Skip to Content

How to Plan the Perfect Zero Waste Picnic

Picnics are the perfect way to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. When the sun’s shining and the temperatures are in that sweet spot, there’s nothing better than to grab good food and some company and relax in a picturesque place. And if you need a quick mood boost, a picnic lunch or dinner just might do the trick. 

Meals outside are all about appreciating our environment, but sometimes our choices indicate otherwise. Are you used to reaching for plastic utensils, paper plates, paper towels, and single-use ziploc bags? Take a moment to think about how these might impact the environment long after your picnic takes place.

With a little planning, it’s easy to have a zero-waste picnic. If you’ve already begun your zero waste journey, this should be a snap, and if you’re new to zero waste, there’s a good chance that you already have most things you need. 

This article may contain compensated/affiliate links. See our full disclosure here.

Planning a Zero Waste Picnic

Here are some things to think about as you plan your waste-free picnic.

Earth-Friendly Feasting

Let’s start with the most important part: food!

Of course, this depends on personal tastes, but you’ll want food that will pack easily and stay fresh. Sandwiches are a great go-to that you can slide into reusable silicone bags like these ones from Stasher or simply wrap in cloth, or reusable food wraps.

LunchBots Large Cinco Stainless Steel Lunch Container - Five Section Design Holds a Variety of Foods - Metal Bento Box - Dishwasher Safe - Stainless Lid - Stainless Steel

For extra easy prep, pack ingredients to make your own homemade snacks. Spreads like hummus and pesto are easy to make at home and can be transported in glass or metal reusable food containers.

Easy zero waste snacks like cucumber and cherry tomatoes can be put into small containers, a divided ‘bento style’ box (like this one), or thrown in on their own.

If you like sides like pretzels or snack mixes, search for these at bulk stores, where you can find them without packaging. For something sweet and fresh, add seasonal fruit to the mix.

To have the most eco-friendly picnic, keep it vegan. We often think of waste when it comes to being environmentally friendly, but our diets have a huge impact as well.

Livestock (raised for meat and dairy) account for over 25% of the emissions from agriculture in the US, which in turn make up about 10% of US greenhouse gas emissions. Use your picnic as an excuse to try out the latest vegan substitute or to challenge yourself to eat an entirely plant-based meal. 

Quenching Your Thirst 

Hydro Flask 40 oz Wide Mouth Straw Lid Black

If you don’t already live by your reusable water bottle and a thermos or two, here’s your chance to fix that!

Klean Kanteen and Hydro Flask make ranges of stainless steel insulated and non-insulated reusable water bottles that should last for life, but any reusable bottle made of stainless steel or glass is a good choice too.

Klean Kanteen also makes a line of stainless steel pint cups, which are useful for juice, water, or wine you want to share with friends. And Preserve’s set of recycled plastic reusable cups are also a good option since they can be washed, reused, and even returned to be made into new products once they reach their end of life. 

If you want soda, ditch the soft drinks sold in plastic bottles and make your own at home with a SodaStream instead.

To Plate or Not to Plate

What should you use for plates? The simple answer is: anything that you don’t have to throw away.

While typical dinner plates can be heavy and clunky to transport, see if you have any reusable plates made of a lightweight, less fragile material.

You may want to look into getting reusable eco-friendly plates, like the Grow Forward Wheat Straw plates. Or for a totally plastic-free picnic, look for stainless steel plate options, like these.

Depending on what kind of food you bring, you may also want to ditch plates altogether and eat out of the containers themselves, or off of cloth napkins.

Zero Waste Picnic Utensils

To-Go Ware Bamboo Travel Utensils - Utensil Set with Carrying Case, Indigo

Whether you use plates or not, be sure to bring reusable utensils. One easy option is to simply roll your everyday silverware into cloth or tea towels, and take that along.

But for something a bit lighter, look into getting some eco-friendly reusable bamboo utensils. These are lightweight but sturdy and are great to keep in your zero waste to-go kit.

Stainless steel is also an excellent material for utensils, and Amazon carries some affordable sets like the Wealer’s 13 piece family pack.

As a last resort, if you’re planning a large picnic, or it’s not convenient to take things home to wash, you can also buy compostable bamboo utensils like these ones – they’re far more eco-friendly than throwaway plastic cutlery.

Something for Your Bum

Although not necessary, it can be nice to have something to sit on besides grass or sand.

An old blanket, sheet, or tablecloth works well. If you don’t have any to spare, check your local thrift store or online second-hand shop, or ask family and friends before buying new.

Chances are there’s someone who would be more than happy to give away an old blanket, sheet, or second-hand picnic rug.

But if you are in the market for a purpose-made picnic blanket, you can’t go wrong with these gorgeous water-resistant blankets from Nomadix (they also make our favorite sustainable beach towels) – and the kicker is that they’re made from recycled plastic bottles!

How to Carry All Your Zero Waste Picnic Supplies

One of the hardest parts of an eco picnic is figuring out how to transport everything.

If you anticipate being a frequent picnic goer, you may want to invest in an insulated carrier to keep everything fresh, or a delightful eco-friendly wicker picnic basket.

If you want to use something you already have, keep in mind that you’ll want something that can support a good amount of weight.

Reusable shopping bags that you can load up with lots of items work as well as most large tote bags, or your trusty beach bag. Otherwise, invest in an all-purpose market basket which can be used for your zero waste shopping too. This is what I use!

If you don’t like the idea of carrying a large bag, or can’t for health reasons, consider getting a shopping trolley. You can find good utilitarian ones like these, or opt for something more fun like this wicker shopping trolley.

Cloth napkins such as Earthly Co. NotPaper Towels are a great substitute for paper napkins and a good way to add cushioning between items so that they don’t knock against each other during transport. 

Waste Not

Even if you ditch packaging on your next picnic, you may still end up with food waste after your zero waste picnic is done. For a truly waste free picnic, make sure you bring some kind of airtight container or sealable silicone bag so that you can transport any leftover food scraps home and compost them properly.

With these things in mind, it’s easy to build your own eco friendly picnic set out of things that you have and quality items that you’ll use in many situations for years to come. Not only will you be doing your part for the environment, but they will be a pleasure to use.

So go forth and plan your zero, or low waste picnics, take some pictures for the gram, and spread the word that zero waste isn’t as intimidating as it seems – all while filling up on delicious picnic food and enjoying some company in the sun!