook over hot coals, choose a cleaner burning charcoal, such as Goodwood mesquite hardwood charcoal from Summit Views (See GoodwoodProducts.com). Their pure charred wood burns hotter, cleaner and longer than briquettes. To start them, just light the all-natural jute bag they come in.

If opting for conventional charcoal briquettes, avoid using lighter fluid to ignite them, as it contributes to ground-level ozone pollution. Instead, use a charcoal briquette chimney and plenty of old newspaper and matches to get the fire at the base of the chimney burning hot quickly. Charcoal started in this way cuts the amount of smoke.

Tablecloth ~ Don’t be tempted to buy a cheap paper or vinyl tablecloth; the former will end up as garbage and the latter requires hazardous chemicals in its production. If you don’t have an old tablecloth, visit a reuse store and pick one up. A blanket or quilt also can serve as a durable, reusable table cover or picnic blanket, or just wipe off the table.

Serving Items ~ Choose one of the following options to bleached, disposable paper products and virgin plastic cutlery:

Reuse ~ If your group comprises fewer than 12 people, take along a set of non-breakable dishes from the kitchen cupboard or purchase a set from a reuse store. They may be mismatched, but that’s part of the fun. Different sizes, colors and patterns lend themselves well to a picnic. For flatware, check thrift store bins for lightweight metal utensils that are ideal for pack-and-go outings.

Recycle ~ Consider serving-ware made from 100-percent recycled plastic. Recycline’s Preserve brand of plates, cups and cutlery are made from recycled plastic and are reusable. (Visit Recycline.com/products/preservetbw.html.)

New and Renewable ~ If the above suggestions don’t pan out, purchase a new set of dishes that will travel well and last for many years. Instead of nonrenewable plastic, consider dishware made from natural and renewable bamboo (a la BambuHome.com).

Better Disposables ~ For larger groups, furnish special occasion picnics with tree-free, renewable and biodegradable alternatives to conventional disposable serving-ware, such as compostable items made from sugar cane or corn (shop Treecycle.com or GreenHome.com).

Napkins ~ For a small group, cloth napkins are practical. Selecting napkins of different colors ensures that guests won’t be confused. Try to assemble a set from a reuse store before buying new. If using paper towels or napkins, choose a brand that is chlorine-free and is made from a high percentage of recycled content (try SeventhGeneration.com).

Beverages ~ Bring beverages made from concentrate in reusable pitchers or jug coolers. Consume prepackaged beverages from aluminum cans, the container of choice. It is lightweight, has the highest recycling rate of any beverage container and contains a minimum of 40 percent recycled material.

Campfire ~ Check for burn bans before lighting a fire, and come prepared with manufactured logs. Goodwood and Java-log are made from reclaimed wood and coffee grounds, respectively, and burn cleaner than firewood. (See GoodwoodProducts.com or Java-log.com.)

Clean-Up ~ Use a public restroom sink for washing hands instead of disposable wipes. If no public facilities are provided, collect water from another source (e.g., a nearby stream, a cooler or a water station) and carry it 200 feet from any waterway before washing up. Use a small amount of biodegradable soap and share a hand towel brought from home.

Take along separate garbage bags for trash and recyclables. Tape or safety-pin a label to each bag, so there’s no confusion about which is which, as no one will want to fish recyclables out of the garbage later. Pack absolutely everything out or secure refuse bags in designated receptacles onsite.


Crissy Trask is a green lifestyle consultant and the author of
It’s Easy Being Green: A Handbook for Earth-Friendly Living. She can be reached at CT@GreenMatters.com.