June, 1 2020 – By Serina Tatham
Everyone loves a picnic and they are the epitome of summer. With the weather becoming warmer and more predictable, as well as lockdown restrictions easing, spontaneous picnics are on the rise. But with pre-packaged sandwiches and disposable utensils being more appealing than spending time in the kitchen, they have the potential to generate a serious amount of waste.
When planning a picnic, we’re all guilty of heading to our local supermarket and filling up our baskets and trolleys with take-away sandwiches, bottles of drinks and plastic containers of sausage rolls.
But all this is seriously damaging for the environment, especially as we have a tendency not to clear up after ourselves.
Plastic can take hundreds of years to break down, with a single straw taking 200 years to biodegrade. So, even if it is recyclable, it’s definitely not the best option. And with the whole picnic basket being full of individually packaged food and drink, the amount of plastic you end up accumulating is huge. And we’re not even on to the plates or napkins.
Luckily, there are some super easy and inexpensive swaps you can make which may even end up saving you money and will help you make the transition to having a more sustainable, plastic-free picnic.
First up is food – the main culprit. Supermarkets advertise pre-packaged picnic food all summer and it can certainly be appealing. But before you automatically load up on ready-made salads and miniature pork pies, stop and think for a minute about what is actually taking up the most space in your basket: plastic.
It takes five minutes to make some finger sandwiches, but can save so much more: your money and the environment for starters. Pack them in Tupperware or beeswax wraps instead of cling film. We love these which can be picked up online or from any major supermarket.
It’s not just sandwiches which are easy to make. Buy a fresh baguette and blend up some chickpeas, tahini, and flavour of your choice (sundried tomato or red pepper works amazingly) for a quick hummus. Alternatively, whiz some nuts, basil, oil, lemon and seasoning for a delicious pesto that can be used to dress salads or go in sandwiches. Decant into old jam jars to take on the go.
Some of our favourite picnic foods include sandwiches, baguettes, home-made dips, cold pasta salad, and fruit skewers (don’t forget the melted chocolate for dipping!). If you can, support your local farms and stores when buying produce. You can find some of our UK favourite here.
Whilst we’re all getting better at choosing reusable straws over disposable ones, it is all too easy to slip into bad habits when it seems like the easier option.
If you are among the minority that haven’t bought a reusable straw yet, your local supermarket should stock metal versions. Alternatively, ditch them altogether.
Paper plates and napkins can seem like the most hassle-free way of picnicking, but they do more harm than good. If you don’t want to bring your own plates from home – we get it, they’re heavy – a bamboo set is much more lightweight. We love this set of four from LEON, available at John Lewis.
For messy eaters cloth napkins are a sustainable option which are easy to wash and re-use year in, year out.
Many shops now also sell bamboo cutlery sets which are a great zero-waste swap if you picnic regularly. Bamboo is great for many reasons: it’s fast-growing, doesn’t use a lot of water or any pesticides, and it can grow anywhere. Products made from bamboo are compostable and biodegradable as well as extremely strong and lightweight, making them the perfect choice for your picnic.
Aside from the environmental costs, it can be expensive to buy lots of bottles of juice and lemonade. It takes no time at all to fill up a reusable bottle or make a jug of homemade iced tea to take with you, and if you want to post pictures on Instagram, mason jars instead of cups are a nice touch.
It may seem daunting to start your sustainable picnic collection from scratch, but with reusable items being available everywhere there really is no excuse. It may be initially more expensive, but in the long-run you’ll save money as you won’t need to buy packs of paper plates or napkins each year.
Also, don’t let the thought of making your own food and drink put you off. As tempting as it may seem to buy everything ready-made from the supermarket, it really doesn’t take long to do it yourself. As an added bonus, you’re more likely to make healthier choices and you’ll know exactly what’s gone into it.
As a final note, try to pick somewhere local when deciding on your destination so as not to gulp too much petrol. Most importantly, though, leave the area cleaner than when you found it.