Zero Waste Living

How to Make your Next Picnic and BBQ Zero Waste

I know, I know. It’s August, and that means ‘back to school’ stuff, right? NO. NO NO NO NO NO.




I am not ready for summer to be over, and most schools start after labor day here in my area of Minnesota, so in my mind, we still have about a month left. Plus, the great Minnesota get-together (aka the Minnesota state) fair, which is a summer staple, has not happened yet, and that is the unofficial OK to start getting into full ‘back to school mode’.




So I’m just going to keep chugging along in naive-ville (a physical location I just made up) and keep posting about summer.


So what does one do as we near the end of summer? Especially as we approach Labor Day weekend?


Picnics and BBQs!


And while picnics and BBQs are just fun for getting together with family and friends, playing games, talking, just enjoying each other’s company, they can also be big waste producers (much of which can end up as litter). Not judging, just stating an observation.



Think: paper plates, silverware, cups, food packaging, single-use plastic water bottles, and more.


Womp womp…


The good news is that any future picnics and BBQs can be great ways to not only reduce waste, but also open the door for conversations with those who may not be familiar with zero waste (low waste) living.


Woo woo!


Obligatory The Mindful Mom Blographer disclaimer: do what you can in the season of life that you are in. If you’re new to implementing zero waste, don’t try to do everything all at once. Cue major overwhelm and burnout (I speak from experience). Pick a couple of items from the list and see how they go. After you’re comfortable with those, add in a couple more.




Ok, back to the list! I have separated each category into ‘if you’re attending’ and ‘if you’re hosting’ so you can get information that applies to your situation directly.


One of the most important things is to communicate. Either communicate with your guests or your host ahead of time so that everyone knows what’s going on!



How to host/attend a zero waste BBQ and picnic:



If you’re attending:

  • Bring your own reusable water bottle for yourself and your family. I do this all the time so that I’m always prepared to stay hydrated and ensure that I can leave any type of disposable containers behind.


If you’re hosting:

  • Look for options that can easily be recycled such as aluminum cans and glass. While plastic can be recycled, most of the time it doesn’t end up recycled, and it has such a limited lifespan that eventually it ends up in the trash. Products like aluminum and glass can be recycled into a variety of products indefinitely.
  • Encourage guests to bring their own reusable water bottle.
  • Have a large pitcher (or a few) of water with reusable cups. Ask friends and family for extra pitchers/cups, or look at your local second-hand store.



Plates, napkins, silverware

If you’re attending:

  • Bring your own. Feel uncomfortable about it? Use it as an opportunity to talk with others about the benefits of zero waste and using reusables.
  • Offer to help the host clean up (see below)


If you’re hosting:

  • I’m sure I’m going to get some eye rolls with this one, but hear me out. Tell your friends you’re hosting a zero waste BBQ/picnic and encourage them to bring their own (have a few back-ups on hand just in case someone missed the memo). Or, if you are hosting a smaller group, use the reusable plates you have at home. Yes, it might mean a little more work, but hopefully, you have awesome friends/family who are willing to help you clean up.
  • Put a large bucket near the sink inside or near the picnic table/blanket outside with hot, soapy water. Encourage people to either wash their own dishes right away!
  • Napkins: paper napkins can be composted, so if you do compost that is an option. Otherwise, again, reusables (I saw somewhere that people have used an upcycled old sheet to make a bunch of cloth napkins for a party), encouraging others to bring their own, etc. Have a small bucket for the napkins near the trash/recycle/compost bins. After the party, just throw them all in the wash right away!
  • If you really want to use disposable, there are disposable compostable cups, plates, and silverware. However, if not composted (instead thrown away), it can still take over 100 years for the product to break down in a landfill.  I would only recommend this option if you plan on composting the products. Remember, we are trying to reduce overall waste!




If you’re attending:

  • Bring a dish in a reusable container which a reusable utensil (and a reusable food cover if you’re going to be outside)
  • If you’re bringing a dish, opt for recipes that use whole foods (less waste than convenience foods)
  • Make sure you are only taking the amount of food you are going to eat to reduce food waste
  • Ask about composting options, or bring a container with to bring home any food item that can be composted
  • Offer to help the host clean up (see below)


If you’re hosting:

  • Encourage others to bring food in a reusable container with a reusable utensil (and a reusable food cover if you’re going to be outside)
  • If you’re planning on providing all the food, use reusable food containers and utensils. Ask for some help cleaning up (seriously, people WANT to help)
  • Take advantage of all the fresh produce/farmers markets/gardens this time of year and base your picnic/BBQ menu around whole foods. Whole foods = less packaging = less waste = tastes WAY better!
  • Better yet, offer a delicious menu (or ask guests to bring certain items on said menu) of hor devours and finger foods which would require less cutlery and plates.
  • If you compost, make a clean compost bin for guests to properly dispose of their food waste. Use it as an opportunity to educate others about composting.
  • Have a plan in place for how you are going to use up leftovers. For example, planning to send food home with others? Put the food in a reusable container or ask guests to bring their own. Otherwise, plan some meals for the week after the picnic/BBQ to use up any leftovers if you know you will have some.  
  • Need to keep food cold? Use reusable ice packs! Ask friends and family to bring some extra if you need.





  • Remember to bring your food, utensils, plates, reusable water bottles etc. in a reusable bag. Easier to carry and less likely to break!
  • Leave no trace and eave an area better than you found it.
  • Go in knowing that your party may not end up being fully zero waste. And that’s ok. We are all learning and doing our best, and sometimes that involves waste. As I said at the beginning, do the best you can in the season of life that you are in, and you’re already doing great!


What is your favorite way to reduce waste during a BBQ/picnic?



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1 year ago

I really enjoyed reading this! I have always found that when I host events, it’s much easier to be zero-waste than when I attend events. I like your idea that if you bring your own reusable containers and utensils you can always start a conversation. Thank you for sharing!


1 year ago

I admire what you do and applaud it. I think that is the best example of living mindfully and with full awareness of your being. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I have been following your journey on IG. Keep it going you’ve inspired me to reuse my veggie bags.

Katy LV
Katy LV
1 year ago

I always feel guilty going for picnics so love this! 💚 saved it for reference too.

1 year ago

I’m not ready for summer to be over either! These are great suggestions for all the outdoor get-togethers that happen in the early Fall (or shall we call it late summer?) ; )