how to have a green plastic-free picnic
Posted by Zadi Diaz

Labor Day weekend is in full-effect in the United States, which means hordes of people will be making their way to their favorite park or beach for their annual holiday picnic.

In honor of our continuing and expanded 7 Days without Plastic project, I thought it would be interesting to figure out a way to have a plastic-free picnic or barbecue. Now, I'm not saying that this is the easiest of tasks -- but let's see if it can be done.

Nathan from Greenthinkers helped us out on this one. He says:
We don't think we're the only ones that like to take some food to the park and lay out a bit of a spread. But the problem is, while we don't want to lug all our dishes and cutlery all over town, we also don't want to have to leave with a garbage bag full of plastic from just one meal. Our solution - biodegradable plates, bowls, cups, and cutlery. There are lots of options out there but our current favourite is offered by Branch Home.

[The plates and bowls are] made in China at a factory where workers are treated properly and paid a fair wage. Made from 100% sugar cane fiber (bagasse), a byproduct of the sugar refining process. Supplies of this material are virtually unlimited worldwide. The use of bagasse products eliminates the dependence of traditional wood fiber-based materials in disposable tableware. Since bagasse is traditionally burned for disposal, the diversion of the fiber into the making of tableware prevents air pollution. Win-win.

[The cups are] made in Taiwan at a factory where workers are treated properly and paid a fair wage. Made from PLA (polylactic acid, or Polylactide), a polymer that comes from corn and other 100% renewable resources. PLA is 100% biodegradable and commercially compostable.

[The cutlery is] made in China at a factory where workers are treated properly and paid a fair wage. Made from 80% potato starch and 20% vegetable oil.

So, now we know where to get biodegradable dishes and utensils, but how about if we're having a picnic today, what can we do?

Visit the park or beach closest to you
Sometimes there are places close by that we've never visited or spent time in. Check Google maps for your closest public grass or sand patch.

Walk, bike or take public transportation
I'm all for car rides on a summer day... opening the window... letting the wind blow through your hair... but if the park or beach is close to where you live, it doesn't make much sense to drive there. Also if you're walking or taking the bus or train, you can drink your wine or beer without having to worry about driving back home.

Think outside of the box for your picnic basket
Not all of us have picnic baskets, so why not improvise? I've used paper bags with handles and canvas bags as an impromptu "picnic basket" in the past. You can also use a backpack you already own. Works just fine.

Use your own tableware
If you're having a picnic with a bunch of friends, have everyone bring their own tableware. If you're having a more intimate picnic, two dishes, two cups, and some utensils won't be too heavy to carry. Make it your inaugural green Labor Day picnic - saving the earth from laboring over you. ;)

Buy fresh food and pack at home
Buy fresh fruit, veggies, bread and cheeses from your local Farmer's market or supermarket. Buy food that's in metal or glass containers. The best tip is to shop the edges of your supermarket - that's where the fresh food usually is.

If you're buying meat from the deli, ask your deli person to wrap your cold-cuts in paper and plop them in your own container or aluminum foil once you check out. Visit the deli last, so that your cold-cuts stay cold. Avoid acquiring new plastic.

Stay hydrated. Fill your large thermos with water or your favorite home-made iced tea, lemonade, freshly squeezed juice or mixed drink. Buy sparkling water. Drink wine or beer. If you have to have soda, buy it in the can instead of the plastic bottle.

Use cloth
Bring cloth napkins with you instead of paper ones. Also bring small wash cloths to clean or rinse out dishes or cups if you need to.

Take your trash with you
Hopefully you shouldn't have too much trash when you finish your picnic. Drop your scraps in the paper bag you used as your picnic bag. If you don't see a recycling bin, take it back with you. Recycle at home.

Don't feel guilty if you don't do everything. It takes time to train our minds to avoid plastic. Even if you do 10% of the above... that's 10% better than before! :)