Have a Plastic Free Picnic in Summer 2024

Great Lakes beaches and parks need your help this summer

It might be more than the right thing to do for the environment. It might be the right thing to do for your health.

Consider the number one pollutant that people leave on the shore – plastic. Some 86% of the litter collected for the Alliance for the Great Lakes beach cleanup is plastic. “For the last 10 years, the top litter items collected are tiny plastic pieces, followed by cigarette butts, tiny foam pieces, plastic bottle caps, and food wrappers,” the Alliance said in a report this spring.

It’s unsightly and can threaten fish and wildlife – and also ourselves.

For example, research shows that plastic water bottles shed microparticles that often end up in your body. On average in one study, a liter bottle contained 240,000 tiny plastic particles. Although long-term health effects are not yet known, no health experts are recommending microplastics as part of a balanced diet.

In 2023, it was reported that 90% of Great Lakes water samples in one study had levels of microplastics unsafe for wildlife. A 2016 study estimated 22 million pounds of plastic flows through the Great Lakes every year.

Sources of micro plastics beyond litter include are microfibers from textiles, pre-production plastic pellets from industry, tire and road wear particles from roadways, and foam from construction.

Zero-Waste Picnic vs. Typical Picnic

Zero-Waste Before: sandwich, chips, pear, carrots, fruit salad, cookies, water

Zero-Waste After: reusable container, reusable water bottle, cloth napkins, metal silverware

Typical Before: sandwich, chips, pear, carrots, fruit salad, cookies, water

Typical After: plastic wrappers, single-use plastic bags, single-use plastic water bottle, plastic silverware, paper napkins

Benefits of planning a plastics-free picnic:

  • It’s something you can do directly to benefit the environment.
  • It can raise the consciousness of others at the beach or park.
  • It can protect the health, your family and friends.

The guidance for a plastics-free picnic stresses the use of silverware, aluminum foil, reusable drinking containers and cloth napkins, among other tips.

Plan out foods that don’t generate a lot of waste. Finger foods make great picnic fare. Sandwiches, crackers, cheese and meats, whole fruit and vegetables, cookies.

Bring an apple and an orange instead of a pre-cut fruit salad.

If you do want a salad (greens, potato, pasta, etc), put it in a reusable container and bring your own reusable forks and spoons.

Be creative in packaging: putting chips or crackers in a reusable container (versus a single-use plastic bag), or wrapping items in a cloth.

Bring your own water bottle filled with water or a summer drink, like lemonade or tea.

Bring plates you don’t have to throw away. Buy reusable plates made of a lightweight, less fragile material.

Bring reusable cutlery, plates and glasses. You can encourage everyone to bring their own (which saves you on washing up); if you do, remember to bring some spares just in case anyone forgets.

Make sure not to leave any trash behind, and recycle what you can.

Here are a few additional recipes for a plastics-free picnic:

Plastic pollution and picnicking need not be synonymous. It just takes a little planning.

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