The joy of the outdoors is no secret – come any weekend, hot or not, Singapore’s parklands from the Botanic Gardens to East Coast Parkway are teeming with people like ants let loose on fallen jam toast. And really, outdoors ARE the jam toast for the soul!
Research has only now started spewing words like Nature Deficit Disorder, but anyone who’s spent time with nature knows how nature nourishes the soul and is necessary for good health. That’s why we find parents chasing the children out of the home and away from electronics and into the gardens!
When I was a kid, my parents fully supported my tree climbing, rain running, hill rolling, barefoot running desires with four thumbs ups and let me loose on the world. So when I head out on weekends now and I see all the people out and about – gatherings at a barbecue, kids on scooters, serious cyclists, budding roller skaters, romancing tandem-cyclists… I always think that some things never change.
But some things do change
And this is the difference: Now when people have a day out now versus yester-years, there is much more than footprints we leave behind. We deposit big bags of garbage on the sides of dustbins => because the dustbins are too full => because all of us use so many disposables to make the picnic convenient.
I don’t know in which decade we pitted convenience against the environment, but it is time to change that equation. And also, it is time to find solutions where convenience and environment go hand-in-hand. Here are some ways to plan an eco-friendly picnic that will help you have a great time outdoors as well as be gentle on the environment. If you try these out or have your own tips to share: do leave a comment below!
#1 Avoid the packaging
The easiest way to avoid packaging is to carry home-cooked food. Of course, if I had to cook and carry all the food for everyone at every picnic I went out to, I frankly would cancel most of the picnics. But yay for us, this is not an all-or-nothing game!
First, you can cut down on packaging by buying larger volume items – for instance, you buy a 1 litre tetra pack instead of a 6-pack of small juice boxes.
Second, for large gatherings, divide and rule. Buy what you must, and potluck the rest. Finger foods – items such as sandwiches, vegetable sticks & dips, idlis, stuffed samosas, banana bread, cut fruit – these are easy to distribute as well as duplicate among people.
Finally, when you pack your home-cooked things, avoid the clingwraps and the foils. Pack in stackable boxes – they work as serve-ware, and even allow you to takeaway the excess home later.
A cheat trick I often use is to check for food courts near the picnic areas I would be at. That allows me to carry just the starters, and our family ends up having a hot and fresh meal later at say, Satay by the Bay, after we are done with the kite-flying at Marina Barrage!
#2 Pack smart
Single-use disposables are easily a big part of the trash we create outdoors. That plastic cutlery and those flimsy straws may seem like too small a thing to make a big deal of… and yet they add up to large numbers when a majority of us use it for the majority of our outings. They take up landfill space, taking hundreds of years to break down and leach into soil – all the price for a 5 minute juice drink, or a 10 minute munch!
It is easy to make a switch from plastic disposables to paper or biodegradable disposables – BUT that is not what makes a real difference. Pack re-usable plates and cutlery. Whether they are melamine or plastic or steel – if your aim is to wash and reuse the utensils, you are on the right track.
#3 Carry water
1.5 million tonnes of plastic are used annually to package water – most of it is never recycled. You can avoid adding to the trash by simply having everyone carry their own water bottles. Many Singapore locations have installed water fountains for refilling, and most restaurants are happy to refill for you for free as well. So there is really no excuse to purchase bottled water in Singapore!
#3 The set-up
Old Bedsheets are lightweight alternative to plastic/jute mats that tear fast. Best of all, after you are done with the picnic, it is easy to simple brush of the mud, and run them through the washing machine when you get home.
Do avoid paper tissues – a few towels will work better and harder for your needs! If you simply must use tissues, use FSC-certified brands or recycled paper, and definitely don’t hand them out to all along with the plate – they inevitable fly off too far, too fast to recover and bin properly.
If you plan to beautify the venue for a party or special occasion – helium balloons are a no-no. When launched into the sky you get to see the balloons do a pretty take-off and aww at them; but their end is far from beautiful. Once burst, they fall into land or sea where they not only create litter, but are also a life hazard for marine and wild life.
#4 The clean up
When all is eaten and played – don’t leave in a rush! Ensure that there’s #NoTrashLeftBehind. Orange peels may be bio-degradable – but they are still litter if you leave them in between bushes. And things left on the grass can find a way to the waterways and animal/bird-bellies If you don’t see recycling bins – do carry them back for proper disposal.
#5 Ready, set, go!
Bonus points if you pick a spot you can take the train or cycle to! See below some of my favorite picnic spots in the Red Dot – are any of them accessible to you via public transport, or close to your home?
P.S. Run a weather check before you rush out the door!