Wednesday, 17 August 2022

How to have a sustainable picnic

How to have a sustainable picnic

I HAVE had some terrible picnics. The one at Whipsnade Zoo with my school friend Sharon, her mother and little sister Miriam.

Her mother spilt a bottle of orange squash over the picnic bag and we were pursued by wasps the whole day with me, Sharon and Miriam all getting stung.

The “posh” picnic created by my husband to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

After a long drive, we found the spot and parked the car. Two hungry people opened the boot to discover he had left it on the kitchen table. We are still speaking. Just.

But mostly picnics are one of the joys of summer. The simple pleasure of eating outside in a beautiful place on a warm day is hard to beat.

Picnics bring together a number of environmental issues — waste, travel, plastic pollution. Sadly, picnickers often leave behind large amounts of unsightly litter, most of which ends up in landfill and can be damaging to wildlife.

So how do you have an enjoyable time in the most planet-friendly way?

Let’s start with the food. The most sustainable picnic food is whatever you already have and would otherwise have thrown away. Turn fridge leftovers into a pasta or bean salad or sandwich filling. Cold meats, pork pies and cheeses can be bought loose at the deli counter, avoiding excess packaging. Jam jars make good containers for dips or a tomato and cucumber salad.

Avoid single use plastics like cling film if you can and pack food into Tupperware. Clean tea towels are good for wrapping sandwiches, bread or cakes and have the added advantage of being useful for wiping plates and cutlery afterwards.

A picnic hamper is nice but a reuseable supermarket bag with a few ice packs to keep everything cold works well too.

Last year, we bought a picnic rucksack which is insulated so keeps food cool and makes it easy to transport if you are walking any distance to get to your picnic site.

Take your own knives, forks and plates from home. According to estimates, England uses 1.1 billion single-use plates and 4.25 billion items of single-use cutlery — most of which is plastic — per year but only 10 per cent of this is recycled upon disposal.

The Government looks set to ban these as plastic takes many years to degrade and plastic pollution finds its way into water courses where it can be very damaging to marine life.

If you have the stomach for it, visit the Natural History Museum and watch the film of a scientist prising open a dead crab fished from the River Thames to find a large piece of plastic inside.

If you like picnics, investing in some reusable and unbreakable picnic cups and plates may be worthwhile. Look out for picnic crockery and storage containers made from biodegradable bamboo.

For drinks, avoid plastic bottles and single use takeaway cups. The UK uses 2.5 billion single use takeaway cups a year, most of which end up in landfill.

A stainless steel water bottle with a few ice cubes added will provide a refreshing cold drink and a flask of coffee with a couple of mugs a hot drink with no waste.

And finally, getting there. Walk, cycle, use public transport if you can. If you need the car try to car share if you’re going with friends.

If you’re stuck for somewhere to go, visit for some inspiration. This includes local beauty spots such as Warburg Nature Reserve, Watlington Hill and Wittenham Clumps for spectacular views.

I love picnics and hope you have some enjoyable ones this summer. Just avoid the wasps.

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