A wasteful picnic turned into an eye-opening lesson on how to green this summer pastime.

I recently went on a picnic at the beautiful Laurelhurst Park in southeast Portland with a friend. It was in the middle of the week, and I admit I did not prepare very well. I stopped by my local grocery store after I finished with work to grab some things for the picnic that evening. Because I was in a rush, I did not make the most eco-friendly choices and opted for convenience instead. Here are the lessons I learned from some of the eco-mistakes that I made on this picnic.
Laurelhurst picnic
A snapshot of the author’s wasteful picnic. The next picnic will be a lot greener!
Eco-mistake: I didn’t cook. Because I did not plan ahead, I did not have time to cook any food for the picnic. Instead, I ended up getting prepared food from the deli counter at my local grocery store, New Seasons. Luckily, New Seasons uses a lot of organic, eco-friendly and local ingredients in its prepared food. But even so, there was a lot of packaging used that eventually ended up in the garbage. I got three items — risotto asparagus cakes, kale salad and olives – and each came in its own little container. The kale salad container was recyclable, but the other containers, which were made of cardboard but were soiled by the time we were done with them, were not recyclable. Lesson learned: Next time I go on a picnic, I will cook instead of buying prepared food. This will afford me the opportunity to eliminate the wasted packaging involved in buying prepared food. I can transport the food I cook to the picnic in reusable containers. Moreover, cooking at home has a smaller carbon footprint than buying prepared food. This is because of the processing, packaging and transporting that goes into preparing food for sale. Eco-mistake: We used disposable cups, plates and forks. While I was at the grocery store, I picked up some disposable cups, plates and forks for the picnic, because I thought it would be easier to deal with, instead of transporting dirty dishes back home. It is true that the paper goods and forks I got were relatively eco-friendly because they were compostable. However, it will take a very long time for those items to biodegrade into useful material again, and it would be better to eliminate them from the waste stream by not using them in the first place. Lesson learned: I will take nondisposable cups, plates and forks to the picnic next time, eliminating these items from the waste stream. Glass plates and cups are not ideal to transport to a picnic, so I recommend investing in some plates and cups that are not breakable, but are reusable. If you take a separate bag with you, you can stick your dirty plates and cups and utensils in there without making your other picnic materials dirty. This separate bag can also be used to carry recyclable waste back to your recycling bin at home if the location where you are picnicking does not have a recycling bin. Even though we generated unnecessary waste with our picnic, my friend and I did do something right: We left our picnic area just as we found it. We made sure to pick up after ourselves so as not to disturb the natural setting with our leftovers. A lot of people think that human food is OK for animals to eat, so they leave some leftovers behind for animals to pick on. But, most human food is not fit for animal consumption, so it is important to pick up after yourself. I hope my recent picnic experience and the lessons I learned are helpful to you when planning your next picnic! Be sure to tell your green picnic story below in the comments section!