It feels as if the pandemic changed everything. Our routines, our jobs, our relationships. But one of the things COVID-19 couldn’t do, was stopping the sun from shining. Despite the altered reality that we all are currently facing, some of the best summer activities are thankfully those that can be done regardless of the constraints that the virus has put on our lives.
One thing I’ve been doing a lot lately is picnicking. When I say picnicking, I really mean picking up a bunch of pre-made food and drinks from a store and eating it in a park. The other day I got some amazing vegan pastries and sandwiches and brought them down to the lakeshore in the city. When I was done eating them all (and yes, I ate them ALL because honestly this place is incredible!) I was left with a bunch of plastic takeout containers, a bag, used napkins and a plastic cup. All of which I threw away.
Shame on me. I know. Since the pandemic hit, I’ve found myself relaxing my own rules about minimal waste, because it just felt like a lot to manage on top of all the other stressors. But I’m happy that I am at least aware of what I’m doing and looking to do things a little differently going forward. Picnicking seems to be the most popular activity right now, due to its generally small participant count and the fact that it’s usually done in a safe outdoor location. Right now in Toronto, we are allowed to gather in groups of ten or less, which is the perfect kind of numbers for a picnic. The other great thing about picnics, is their ability to be fun and successful while maintaining social distancing regulations.
So for Summer 2020, I’m deeming picnicking the perfect activity. Here are some tips to help you plan the Zero Waste Picnic of Your Socially Distanced Dreams!
1. Ask friends to BYOP (Bring your own plate)
Ask everyone who will be coming to bring their own plate, cup, and utensils, and make sure they are reusable. Ten different hands on the same spoon to dish out hummus isn’t a great idea right now. If everyone uses their own spoon for this purpose, the spread of germs is greatly minimized.
Bringing your own dishes is also a must for cutting out plastic waste, and instead of one person handling ten plates at the end of the day, what each of you bring, you handle and then take home to wash, minimizing the spread of germs further.
2. Choose to bring/make foods with no waste
Choose fruits such as pineapple, watermelon, apples, peaches, etc, that aren’t typically sold in plastic containers like strawberries or blueberries are. (If you have a farmer’s market or an organic store that sells berries in a paper carton, go for it!) After you wash, prep, and peel all fruits at home, compost the scraps.
Making a dip like hummus (can of chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice, tahini, salt, spices) is a zero-waste option, as all of those things come in either glass jars or aluminum cans. These are all easy to make at home rather than purchase in a plastic tub at the store.
As for drinks, think of making a pitcher of homemade lemonade. With simple ingredients such as lemons, water, sugar and maybe some fresh herbs like mint, you can easily make this recipe zero waste by peeling the lemon, using the whole of it for your drink (pulpy lemonade is the best!) and throwing in the peels for extra flavor. Later, you can compost the peels and mint.
3. Use jars for storage + compost
This one is very simple. Bring everything in jars. Take home everything in jars. Jars are great for pre-made layered salads and just about everything really. But how cute would it be to make a salad jar for each person? To ramp up social distancing/ germ minimization, you could each prepare a dish for the picnic. For example, one person could prepare the hummus and veggies, creating a jar with both the hummus and veggies inside for each person at the picnic. Another does the salad jars and so forth. This may work best with smaller numbers, but I think you get the idea.
4. Keep it minimal + use what you have
You already have the essentials for a picnic. Don’t go out a buy a special blanket or basket. Most households have extra towels or sheets, or most likely someone attending has something a little more, er, fashionable. However, I use a towel with no shame. It doesn’t have to be glamorous, it just has to be fun.
In terms of food, think simple. Straightforward items like a salad made with spinach, farro, sweet potatoes, and vegetables, with a simple homemade vinaigrette. Using leftovers is a great idea as well. My friend often made me a large batch of “Oat Burgers” (probably one of my favorite foods to date) and I used to always have some sitting in my fridge. These would make a great addition crumbled up on any salad.
Planning a picnic is so much fun. A socially distanced, zero-waste one is completely doable and can be just as much—if not more—enjoyable!
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Photo: Nguyen, Heftiba, Clavel, Papp, Hoosier, S’well, Matthiessen, Olson, Natalia Y; Unsplash.