Summer is just around the corner, and that means it’s picnic season. But a picnic with juice boxes and individually wrapped treats creates a lot of waste that only contributes to the growing plastic crisis. Have an eco-friendly picnic this summer instead and spend time enjoying and protecting the environment around you in real ways that you can be proud of.

Eliminating waste

Paper plates, paper napkins and plastic cutlery mean lots of waste for any picnic. Eliminate all of that by using cloth napkins and serving foods that don’t need extra plates. Items that can be eaten by hand don’t require forks and spoons. Sandwiches, vegetable slices, crackers, rolls, wraps — the list of great finger foods goes on and on.

Related: How to replace single-use and plastic items in the kitchen

Bring reusable cups and napkins on the picnic and take them with you when you leave. That means don’t bring any plastic straws or juice boxes, either. 

bowls of hummus, plate of bread and a wood cutting board on a blue and white blanket

Preparing the food

Support the local community and small farmers by buying local when you’re shopping for ingredients. Go to a farmers market to get fresh, local ingredients. If possible, ride a bike over to the market and back so you aren’t adding any carbon emissions to the atmosphere when you do your shopping. Pack your food in silicone bags or glass containers instead of plastic containers to be even more green.

Consider a meal that doesn’t include any beef. Environmentalists warn that beef production on a massive scale creates numerous risks to the planet, from the methane generated on cattle farms to the energy it takes to transport the beef. Opt for vegetarian and vegan options at the picnic to be as eco-friendly as possible.

Related: Cool vegan recipes for a hot summer

If you do end up with orange peels, wrappers and other waste at the end of the picnic, pick up all of these items instead of leaving them behind. Some food remains, like rinds and peels, can be added to the compost pile. Recycle or wash and reuse everything else that you possibly can.

Grilling

If you plan to grill for your picnic, plan ahead with the planet in mind. Grilling can release a lot of carbon emissions into the air; however, when done properly, grilling can be better for the environment than cooking in the kitchen. Solar cookers are a great option, but you’ll have to bring your cooker with you to the picnic and you need the weather to be in your favor for it to work.

If you can’t use a solar cooker, you can use natural lump charcoal. Rather than lighter fluid, use a charcoal chimney. This is a green alternative to standard grilling. If you’re having a picnic in the park, there will be plenty of community grills available for use. Remember to take any aluminum foil and other waste with you when you leave the picnic area for proper disposal.

rubber ball in grass

Playing games

It won’t do much good to prepare an eco-friendly meal and then play picnic games that create a lot of waste. A flying disc is a great option. Jump ropes can be folded and packed away easily, so this is another item to bring for some fun picnic activities. A simple rubber ball can be used to play kickball, dodge ball or any number of other sports.

Keep eco-friendly games in mind when you’re thinking about picnic recreation. Choose activities that leave no waste behind and don’t alter the environment in any way.

Keeping insects away

Using bug sprays isn’t the best choice for an eco-friendly picnic. Stick to natural ways to keep bugs away, such as crushed lavender flowers or citronella to repel mosquitoes. Lavender oil is effective at keeping a number of insects away, including mosquitoes. You can also mix garlic and lemon to keep insects and even some animals away from your picnic area, although the smell that drives them away can be unpleasant for people, too.

Related: 4 DIY herbal remedies that take the sting out of pesky bug bites

straw hat and three bottles of sunscreen and lotion on a purple and blue blanket

Applying sunscreen

Be sure to keep a reef-safe sunscreen on hand, and for added protection, pack a big straw hat. Don’t forget to reapply your sunscreen, too, to prevent harmful sunburn.

Traveling

If possible, bike or walk to your picnic location to reduce emissions. If that’s not an option, carpool or ride public transit to the picnic spot to reduce the number of vehicles on the road. All those little changes really do add up to be a big help to the environment.

Images via Kate Hliznitsova, Toa Heftiba, Yaroslav Verstiuk and Antonio Gabola