And what if, for a moment, we could also forget all the waste: plastic cutlery, paper plates and napkins, foam cups and the stinky, toxic lighter fluid for the barbecue? Wouldn't outdoor picnics be even better?
We've found a whole basket-load of eco-friendly tools to help you green-up your next outdoor adventure or party. (Although you may still have to bring along a fly swatter for the yellow-jackets.)
Don't miss our complementary photo gallery: How to make your picnic greener >
Light my fire: Greener cooking options
• The Lokkii Smart Grill with Lokkii eco-friendly and all-natural charcoal barbecue bricks, prices upon request (lokkii.com)
These organic briquettes don't require any ignition fuel, and are 100 per cent nitrate- and petroleum-free. The best part? They're burger-ready in about 15 minutes.
• Charcoal chimney, prices upon request (sobies.com)
Some parks and campsites are already equipped with a built-in barbecue, but be a little greener by bringing along your own charcoal chimney. Using a chimney to start up your coals eliminates the need for toxic starter fluid and takes the same amount of time as preheating a gas grill.
• Basques Hardwood Charcoal, prices upon request (sobies.com/accessories)
Where possible, reach for natural charcoal such as Basques Hardwood Charcoal, as opposed to those perfectly-shaped briquettes which are often full of chemicals for easy lighting. If you do need a little help getting your fire started, choose an all-natural fire starter; you can often find versions made from a combination of beeswax and wood chips.
Better dinnerware, cups and cutlery
• Veneerwear Plates by Bambu, $7-13 (branchhome.com)
Okay, so not as cheap as paper plates. But make the investment in yourself and your planet with these prettier-than-paper, single-use Veneerware plates, serving platters and cutlery from Bambu. Made from 100 per cent organic bamboo - a renewable resource that hasn’t been bleached or dyed - these items will biodegrade in about six months.
Tip: If you must go with paper, choose the brand made with the highest percentage of post-consumer material.
Page 1 of 3: See next page for eco-friendly dinnerware and cloth napkins
• Biodegradeable Plates, Bowls and Cups, see website for various price details (branchhome.com)
From Branchhome.com, check out this sturdy dinnerware made from bagasse, a starchy byproduct of the sugar-refining industry. They are disposable, biodegradable, and compostable. Unbleached and food-safe, they're microwavable, freezer safe, oil resistant, and can be used for both hot and cold food and drink.
• Hilo set of two Bamboo Cutting Boards, $15 (picnicfun.com/products/hilo-light-bamboo-cutting-board-set)
Of course you'll need something to slice that fabulous loaf of artisanal bread you packed. Once again, bamboo to the rescue. Technically a grass and not a tree, bamboo is a fast grower—up to 2 inches per day—and thus quite renewable. And don't worry, there's plenty for us and the pandas! From Hilo, these lightweight cutting boards are perfect for carting around, while at the same time are as durable and strong as traditional maple boards.
• Cold Beverage Cups (50 9 oz cups), $7 (branchhome.com)
Also from Branch, these cold beverage cups will have you thinking plastic but feeling fantastic about the good you're doing for mother earth. Made from PLA, (polylactic acid or Polylactide), a material derived from corn and other 100 per cent renewable vegetable resources, they are biodegradable and compostable and break down in about 120 days.
• Biodegradeable Fork, Knife and Spoon (50 of each), $14 (branchhome.com)
Sturdy and reusable, this cutlery is made from 80 per cent potato starch and 20 per cent vegetable oil. But if you don't want to use it twice, don't fret, the pieces are also biodegradable and compostable and will break down after about 180 days.
• Eco-Friendly Picnic Basket, $115 (shop.com)
This elegant eco picnic basket set for two is composed of 100 per cent renewable resources; the woven shell is made of willow, while the fabric lining and napkins are made from dye- and chemical-free cotton. The basket includes bamboo plates, utensils, and cutting board as well as wine goblets made from recycled glass. Everything tucks away beautifully in this pretty basket.
Don't miss our complementary photo gallery: How to make your picnic greener >
Picnic linens: Cloth vs. paper
The numbers are fuzzy, but one thing we do know for sure is thousands of trees are felled to make paper napkins and towels with "virgin wood" for something we use once and then throw away. What a waste! You can help lessen the negative impact on the forests in a few simple ways.
Tip: Buy recycled paper napkins and other household paper products, claiming to contain a high percentage of post-consumer paper.
• Napkins with Ties (set of four), $38 (branchhome.com)
Soft, elegant fabric napkins turn any meal into an occasion. These beauties are made from reclaimed vintage linen and cotton.
Tip: Don't forget second-hand shops are a great place to seek out cloth napkins for picnics and outdoor entertaining. Have fun. Mix and match. A thrift shop is also a great place to score a classic picnic basket, cooler, some ice packs and a blanket or tablecloth for everyone to spread out on.
Page 2 of 3: See next page for best beverages, picnic menus, plus eco-friendly bug sprays and sun blocks
• Steaz Organic Sodas, $2 (shopwhitefish.ca)
For fun, you could plan an all-organic or local menu. Look for humanely raised meats for the grill, artisanal cheeses and breads and locally grown veggies and fruits.
• Malivoire Wines, $15.95-$24.95 (malivoire.com)
Fill the cooler with natural sodas or organic beer and wine (should local laws permit). Eco-friendly winery Malivoire harvests its grapes by hand, snubs the use of heavy machinery and composts its cuttings and other vineyard leftovers back to the ground. And the wine is great, too! Pack a bottle of summery rosé for your next al fresco meal.
• Sigg Aluminum Water Bottles, $22-30 (mysigg.com)
And if you bring along water, try to avoid those ever-so-convenient plastic bottles. Sigg is just one of many makers of refillable steel water bottles. It's a good investment in your health and the health of the planet.
Tip: It takes 200 to 400 years for a pop can to biodegrade. A plastic bottle? No one knows for certain—it hasn't happened yet—however some scientists are suggesting it could take about a thousand years! So don't throw away what you could just as well bring back home and put in the compost bin or blue box. Styrofoam is also a huge no-no. It can't be recycled, it takes forever to break down, and it may prove to be carcinogenic. Invest in a well-made, reusable cooler and reusable (or at least recyclable) food containers.
Don’t get burned or bugged: Eco-friendlier outdoor protection
• Mexitan Sunblock SPF 30, $22 (mexitancanada.com)
Sunblock is important, but many varieties contain toxic chemicals. Look for natural brands in health food stores or online. Mexitan Canada makes an SPF 30 sunscreen that's chemical-free and fortified with healthy green tea antioxidants.
• Skedattle Bug Spray, $14 (mexitanproducts.com/skedattle)
The same goes for insect repellent. Skedattle is chemical- and pesticide-free and contains oils of vanilla, citronella, lemongrass and peppermint. Smells lovely on you but awful to the bugs. Tip: Mosquitoes are attracted to the aroma you exude after eating a banana. On the other hand, if you make garlic a part of your meal the pesky critters will bug off!
Getting there is half the fun
Piling the whole gang into the SUV and driving for hours with the AC blasting isn't a particularly eco-friendly way to start your green picnic. And while it might be unavoidable for some, Canadians are blessed with acres of green spaces and parks right in the middle of our most bustling urban centers.
Consider packing knapsacks and hopping on bikes or hiking to your destination. Look into public transit or include another couple or family and carpool. On your way, drop by a farmers' market or U-pick fruit farm. You might even find that the orchard or market is the perfect backdrop for a family picnic.
View the photo gallery "How to make your picnic greener" here.
These Canadian Living picnic menus will help you plan your outdoor feast:
• The perfect picnic
Balsamic beef on a bun, a Grilled Vegetable Torta, salads and complete with Chocolate Caramel Cookies for dessert.
• A Midsummer's eve picnic
Smoked Salmon Muffulettas, marinated mushrooms, a mixed pea salad with Lemon Hazelnut Squares for dessert.
• Picnic in the park: An elegant outdoor menu
A more adult menu of Cornish hens, cucumber salad, white wine-infused Melon Berry Cups and Mocha Brownies.