Want to spend a nice day out at a park or on a hike, but need to plan a meal on the go? Fortunately, planning a zero waste picnic is super easy! We’re great at repurposing bottles, jars, and containers and many of us have everything we need already in our cupboards. You likely don’t need to buy a single thing (except maybe food)!
Set Up Your Zero Waste Picnic Kit
If you’re bringing hot drinks, pack a thermos or your reusable to-go cup.
A thermos can also keep drinks cold, like iced tea or lemonade. Otherwise, try packing your drinks in your reusable cups, a mason jar, or reuse any other bottle you have on hand.
If you bring your reusable bottles, you won’t need to bring any cups or glasses!
An easy, low-waste alternative is to bring drinks packaged in aluminum cans. Aluminum is easily and quickly recycled, so this is a sustainable alternative to plastic. Plus, you can find almost anything in aluminum these days: sparkling water, soda, beer, wine, etc.
If you do need to bring some sort of drinking vessel, try the half-pint mason jars. They’re a perfect size for refilling!
For a plastic-free picnic, replace disposable solo cups with aluminum cups. They are lightweight, washable, and easy to recycle.
Read: Our Fave Plastic Wrap Alternatives For a Zero Waste Kitchen
3. Travel Containers for Liquids
We are big fans of our glass storage containers, but try to use ones that seal or lock to avoid spills.
If glass is too heavy for a long hike, try stainless steel or reuse plastic tubs like yogurt containers.
Glass mason jars are also great for carrying almost any item on your picnic – roasted nuts, drinks, dressings or sauces, soups, etc. Add a kitchen towel around or between multiple jars to keep them from clanking. When you’re done, you can use it for wiping hands or carrying home dirty utensils.
4. Storing Dry Foods
Fortunately, dry foods are lighter to travel with than liquids, which can get heavy over time! This isn’t a big deal if you’re just carrying a basket to a park, but can become a burden on a hike.
We love using beeswax wraps to wrap sandwiches or bread. You can even fold beeswax wrap into little pouches for carrying whatever you’d like!
You could also use silicone bags or bowls, which double as serving dishes!
Again, repurpose whatever you have on hand. An old bread bag can be washed and reused for sandwiches or even carrying salad greens. Check your recycling bin for boxes or containers that could hold or protect the foods you’re bringing with you.
Our favorite place for zero waste swaps – EarthHero
5. Pack strategically
Be thoughtful about placing heavier items at the bottom of your container and lighter, perishable ones on top.
Fruits like apples will travel very well while softer fruits may become damaged while traveling if not stored properly. Try packing bananas, plums, and peaches at the top of your container to minimize smushing.
Read: Why I Never Recommend Bamboo Paper Towels
6. Eco-Friendly Picnic Plates
If you’re just serving finger foods, you might not even need a plate. Simply open the containers and let people graze! They could use their cloth napkin to hold their snacks, too.
But, if you’re serving foods like pasta salad or cake, you might want to bring some plates. We recommend making your picnic plates reusable ones that you can enjoy again and again!
Especially if your picnic is just for a couple of people, consider packing your normal plates in your basket or bag! Simply wash them at home.
If you have some plastic plates on hand, this is a lighter-weight and less breakable option. You might be able to snag some at a thrift store if you don’t! We typically don’t eat from plastic containers but one meal on a plastic plate isn’t a big deal.
If you really need to minimize the weight, you could look for bamboo plates or compostable paper plates.
7. Sustainable Picnic Ware
The same idea applies to silverware! Simply use what you have from home.
We always save plastic utensils that come with takeout orders, etc. and this could be a great time to use those.
If you carry reusable utensils with you anyway, simply bring those in your picnic basket!
Read: 30+ Sustainable Frugal Living Tips to Save Money & Help the Planet
Unless you are having your zero waste picnic on a park table (and maybe even then), you’ll likely want to bring some sort of surface to use as a tablecloth or for sitting on the ground.
The most sustainable picnic linens are going to be fabrics you already own. There’s no need to purchase something just for this purpose unless you have a shortage of blankets or sheets in your home.
If you have a tablecloth, this is a great use! Focus on finding something the right size. An old flat sheet would make a great tablecloth or place to sit.
Having a picnic in the backyard or close to home? You could even roll up an old rug! It’s larger and harder to transport, but it could give your picnic a unique aesthetic.
Bring a kitchen towel or cloth napkins to wipe hands, clean up spills, and keep glass containers from clinking around.
9. Eco-Friendly Picnic Baskets
What should you use to carry your zero waste picnic foods? Look to see what you already have on hand!
- Any basket with a handle that’s large enough
- Reusable cloth bag
- Tote bag
What food should I bring on my zero waste picnic?
Since you’re carrying the food to go, most people typically bring things that are snacky and easy to serve and eat without a table. Many people bring finger foods and items that can be eaten with their hands.
Easy food ideas for your zero waste picnic
- Sandwiches (wraps & pinwheels are fun too!)
- Chicken, tuna, or egg salad
- Pasta or potato salad
- Prepared salads (tabbouleh, curried couscous salad, etc)
- Fresh bread or rolls
- Chips or popcorn
- Dips (hummus, etc)
- Sliced cheeses
- Roasted nuts
- Fresh fruit
- Sliced vegetables & dip (put nut butter at the bottom of a jar and celery sticks on top!)
- Cookies, brownies, or muffins
- Salami or cured meats
Be sure to plan for trash! Pack it in, pack it out, right? Reuse the first container that empties or bring a paper bag to take home any food waste for your compost.
Read: A Beginner’s Guide to Setting Up a Zero Waste Kitchen
How to keep picnic food warm?
The best solution is to carry food in containers that hold in the heat, like these Hydro Flask insulated jars. Vacuum insulated food jars come in a variety of sizes and are great for bringing soups, oatmeal, or other dishes with you on the go! These same containers can also help keep picnic foods cool, like chicken salad.
Insulated bags and coolers are perfect for keeping foods cold. There are insulated bags and even most cloth lunchboxes offer mild insulation. Bring ice in a silicone bag or reused plastic bag for extra cooling power. The best way to keep foods cold for a long time is in a cooler packed with ice.
Don’t own any of these items? Consider borrowing from a friend or hitting the thrift store!
Have any other tips for a plastic-free picnic?
How do you stay zero waste on the go? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Oh I love this! I especially love the tip of picking up jars and containers at the thrift store. They get so much of that donated that I always feel like I can find what I’m looking for there.
Cat, I’m so glad to hear this is useful! Yes, we totally agree about the thrift store. We always try to start any purchases by looking at secondhand options first! It’s a simple way to save money and shift to a concsious consumer lifestyle at the same time. Thanks for reading!