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5 top picks for a plastic-free picnic (yes, it’s totally possible!)

  • November 8, 2017
  • By Bronwyn Mulrooney

When you decide to adopt a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle for your family, you find yourself interrogating everyday choices.

Things you’d never previously given a second thought, suddenly now throw up a gamut of options.

How green is your picnic?

We recently decided to celebrate the start of spring with a family picnic at the alluring Jubilee Creek picnic hideaway in the Knysna forest. I knew our old-school picnic approach of picking up some premade treats from the shop wouldn’t cut it.

These snacks are often laden with unhealthy ingredients or packaged in environmentally-unfriendly plastic.

There’s a perception that all plastic is recyclable. Sadly, this is not the case. A quick check on the label of everything from super healthy leafy greens to your preservative-free, sugar-free, colourant-free all-natural raw sweet treats will often reveal that the packaging is not recyclable.

That means it will end up in a landfill somewhere and sit there, forever, leaching the chemicals from which it was made into the earth around it.

It’s ridiculous that such healthy foods are presented in such unhealthy packaging, but that is the current reality at many South African retailers.

This had me scratching my head over our little picnic. We’d decided on a 100% nature-friendly picnic spot, so shouldn’t our picnic follow suit?

The problem with plastic

Yes, I could simply pack up a few plastic lunchboxes, dish these out at the picnic, pack them all up again, and just wash the lot when I got home.

But I know for a fact some of my older plastic containers are not BPA-free. Regardless, I hate the idea of putting kickass healthy food like crisp salads in plastic boxes.

First of all, the food sweats and is warm by the time it comes to eat it. And second of all, it just tastes plasticky and bleug. Does this mean our picnic foods have been contaminated by chemicals in the plastic? I’m not sure, but personally, I don’t see any benefit to putting healthy foods in plastic containers.

For various reasons, including health concerns regarding their use for food packaging and/or their recyclability, plastic wrap, aluminium foil and wax paper are not considered healthy or green alternatives.

So what’s a mom to do? I hit my go-to website for natural and organic ideas, Faithful-to-Nature, and did a quick search using their super useful search filter for picnic stuff. Voila!

There’s a ton of plastic-free goodies for picnics and outdoor living on the site. This means you can kick back on your checked blanket under the trees with a clear conscience knowing that your picnic is a real eco-picnic.

This also means if you’re serious about following a green lifestyle, you now have no excuse not to.

Not sure where to start? Here are my top 5 picks for a plastic-free picnic:

1. Go for glass

plastic-free picnic essentials

I’m not going to lie, I love glass. Food just looks (and tastes) so fresh and flavourful when stored in glass. Plus, I’m totally addicted to little glass jars, like mini mason jars, these new ‘jar in a jar’ jars and hinged-lid jars. They make preparing perfect kid-sized picnic portions a breeze, and any leftovers keep really well, minimising food waste.

plastic-free picnic

Don’t even get me started on drinking jars! Their wide necks allow you to easily fill up the jars with fruit and herbs like basil and mint as well as plenty of ice. Can you say ‘ultimate refreshment’?

There are a ton of excellent reasons for using glass in your plastic-free picnic. Glass is:

  • A completely natural product that contains no harmful chemicals
  • Impervious to gasses and liquids, protecting food from bacteria
  • Easy to disinfect and sanitise between uses
  • Superior when it comes to preserving the taste and freshness of food
  • Great at retaining temperature, keeping cold food and drinks colder for longer
  • 100% recyclable

2. Bump up your biodegradables

plastic-free picnic

In case you hadn’t heard, there’s a new takeaway box in town, and it’s not made from polystyrene (which is actually a kind of plastic created from oil – yuk!).

These next-generation food boxes are produced from a range of sustainable and renewable plant-based materials, like waste sugarcane fibres (bagasse), and wood pulp. They’re awesome for picnic food because they are:

  • Breathable, so your food won’t sweat
  • Water resistant (keeping your food dry in case of spills)
  • Oil proof (for that odd greasy morsel)
  • Strong and hold their shape well (no squashed zarms)

The absolute best part about these new green boxes is that they are 100% compostable and biodegradable!

That means when you’re done with them, they can simply be added to your compost heap or bin. There they will break down within around 6 months, and become part of your garden compost.

Compostable plates, side plates, bowls and cups are now also available, and all perfect for your plastic-free picnic.

Regular boxes made from plain cardboard or recycled materials and containing no plastic coatings are also ideal for making up individual picnic boxes for the kids. These can also be composted when done.

3. #win with wood

plastic-free picnic

If you don’t like the idea of taking your everyday cutlery along to your picnic (let’s be honest, few knives, forks and spoons actually ever make it back home), then you’re probably used to using disposable plastic cutlery.

As convenient as this is, it’s really no good for the planet. Disposable plastic eating utensils are produced using chemicals and don’t break down if they end up in landfills.

They are also among the most common plastics found in the more than 8 million tons of plastic that pollute our oceans.

These non-natural nasties are one of the easiest picnic essentials to replace in your plastic-free picnic, thanks to eco-friendly alternatives like wooden cutlery.

Wooden knives, forks and spoons are made from FSC-certified wood (that means the wood is sustainably sourced) and are fully biodegradable and compostable. There’s also a move towards using renewable plant-based sources like bamboo for cutlery and skewers.

I love this disposable wooden cutlery that comes in a compostable bag for a truly zero-waste alternative.

4. Stock up on steel

plastic-free picnic

For years we’ve known that bottled water is pretty unsustainable.

For a start, the bottles are produced from oil; they’re not biodegradable; they can’t be reused; if they’re not recycled, they’re a serious threat to land and marine life; and they account for masses of plastic waste around the world that will never be recycled.

Every plastic bottle that has ever been made since the dawn of time and not correctly recycled, still exists somewhere in the world today. It seems pretty silly to put water – nature’s most perfect drink – in such an unnatural vessel.

For a true plastic-free picnic, aluminium and stainless steel bottles make good alternatives. They’re also ideal for kids where glass water bottles are not an option.

I like wide-necked bottles, as I can partly fill them up with ice, which helps to keep the water cooler for longer. This is important, as one drawback of metal water bottles is that they can get pretty hot on a sweltering summer’s day.

There’s no shortage of quality stainless steel bottles out there. I’m a huge fan of those that are designed specifically for kids.

5. Pack plastic-free plastic

plastic-free picnic

Yes, you read that right, plastic that isn’t really plastic! The current green alternative to regular plastic is called bioplastic.

Although it looks just like normal plastic, this super duper all-natural plastic is produced from sugarcane, plant starch and wood fibre.

plastic-free picnic

There are two types of bioplastic – the clear plastic used in disposable cold drink cups, and milkshake and smoothie cups, and an opaque plastic that is slightly stronger and used in bioplastic cutlery and to waterproof eco coffee cups.

Having put a pack of bioplastic milkshake cups to the test for a party with a rowdy group of 10-year-olds recently, I can testify these cups are up to the task where kids are involved!

The best part? At the end of party, I just dumped all the cups and their lids in the compost heap!

I love that manufacturers are getting serious about the environment, and giving us more options when it comes eco-friendly living.

Before, picnics used to be about dining outdoors, au naturel. Thanks to these eco innovations I think it’s safe to say, they’re returning to their roots!

If you enjoy family picnics, you might like this fun post on how to survive a picnic with the kids (plus my ultimate 10-point family picnic checklist).

By Bronwyn Mulrooney, November 8, 2017
Welcome to Muddy Boots, a little escape from your everyday world that features my personal experiences with family-friendly travel, leisure and lifestyle activities in South Africa. I’m a fulltime writer, editor and author; wife to a long-suffering husband; mom to 3 young boys (aged 10, 4 and 1); and pack leader to 2 mutts and 1 thieving Weimaraner who steals (and eats) everything he sees. We all live together in a little village at the foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains in the southern Cape, where the weather is wild and traffic jams usually involve waiting for herds of lazy bovines to cross the road. BRONWYN MULROONEY
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