Picnics are my new favorite. They are perfect for a change of pace from your usual routine or they can just be another way to enjoy nice weather. They can be as low-key or extravagant as you choose. The location and scenery can be new every time – backyard, park, botanic gardens, mountains, lake, beach, etc. And they are really just about enjoying the outdoors and spending quality time with those you are with. You can go on a picnic with your parents, siblings, significant other, grandparents, friends, or yourself.
Picnics are a great way to add some fun to an ordinary day or weekend and at the same time they can be very earth-friendly. Nature is therapeutic; it can help remind us to just breathe and de-stress. Feel the breeze flow through your hair, listen to the sound of rushing water, watch the leaves flutter as they fall. And let these experiences with nature also remind us to take care of our earthly home. Today I’ll show you how we can do that by planning an eco-friendly picnic!
Here is a list of tips and gear to help you make your next picnic an earth-friendly one.
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#1. Avoid pre-packaged foods.
The packaging part of pre-packaged foods very quickly becomes trash as soon as you’re done eating that food item. To prevent the amount of trash we produce, try making your own version of these foods, such as making your own sandwiches or granola bars instead of buying them pre-made at the grocery store (it’s healthier that way too).
Avoiding pre-packaged foods does require you to plan ahead. Some easy and healthy foods to make that reduce the need for their pre-packaged counterparts include hummus, sliced vegetables, fruit salad, and homemade sandwiches.
Remember, Earthful Life is about making less of a negative impact on the environment so as to not become overwhelmed with the impossibility of making no impact. So don’t feel so bad that you may need to bring a package of crackers to go with all of your package-free foods.
#2. Bring reusable plates and silverware.
To reduce our contributions to harmful landfills, try not to use plates, cutlery, or drinkware that are meant for a single use such as disposable plastic, styrofoam, or paper items.
Plastic items are ok if they are reused, like a set of reusable plastic plates. There are compact sets of plates and silverware in the form of a small carrier, a cooler, or a more equipped fashionable cooler-backpack. You can also find reusable lightweight plastic plates or silverware at thrift stores or you can just bring your food in tupperware and eat finger foods straight from their containers.
#3. Use cloth napkins.
I made my own “unpaper towels” out of flour sack towels (just cut them to the size you want and sew the ends to keep them from fraying). We use them every single day at my house and cut back on a ton of paper towels this way! I just bring two unpaper napkins on our picnics and “voila” – paperless napkins.
#4. Consider food storage alternatives.
Rather than using the typical single-use plastic baggies, try using reusable plastic bags (like these). I always feel much better using reusable bags than those quickly thrown-away disposable plastic baggies. Similarly, consider using Beeswax wrap in lieu of single-use cling wrap or aluminum foil (this is the beeswax wrap I own – I love the pattern!).
You can also use clean tea towels to wrap food items and then reuse the towel as a napkin during your picnic. Mason jars can be put to great use on your eco-friendly picnic to store things like salad dressing mixes, nuts, and salads or a fun batch of lemonade and other pre-mixed drinks. Plastic is ok if it’s a reusable container. For example, I keep the plastic containers that sliced meat comes in at the grocery store and use them as tupperware.
Disclaimer: As you can see in the picture above, there are a few disposable items. This was from a girls brunch picnic I enjoyed with some of my good friends. Quick life lesson here from Jaime: you cannot control the way other people live. Even though this is something I want to support in my daily life, that does not mean I need to get carried away by obsessing over it or become upset when others do not share that same drive. Living “earthfully” not only involves trying to live in a manner that is more kind to the environment, but it’s also about finding a balance with that and living “fully”. Anxiety and judgement when that is not done perfectly, on the other hand, are not “life”-giving. Maybe the next group picnic I attend, I will just be sure to bring reusable plates and silverware. 😉
#5. Bring a reusable water bottle.
Bring your own reusable water bottle with whatever yummy drink you want or just refreshing ice water. This is a surefire way you can keep trash like single-use plastic water bottles or other disposable drink containers you may have used out of the dump.
I assume if you’re reading this blog you probably have a reusable water bottle…it seems to be one of the first steps we take to help the environment by not using plastic water bottles (also it’s just convenient and affordable). However, if you need suggestions for a trustworthy reusable water bottle, here are a few…
- Hydroflask: This is my go-to when I want to keep my drink cold (or hot) for an extended amount of time. Out of all of my reusable bottles, my Hydroflask has continuously been the most durable and it keeps drinks coldest and for the longest amount of time.
- LifeStraw Go Water Filter Water Bottle: LifeStraw products are amazing. They filter out 99.999999% bacteria, parasites, and (get this) micro plastics. Its the only to-go filter that I’ve heard of that filters micro plastics. It also reduces chlorine which is in most city water, so I’m basically saying you can drink from this bottle in your own home or on a picnic or camping trip if you would like to or need to fill up in a water body. Another reason I like to support LifeStraw by buying their products (I have their clear water bottle) is because for every LifeStraw product that is purchased, they donate safe water to a school child in need for one year! I actually recently forgot that my lifestraw bottle was on my car, drove away, and hours later came to find it still on the side of the road. It only had minor scrapes so I still use it almost every day.
- Iron Flask: provide the same temperature longevity for a lower price in more colors and with more lid options. My husband loves his Iron Flask.
If you have a small beverage cooler filled with your picnic drink of choice, you can bring reusable cups so everyone can drink out of the larger drink container. You can use these adorable reusable eco-friendly cups – they are made out of wheat straw so are biodegradable as opposed to plastic that takes hundreds or thousands of years to break down or decompose. These collapsible cups are also really neat (and would make good camping cups too).
My dad has used this Igloo 3-gallon beverage cooler for over ten years and it has proven to be reliable and stays insulated (here’s another good one). Again, these would also be very handy for camping
#6. Protect your food.
With eating food outdoors comes the potential of bugs (I know, sorry!). Instead of defaulting to plastic wrap, check out these eco-friendly suggestions to save your food from flies. These mesh food cover tents will help protect your food from bugs (and will take your picnic to the next level in presentation). You can also set tea towels or beeswax wrap over your food to keep bugs away. The picture above is my beeswax wrap keeping my homemade hummus fresh.
#7. Avoid bags of ice.
Packaged bags of ice that you buy at grocery stores and gas stations are not the best for you or the environment. The plastic bag that the ice comes in is just one concern as it adds to the waste we produce. Packaged ice can be contaminated with bacteria it picks up in the uncleaned machinery that makes the ice. Since these bags of ice are likely to melt which can then spread to your food, you especially don’t want to run the risk of contaminated ice touching your food.
The solution to keeping your food cold without using packaged ice is to use reusable ice packs or these cool ice sheets. Simply wash and store them in the freezer until the next time they’re needed. There’s no longer any need to make a pit stop for ice on the way, yay!
#8. Eco-friendly bug spray.
Conventional bug repellent sprays contain DEET which is a persistent environmental contaminant (it slowly breaks down in soil and easily enters waterways). Even though it is considered toxic to fish, birds, and other aquatic life, it is commonly found in our nation’s streams which can happen simply from showering, swimming or washing clothes after using products with DEET. It is also an eye irritant and can cause other human health effects in some users such as rashes, blisters, and even lethargy or disorientation.
To avoid using harmful DEET in your bug spray, there are some natural products that do not use DEET. When I was working outside at local nature preserves everyday for the summer my co-worker who noticed that I seem to attract mosquitoes gave me this natural Badger anti-bug balm and I have loved using it because I know it is safe for me to use and I’ve experienced great success avoiding bug bites with it! There is also a spray version – Badger anti-bug spray. The Badger company’s products are probably the best smelling bug repellent I have come across since they use citronella, rosemary, and lemongrass essential oils.
Other ways to avoid mosquitoes and bugs in an environmentally-friendly way is to wear light-colored long sleeves and long pants or to use citronella candles (and matches rather than plastic lighters). These citronella candles are so cute and can be used after the candle is done as flower pots. Citronella candles may not be as effective as spray-on repellents but can still work moderately well. So they are probably safer options in areas that are not a high-risk for mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile virus or Malaria.
#9. Eco-friendly sunscreen.
While sunscreen is great for preventing sunburns and reducing the risk of skin cancer, many sunscreens contain suspected carcinogens, skin irritants, and endocrine disruptors. Unfortunately, these harmful chemicals in sunscreens make their way into bodies of water and have also been found to harm aquatic life and threaten ecosystems.
Badger clear zinc sunscreen uses 5 organic simple ingredients. While most natural sunscreens use a whitening zinc oxide to replace all of the chemicals that are harmful to human health and the environment, this one uses clear zinc oxide, so it doesn’t leave a white paste on your skin. And since it doesn’t contain oxybenzone, it is safe for the environment including fragile coral reefs.
BONUS TIPS: (don't forget these on your picnic too!)
– Picnic blanket: Use an old bed sheet or quilt (see picture in tip #4 above), a beach towel, old bath towel (above), or buy a durable blanket at a local thrift store. You can roll it up and use a yoga mat strap. Or there is this cute washable and durable picnic blanket with a built-in carry handle.
– Backpack: Use a backpack to carry all your picnic goodies and supplies! Use one you have around the house, find one at a thrift store, or invest in a durable picnic backpack (I love how fashionable this one is). Another option for carrying everything is to just use your reusable grocery bags. In the picture above I am using my favorite camelbak backpack – it has a lot of storage space, is very light, and of course has a built-in water compartment and straw so you can sip water on the go. I’ve taken that backpack everywhere…hiking in Banff, sight-seeing in Denver, little adventures in Texas.
– Dog stake: If you want to bring your dog with you on your picnic then consider bringing a dog tie-out stake. We love to do this because it allows our fun-loving dog to experience new environments and spend time with us, while also staying out of the way of our picnic food. This rust-resistant stake is the best option for strong dogs over 30 pounds (and here is the 25 foot long cable that attaches to it) that will not bend or break like other brands. And for those of you with calmer dogs, here is a stake and cable combination set. We love to take our pup on adventures with us. As soon as we put her on a tie-out stake she calms down and stays put so I do not have personal experience with a restless or tugging dog, but according to my research those two products are the best options for strong or calmer dogs.
– Umbrella: If there are no trees or shade where you are going, consider bringing an umbrella to keep yourself cool while eating outside (this one is a cute basic shade umbrella that can be set up in grass or sand). You’ll also need an umbrella if there is a chance of rain so here is a portable sheltering umbrella suitable for both rain and sun that will make it an enjoyable picnic no matter what.