Green Room: Zero Waste Picnics

Let’s all do our part to reduce waste and trash pollution. We can all contribute by learning more about Zero Waste principles and making changes in our day to day lives. Please read on to learn more about this month’s topic, Zero Waste Picnics, and stay tuned for future articles that will highlight Zero Waste lifestyle choices and tips in alignment with The Five R’s of Zero Waste.


Summer in Goleta is the perfect time to get outdoors for a picnic with friends and family. This is also a great opportunity to incorporate some principles of Zero Waste: Refuse what you don’t need, Reduce what you do need, Reuse and repair what you already have, Recycle what you can’t use, and Rot (compost) the rest. Consider doing some of the following at your next outdoor gathering:

  • Use a reusable picnic basket, cooler, or tote bag if you do not have one already; extra points for upcycling! Picnic baskets are great for photos, but before purchasing one, ask yourself if you will use it that often. Check out neighbor-based social media apps like NextDoor, Facebook, or Craigslist to see if anyone is giving away their baskets/coolers/totes. Thrift stores are also great places to check for second-hand baskets.
  • Bring your own cups and dishes. Try to get creative with what cups and dishes you or your friends can bring from home. Restaurant takeout containers can be rinsed and used again, or if you already have reusable food containers get every single last use out of it (“reuse what you already have”). Coffee mugs, reusable water bottles, cloth napkins, trays, camping gear – see what is hiding in your cupboards or garage, or upcycle reusable goods that can replace single-use plates and cups.
  • If you do need knives, forks, and spoons, use what is already in your utensil drawer, or upcycle reusable cutlery if possible. All cutlery is portable if you can take it with you!
  • Bring your own condiments and skip the single-use condiment packets from restaurants. Single-use condiment packets contribute to litter at parks at beaches. Skip them all together by brining your own preferred sauces from home.
  • Use hand towels or cloth napkins instead of paper towels/napkins. Old large towels can also be cut into smaller squares. Most fabrics (like old t-shirts) can be used in place of paper-based cleaning products. Unpaper Towels are a nice update on traditional rags, and you can make these at home!
  • Plan your menu in advance with ingredients that do not have excessive plastic packaging. You could also see what leftovers or ingredients you already have that can be whipped up into a new dish. Another option is basing your menu off finger foods – that means there’s no need to bring any cutlery!
  • If you are bringing take-out food to a picnic, ask the restaurant to skip giving you plastic cutlery. Make sure to do this while you are placing your order – whether it’s by adding a comment with an online order, or letting the restaurant know in person or over the phone. Read more about the City of Goleta’s new ordinance on Single-Use Foodware.
  • For beverages that have to be bought in a store, choose metal cans or glass bottles over plastic. It’s understandably tempting to buy sodas and other beverages for a picnic. If that’s the case for your next get together, buy drinks that are in aluminum cans or glass bottles and be sure to reuse or recycle them. Please check out our guidance so you can Recycle Right!
  • Have a plan for your leftovers. Bring reusable food wraps, like beeswax sheets, mason jars, or any other food container you already have. You can also compost any leftover food scraps at home, but please check out our guidance so you Compost Correctly!

Along with these Zero Waste principles, you can also incorporate, “pack it in, pack it out” once you’re done with your outing. Be sure to check for litter that may have blown away from your immediate area, and make sure you do not leave anything else behind.

Stay tuned for future articles about how you can help Goleta achieve Zero Waste. For now, check out some things you can start today to get to Zero Waste: Spring Cleaning.