How to plan a sustainable summer picnic in four easy steps

Check this sustainability list for ways to make outdoor dining environmentally friendly.

With summer approaching, it’s time to dig out the picnic blankets and dust off the barbecues. The elusive Pacific Northwest sunshine has the power to rouse us from winter hibernation and remind us of the pure joy of relaxing outdoors with a plate of chips and guacamole.

But before you sit down at the picnic table, check this sustainability list. There are ways to make your outdoor fun environmentally friendly, too.

Don’t overpack. A big part of reducing your environmental footprint is cutting down on food waste. Roughly a third of the food produced worldwide is wasted each year. Large gatherings and events can involve overpurchasing and piles of wasted potato salad. Consider how many people will attend your event and only buy what you need. Bring a cooler to keep things fresh and storage containers to send leftovers home with guests.

Eat less meat. Another consideration is the type of food you buy. Meat can be rich in key nutrients like protein and iron, and yet it generally takes more land, energy and water to produce a pound of animal protein than it does to produce a pound of plant protein. That’s why the production of meat and dairy can result in higher greenhouse gas emissions. The good news is, there are tons of yummy and healthy vegetarian options. How about adding black bean burger or a few vegan hot dogs to the picnic menu? You don’t need to go 100% vegetarian to have a big impact. Cutting back on meat consumption even a little can go a long way for the planet.

Recycle right. You’re nearly there! You pulled off the ultimate summer-fun eco-conscious event! What’s next? Cleaning up the mess. Be sure all bottles and cans are clean and empty before tossing them in the recycling bin. For a complete list of items accepted for recycling in Snohomish County, go to wmnorthwest.com/snohomishcounty.

Compost correctly. After you sort your recycleables, it’s time to get your compost game on. The best place for food scraps or food-soiled paper (like greasy napkins) is the compost, aka the food and yard waste bin. Food waste makes up about 20% of what goes to the landfill. When we compost food scraps, those nutrients turn into rich soil amendments for our parks, gardens and landscaping. No one wants plastics in the garden, however, so make sure your paper plates are uncoated and made of just paper, and remove all stickers from fruits and vegetables. Plastics and garbage are incredibly difficult to remove during the composting process.

Here’s to a summer full of sustainable picnics and outdoor get-togethers. Enjoy!

Hannah Scholes is Waste Management’s education and outreach manager. Learn more at RecycleOftenRecycleRight.com.

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