Warm weather is here after what seemed like an unending winter. It’s time for cookouts, picnics, and even camping for many people. All of these activities involve cooking in the great outdoors. Picnics and cookouts can produce a lot of waste. How do we enjoy it while being gentle on the environment? These five simple changes can greatly reduce your impact on the environment.
1. Plan your menu with local foods in mind. If you aren’t able to grow your own food, visit the farmer’s market for vegetables and fruit. Your food will be fresher and you will be supporting a local farmer. Choose locally grown, sustainable meat options. Or, if you don’t fear a revolt, go meat free.
2. Choose a destination nearby. Are there picnic spots you can walk or bike to? Using public transportation can be an adventure. Explore your town. You may find a new location that you love.
3. Switch to reusables. Paper plates and napkins, disposable plastic ware and cups all end up in a landfill. Invest in a set of reusable plates, forks, and cups to reduce landfill bound waste. Towels and washcloths can be used for cleanup. Cloth napkins and tablecloths round out your zero waste event.
2. Recycle. Cold drinks are a must on hot summer days. Fill a water cooler with ice water and drink from reusable cups for a minimal impact. If canned or bottled drinks are a crowd favorite, provide a container for easy collection of empty drinks and recycle them with your local facility.
3. Compost. If disposables are a must for your event choose biodegradable table ware. These items can be composted in a large scale facility. Provide a container for compostable food waste. Most fruit and vegetables can be composted in a home vermicompost bin or in a backyard compost bin. The material produced is great for the lawn and garden.
4. Sustainable cooking – gas or charcoal? The merits and detrimental effects of each are debatable. But when cooking at a park or other natural setting charcoal or wood grills are the norm. And most people would agree that charcoal grilling adds flavor to food. If charcoal is your choice, use lump charcoal and a charcoal chimney to reduce the impact on air quality. Inexpensive solar ovens can be used for foods that only need heating. Solar oven s’mores are a delicious dessert.
5. Pack up leftovers and waste materials. Bring an extra container for waste that must be thrown away. Leftover food in trash cans is tempting to animals and can become litter if animals rummage through the can. Pack it up and take it with you when you leave. Skip disposable plastic storage bags and plastic wrap when storing leftovers. Opt for reusable containers instead. Not that there will be many leftovers when serving fresh, locally grown choices.
Pattie Stivender is the education outreach and volunteer coordinator for Bluegrass Greensource.