According to the calendar, summer is still weeks away, but this weekend officially kicks off summer picnic season. If you’re planning a gathering outdoors, convenience is going to play a big role. But you don’t have to settle for lots of disposable plastic or virgin paper products. You can now easily find many products that will help you do your part to conserve resources, create less pollution and reduce waste.
Lets start with the necessities: napkins, plates, cups and utensils. Reusable items from the kitchen are always the best option but using them is not always practical. If you’re going the disposable route look for products made from recycled content or from material that is recyclable. Napkins and paper towels made from recycled paper content are easy to find in most stores these days. But check the label. Look for those that are bleach-free and use a high percentage of post consumer content. That’s the paper that you and I actually put in the recycling bin to be recycled, not scraps off the paper mill floor. When it comes to plates, there’s a much smaller selection of options. Plates made from #1 or #2 plastic can be rinsed and recycled, but they’re not easy to find. Chinet paper plates will biodegrade in a compost bin or landfill as would most other non-coated paper plates. Beverages like water, tea or lemonade can be chilled and served in reusable coolers. For other beverages the best choice is to offer them in aluminum cans. Aluminum is one of the most valuable and cost effective materials to recycle. It’s lightweight and easily compacted, making the clean up easier too. If you opt for disposable cups, bring a permanent marker and label each cup with the person’s name to cut down on the number of cups used per person.
If you’re grilling - natural gas or propane powered grills are the most eco-friendly way to go. They're more energy efficient and produce fewer pollutants than burning charcoal. The gas options also heat up faster and don’t produce any soot plus there aren't any ashes to dispose of later. If charcoal is your only option, your choice of charcoal can help you green up your grilling. Avoid self-starting briquettes and look for additive-free or all-natural lump charcoal. They are a bit tougher to find - but they won't release the toxic additives of the briquettes and lump charcoal generally produces less ash. Lastly, natural fire starters are significantly more eco-friendly than the conventional chemically laden lighter fluid.
Of course it goes without saying that your picnic needs a recycling bin or bag so plan for that too. The key to an eco-friendly picnic is to minimize the eco-footprint of you and your guest by generating less waste, conserving natural resources and creating less pollution.