Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Eco-friendly picnics and backyard barbeques

Outdoor entertaining, everyday family dinners al fresco and picnics at the beach are some of the great pleasures of summer. There’s something about being outside, among nature, that makes a meal taste better, a gathering more enjoyable, an outing especially memorable.

So why then does all of the outdoor enjoyment often lead to a lot of unnecessary trash and generally eco-unfriendly behaviour?

Companies in the business of making disposable items seem to target summer with gusto. If you so choose, you could buy a whole party worth of items that are completely disposable and at the end of the evening roll up everything but the guests and dump it in the trash, all in the name if simple summer entertaining.

But simple entertaining and outdoor enjoyment in general don’t need to be of the single use variety. You can soak up summer and be green. Here’s how.

To begin, follow this general rule: choose reusable before compostable and compostable before recyclable and avoid anything that is single use.

Use everyday plates, cups and cutlery instead of disposable. Plastic cutlery isn’t recyclable so has to go in the trash. Instead, invest in an inexpensive set of reusable cutlery for picnics and back yard entertaining. Biodegradable cutlery is available but can’t be composted so has to go in the trash and compostable cutlery is usually single use and expensive so the better option is still reusable.

If you’re not comfortable using your regular dishes outside consider investing in few outdoor dishes that can fall off the deck without a worry. Enameled camping-style dishes are indestructible and available at hardware stores. Sturdy plastic plates are a second option. Watch the plastic content though (choose food-grade plastic numbers 1, 2, 4 or 5) and avoid plastic that isn’t graded or is stamped with the numbers four or seven.

If you go with disposable plates choose paper instead of Styrofoam or plastic since they can go in the compost. Also, choose a brand with recycled content (post-consumer recycled is best). Another reason to avoid Styrofoam and plastic: putting hot food straight from the barbeque onto plastic or Styrofoam could leach chemicals into your food.

For cups choose enameled cups, sturdy plastic reusable cups, or compostable cups. The Bio-Life brand at Shoppers Drug Mart is made of vegetable compounds and is compostable.

I concede that paper napkins are a reasonable option for outdoor entertaining but again look for brands that contain recycled content and make sure they go in the compost not the trash.

You can make your food more eco-friendly too. Instead of packaged, processed meat consider buying locally-produced meat (visit and search farmers or visit Kuinshoeve Meat in Rothesay for naturally raised local meat) and load up on locally grown fruits and vegetables as they come into season.

Since no outdoor meal is complete without a bevy of salads, make your dressing from scratch. Click here for some recipes for my favourite homemade dressings along with a few summer salad recipes like roasted vegetable pasta salad and roasted sweet potato salad with orange vinaigrette.

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