Zero Waste Picnic
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8 Zero Waste Picnic Tips & Ideas

Spending time in nature has its way of rejuvenating us. Picnic dates with family and friends help us immerse ourselves in nature while taking some time away from our fast-paced lives. However, when we go for picnics, we could cause damage to the environment with the materials we use. Some of the foods, products, and packaging we may use for picnics can end up polluting our environment. Whether you live fully zero-waste or not, a zero-waste picnic is a possible feat to achieve.

A zero-waste picnic simply means avoiding plastic utensils, single-use, disposable containers, and any form of food waste or trash we can prevent. Here are some ways you can practice a zero-waste picnic:

Zero-waste Picnic Ideas

Friends enjoying a picnic
Photo by Kampus Production

You can plan a zero-waste picnic without spending a lot of money or going through a lot of stress. The majority of what you need is around you.

The main idea behind an eco-friendly picnic is to have little to no waste in the end. Many of the same ideas for other outdoor gatherings, such as birthday parties or a plastic-free BBQ. We have got you covered with these zero-waste picnic ideas.

1. Reusable utensils

Many of us are familiar with disposable cutlery and plates for picnic events. These plastic cutleries and plates only cause more damage to the environment. It is better to use alternatives to single-use cutlery, such as packing your standard stainless steel cutleries so you can reuse them as many times as possible. There’s also the option of using wooden or bamboo utensils

Avoid using disposable plates, like plastic and paper plates, as those aren’t zero-waste products. However, regular ceramic dinner plates can be heavy and stressful to transport over a distance. Ceramic plates are fragile because they break easily. The type of plate you use depends on the food you want to consume.

Don’t despair yet. You can use more environmentally friendly stainless steel plates or bio-based plates. These reusable plates are perfect for picnic events. Recently, there has been a wave of lightweight dinner plates made from biodegradable materials. 

Related: Can you recycle paper plates?

2. Discard bottled drinks

Drinks are a must-have for any event. The packaging for most beverages is plastics and cans. For a zero-waste picnic, making homemade juices and packing them in reusable water bottles is best. There are two primary types of reusable bottles: plastic and stainless steel bottles.

Companies manufacture reusable plastic bottles with recycled polypropylene and copolyester materials. This type of plastic is different from disposable varieties made from PET plastic. Depending on your needs, you can also choose from a wide range of stainless steel insulated and non-insulated bottles.

If you’re feeling adventurous and hiking to your picnic destination, you can also consider a collapsible water bottle so you can travel light and fill up on the way. Do, however, check the availability of fresh drinking water en route. 

Also, if you have glass bottles in your home, you can use them to hold your beverages, especially water. Although glass bottles might be a little heavy, they’ll save you from spending money on plastic waste. It will also improve the aesthetics of your picnic. 

3. Avoid paper napkins

Instead of purchasing serviette papers and kitchen towels, buy cloth napkins instead. Paper napkins are a waste of money because you can only use them once. It is not recyclable either. Therefore, you should opt for cloth napkins or reusable paper towels.

Cloth napkins are more durable and effective at cleaning dirt. You can also recycle them. Unlike paper towels, you need to decompose them in a compost heap. The compost heap is a good way of getting rid of napkin papers, but it is better to use reusable kitchen napkins. 

4. Bring a blanket to lay your picnic treats on

zero waste picnic ideas
Photo by Taryn Elliott

Whether your picnic is in a garden, a beach, or a park, you need a blanket. You can’t sit and unpack your picnic basket on the grass or sand. It would be uncomfortable. You should bring a blanket or use an old bed sheet instead. Even a large tablecloth can double as a blanket. 

If you are looking for something fancy, you can use picnic rugs. You can look for them at online thrift stores or second-hand marketplaces; that way, you don’t have to buy new, which aids the sustainability of your picnic. If you’re buying new, look for blankets from sustainable materials and fairtrade producers

5. Avoid single/plastic packaged snacks and foods

Picnic foods
Photo by cottonbro

What is a picnic without food? It is a trend to buy a lot of snacks for picnic events to have a fancy spread. That is a dangerous practice because it causes unnecessary waste in the environment. Plastic bags used to package most of these snacks are another form of disposable plastic. Apart from the plastic waste it causes, overproduced snacks are unhealthy. 

You and your friends can have zero-waste snacks at your picnic. Farm produce such as fruits, and vegetables are perfect examples of sustainable snacks. Here are some fresh and healthy options to choose from when you go to buy package-free produce.

  1. Bananas
  2. Strawberries
  3. Apples
  4. Grapes
  5. Citrus fruits
  6. Carrots
  7. Cucumber 
  8. Melons 
  9. Celery 
  10. Cherries 

With these fruits and vegetables, you can get creative and make all sorts of fruit and vegetable salads. You can also create different variations of smoothies. However, buying them from your local market or bulk food stores is best because the fruits and vegetables sold at supermarkets are often wrapped in nylon or plastic. Purchasing them defeats the purpose of an eco-friendly picnic lunch.

It wouldn’t hurt to have full-on delicious food at an outdoor gathering. You are doing a lot of good for your body and the environment by cooking a fresh meal.

Also, you can get snacks from a zero waste store’s wholesale food section. There, you can buy snacks like nuts and chips without plastic bags. At the bulk food store, you can decide to buy large sizes of snacks and sweets and store them inside food containers. You will be cutting back on loads of plastic trash this way. 

6. Pack your picnic in a basket or insulated cooler

After preparing food, snacks, and drinks for your picnic, you need a compact place to put them in to avoid damage during movement. 

Your best option is to get a picnic basket or an insulated cooler. You can also use a large tote bag or a shopping bag. Ensure that the bag you are using can carry the weight of all your items.

And if you're not a regular picnic goer, consider who you can borrow reusable picnic wares from rather than them sitting in the cupboards for months at a time.

7. Packaging your food

Instead of using plastic wrap, use reusable ziplock bags or reusable containers. You can also use reusable food wraps made from organic cotton. Food wraps are great for packaging sandwiches, bread rolls, homemade snacks, and other baked foods. Also, you can use them for your BBQ. 

You can pack meals inside containers. You can use ziplock bags to pack your fruits, vegetables, and other food products. Or better still, use stainless steel lunch boxes to pack your cooked meals. If you're planning a salad, make the dressing up in a reused glass jar and add it to the green just before eating to help keep it fresh.

You can also use it to pack leftovers to avoid food waste. 

However, you’re always best to follow the 4Rs, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, first and see if you have other suitable containers about the home before buying new. 

8. Reusable cups 

You need cups to drink your beverages, whether water, juice, soda, or wine. If it is convenient for you, you can carry wine glasses and other types of glass cups. However, you can use metal cups instead. Reusable coffee cups are also a good alternative. Do not buy plastic glassware. You are only adding to the plastic waste in the environment. 

What to do with leftovers? 

On days you can not continue with your leftover foods, you can donate them to food banks. Food banks are non-profit organizations that donate food to the needy to relieve world hunger. If there’s no food bank close to you, consider giving it to your family, friends, and neighbors.

Give to anyone around you. Apart from these options, you can also compost food waste. Composting is the natural way of recycling organic materials like food scraps, turning them into fertilizer for the earth.

Read more: 14 Ways to Use Food Scraps & Reduce Food Waste.

Is being zero waste cheaper?

Practicing a zero-waste lifestyle can be cheaper. You buy fewer zero-waste products because you think through purchases before pulling out your credit card.

However, it’s easy to get lost in the excitement and start spending on a bunch of bamboo, metal, and glass items to kickstart your journey. When you go zero-waste, remember to repurpose first. Use only the things you already have at home as much as possible. 

Zero waste is also considered a frugal lifestyle. That ice cream tub you just emptied? Use it to store something else; do not throw it out. Most eco-friendly products that you purchase are reusable. Unlike plastic products that you have to dispose of after each use. So, you can see that it lifts some financial burden off you, allowing you to save more.

Also, you can purchase some zero-waste items at a local second-hand store and get mason jars, reusable bags, reusable containers, silverware, and dinnerware. All at discounted prices, saving you some bucks.

Related read: Is going zero waste expensive?


Zero-waste picnics benefit our health, pockets, and the environment and help us connect with nature. And as you have read earlier, planning a zero-waste picnic is easy. 

Many of the items listed above are things you have in your home. You and your friends can contribute to the items needed, so it won’t be overwhelming for a person.

If you plan an outdoor gathering, remember to indulge in eco-friendly practices. It also applies to you if you are attending a picnic. Have fun and create beautiful memories while protecting the environment from waste and pollution.

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

Photo by Ian Branch on Unsplash
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