The ES&H Section held their annual picnic on Oct. 5, but the planning began a few months before. In June, the ES&H picnic planners began figuring out how over 60 people could produce as little waste as possible.
“It didn’t take much more planning than any other picnic we’ve had in the past,” said Jody Federwitz, the program administrator and one of the picnic planners.
Participants donated fabric napkins and real silverware, and the planning committee purchased reusable plastic plates at a fairly cheap price. They even used recycled yogurt cups as bowls for the salad.
“We spent less money than we would have by using reusable plates, utensils and napkins,” said Minnie Koch, a budget associate.
The planners thought the drinks would be fairly easy to keep green. Soda cans are easily recycled, as are plastic cups – so they assumed. They were right about the soda cans, but the plastic cups were made of a material that cannot be recycled. The cups were returned, and volunteers brought in reusable cups from home for drinks.
Once the supplies were arranged, it was time to figure out the best way to feed a large group without producing much waste. They bought items in bulk to cut down on non-recyclable packaging. They also purchased all of the meat for the grill from a local butcher, which cut down on the distance the food has to travel, decreasing the related carbon emissions.
“This picnic made me more aware of how much garbage we generate at home,” said Federwitz.
Even the clean-up was sustainable, using a green cleaner and rags instead of paper towels. Picnic attendees also could win environmentally friendly products, like compostable garbage bags or a reusable grocery bag, in a raffle.
The final result? Of the entire picnic, there was one garbage bag, filled only a quarter of the way. It contained a few pieces of non-recyclable packaging and some food waste. The food waste was still less than it had been at previous picnics.
“We made an effort to only take what we thought we could consume,” said Koch. “Overall, I think this picnic generated a sense of team spirit in our section. Everyone was glad to help us meet our goal of near zero waste.”
Attendees extended the green theme by wearing their favorite shade of green.
“I worked many events where we easily filled entire industrial-sized waste containers,” said Cindy Rogers, an administrative assistant. “I was amazed and pleased of our results. The photo says it all!”
Tips for others:
—Katie Kosirog, ES&H Specialist, Environmental Protection Group