Sustainable Summer: How to have a planet-friendly picnic

A hand wrapping a sandwich in a brightly patterned wax wrap with the text 'planet friendly picnics'
Picnic aspiration: A beautiful hamper filled with fresh bread and homemade lemonade, a peaceful sun-dappled spot, maybe a nap afterwards, probably a gin and tonic. 
Picnic reality: A cool-bag with a weird smell, tantrums, wasps, something oily leaking on everything, rain, a seagull attack, then remembering you have to do all the washing up afterwards.  

Nevermind – I still love picnics. Even if they’re just in the back garden (or indoors in a den on a rainy day). We decided to start our Sustainable Summer series by thinking about picnics as they’re an activity with the potential to generate quite a lot of waste. Here we’ve brought together some practical and affordable tips for a more planet-friendly picnic. 

A yellow plastic picnic plate on a blue tablecloth
Reusasble picnic kit

Let’s start with the obvious one: Single use items that have to be thrown away at the end of the day. That includes disposable paper plates, plastic cups and cutlery, clingfilm and tin foil. 


If carrying stuff isn’t an issue, and it’s not extra special crockery, then take your plates, bowls and cutlery from home.

Alternatively invest in some lightweight and sturdy plastic, bamboo, enamel, melamine or coconut plates and beakers for picnics and camping trips. A quick search on eBay brings up plenty of low cost second hand options (including some really lush vintage sets) – they will pay for themselves after a few uses compared to buying disposables each time. 


Or go no-plate and use tupperware lids as plates instead. 


To reduce clingfilm and foil, wrap sandwiches or rolls in napkins, clean tea towels, pieces of scrap fabric, or wax wraps. 



Keeping everything cool


If you’re filling up bottles with water, squash, or juice, then pop them in the freezer at least a few hours before your picnic then pack them in place of plastic ice packs. 


This one’s a great tip whether or not you’re planning a picnic: pop leftover odds and ends including fresh herbs such as mint or lemonbalm, fresh fruit like strawberries and blackberries, or pieces of citrus in an ice cube tray, cover with water, and freeze (see our Scraps to Hacks video for more ideas). When you’re packing your picnic add a couple of ice cubes to bottles of water or squash so they’re cool and fresh by the time you’re ready to drink them. Alternatively, freeze leftover coffee to keep iced coffee cool without watering it down.

Pack planet-friendly snacks
A bowl of greek salad made with tofu feta

The more meat and dairy in our picnic hamper, the higher its carbon footprint, but there are loads of lower impact recipes to try. Here are some of our favourites:

  • Tofu feta from Hidden Veggies (pictured in a Greek Salad)
  • Coronation chickpeas from Vegan Wafflehands
  • Cashew cream cheese from BBC Good Food
  • Dairy-free cheesy biscuits from The Peachicks Bakery (good luck packing any of these for your picnic, they are so addictive I once ate a whole batch straight out the oven.)
  • Aubergine bacon by The Minimalist Baker – again this is addictive (and tastes nothing like aubergines in case you were wondering. Take it to snack on or pop it in a BLT. 

A picnic is also a good opportunity to use up leftover bits and bobs from the fridge and the cupboard to make dips and snacks: 

Speaking of leftovers…

It’s easy to overpack for a picnic so take a couple of extra tupperwares to bring home leftovers for later. 


And finally…
  • Disposable barbecues are best avoided. They can’t be recycled or composted, and the charcoal is often from an unsustainable sources and therefore contributing to deforestation. They’re also increasingly being banned in areas around the country as they’ve caused some devastating wildfires. If you’re really keen on a cookout then a bucket BBQ with sustainable charcoal – look for brands that source wood from well-managed British woodlands or coconut shell charcoal. 
  • It goes without saying that we should take any litter away with us – pack a bag with your picnic to make cleanup easier – but what about biodegradable waste like an apple core or banana peel? Wildlife organisations are keen to make us aware that no litter is ok, even food waste. It takes quite a lot longer to decompose than we think – two months for an apple core, two years for a banana peel – and it can attract rats to areas where they can impact other wildlife. Food waste can also draw wildlife to unsafe places (close to roads for example) and make them unwell if they eat it. 

In next week’s Sustainable Summer post we’re going to look at three things to sow and grow in August, even if you only have a tiny garden or windowsill. If you’d like to get all our summer resources straight to your inbox each week – plus a month’s free membership of The Something Club – just pop your details in the form below. And if you try any of these tips do let us know! Leave a comment below or tag us on social @bemoresquirrel

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