6 Easy Steps for Sustainable Picnic Gatherings

It is summertime and thankfully we are starting to see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, and can safely celebrate the season of picnic parties with friends and family. Before you head out and stock up on throwaway picnic staples, like plastic cups, plates, utensils, napkins, take a minute to tune up your eco-friendly lifestyle and learn how to ditch needless plastics.

As we eat, drink and be merry, there’s no need to fall back into wasteful habits and trash our planet with needless single-use plastics, according to Sandra Ann Harris, the author of Say Goodbye To Plastic: A Survival Guide to Plastic-Free Living. Here are a few tips from her book to help you reboot your picnicking habits.



“A little planning goes a long way when it comes to avoiding a ton of trash during picnics,” said Harris, whose company ECOlunchbox specializes in reusable stainless steel containers that work great for outdoor entertaining. “It might sound like a ton of work to pack reusables for your events, but doing the right thing for our planet is a team sport.”

With the pandemic retreating, everyone has come to appreciate the importance of good health, both our own and the planet’s. Unfortunately, single-use plastics often contain unhealthy estrogen-mimicking chemicals and they are usually not recyclable so they end up in landfills. Another downside is that plastic is a petroleum-based product that contributes to global warming at every stage in its life cycle, from its extraction from the Earth, trucking to processing facilities, manufacturing into plastic pellets and products and frequent incineration.



Single-use plastics have been falsely promoted as a way to avoid COVID 19 transmission in restaurants. However, more than 130 public health and medical experts from 20 countries around the world signed a letter endorsing the safety of reusables during the pandemic, using principles of basic hygiene. With just a few shifts, your picnic can have a positive impact for both your community and your environment.

“Here’s an easy tip,” Harris said. “When you throw a potluck, everyone brings a dish of food to share. This is routine. But how about also asking folks to bring a dish to share plus their own plates, napkins, cups, etc.… At the end of the event they take home their dirties to wash themselves. This is just one easy way to reduce plastic usage and waste.”


Step 1: Ditch the Car!

Reduce your carbon footprint and pick a picnic spot you can walk, bike, boat, or get to with public transit. If that’s not possible, carpool with friends.


Step 2: Pack reusables!

Bring reusable picnic blankets and decorate tables with washable tablecloths instead of disposables. We love adding a little extra joy to our celebrations with candles, fresh-cut flowers ,or found objects from nature in our table arrangements.


Step 3: Shop Local!

Shop at your local Farmer’s Market or produce stand for a local and organically grown menu. Studies show that if $100 is spent at a national chain or “big-box store”, only $43 is re-circulated into our local economy. However, for every $100 spent at an independently owned small business, approximately $68 is reinvested into our community’s economy.

Great produce makes the chef’s job super easy! Think simple. Finger foods like cut fruits, nuts, or local honey and peanut butter sandwiches are simple and nourishing for all ages. Also, some cheeses, like Brie and Camembert, are lovely softened in the sun and spread over fresh baked bread.

Bonus tip: Make your own beverage and serve in a pitcher. That way you don’t have to deal with all the cans and bottles.



Step 4: No excuse for Single-use!

Say goodbye to throwaways and plastics. Too often outdoor celebrations generate excessive waste because organizers are concerned about using breakable tableware outdoors and the hassle of cleaning up reusable.

One idea is to ask picnickers to BYO dishes, water bottles or cups, cloth napkins, and utensils. If you explain that you are hosting a zero-waste party and need some help to accomplish this in the great outdoors, you will be amazed how willing people are to help out.

If that is not your style, pack a sturdy cardboard box with reusables to share with your guests. We suggest stainless steel picnic plates, assorted reusable utensils, cotton washable napkins, and mason jars or stainless steel cups. Sure, there will be a little extra washing up, but when we think about how much we saved not buying expensive throwaway plates, utensils, and napkin and how much less trash we have, we don’t mind the extra work!


Step 5: Clean up responsibly!

Have bins or boxes for recycling, compost, and waste clearly marked and available for use by your guests. If you hiked or walked in, make sure to pack out all your waste. If you are in a park that does not offer recycling or composting, take it home and use your own compost and recycling bins.


Step 6: Make it Happen!

Celebrate the joy of making a difference and knowing that, as Gandhi said, “Action expresses priorities.” Let’s be green and act green while picnicking!



SANDRA ANN HARRIS is an entrepreneur and CEO of ECOlunchbox, a plastic-free company which she started in 2008 to empower people to say goodbye to plastic. Former humanitarian aid worker and journalist, she currently lives in Northern California with her husband and two children. She is the author of Say Goodbye to Plastic.