'Tis the season for picnics and barbecues. A few simple choices can help make your summer get-together more ecologically sustainable.
- Swap meat for veggies. One of the easiest yet most powerful ways to reduce your eco-footprint is to eat less meat. In fact, switching out one meat-based meal for a plant-based meal can conserve up to 2,000 gallons of water (considering all the water usage embedded in the production and transportation of our food). This summer, serve up the bounty of the season. Beets, corn, eggplant and summer squash are great on the grill. Also, sweet peppers, mushrooms and onions make for tasty grilled kebabs or as grilled pizza toppings. If meat is a must, choose grass-fed (rather than grain-fed) beef, which uses a lot less water and energy, according to National Geographic.
- Drink organic. We all know that organic fruits and vegetables are good for our bodies and the environment, but let’s not overlook the many purveyors of tasty organic beverages too. Try Guayaki’s bottled organic yerba maté teas or San Clemente-based Sambazon’s organic acai juice blends—both of which are perfectly refreshing for a summer picnic. New Belgium Brewery, which is best known for its Fat Tire Amber Ale, also makes a delicious organic wheat beer called Mother Wit. And don’t forget to recycle! According to the EPA, only 50 percent of aluminum cans and 30 percent of glass bottles make it to recycling facilities.
- Drink local water. Here in southern California, we are very fortunate to have a clean, reliable and inexpensive drinking water right at our fingertips. Not only can bottled water cost up to 100,000 times more than tap water, but it's also 2,000 times more energy intensive than turning on the faucet, according to the Pacific Institute, an Oakland-based think tank. Opt instead for refillable water bottles, which can prevent 29 billion bottles from ending up in a landfill every year.
- Avoid disposable products. Americans use an average of 741 pounds of paper per person each year, according to the National Resources Defense Council. Reusable plates, glasses, utensils and cloth napkins are an eco-friendlier option. Use what you have, and borrow what you don’t. And if the thought of washing all those dishes at the end of the day gives you a headache, you should know that energy-efficient dishwashers use half the energy, one-sixth the water and less soap than hand washing. Sometimes disposable plates and cups are a necessity, and if that’s the case, there are many sustainable choices available, such as paper plates made with 100 percent recycled content or compostable ones that you can toss in your compost bin. Also, store leftovers in reusable containers, since it can take up to 1,000 years for a plastic bag to biodegrade in a landfill.
- Choose a greener grilling method. Natural gas and propane are the most energy efficient grilling options, burning relatively cleanly compared with other fuels such as wood, charcoal and briquettes. Hardwoods such as hickory and mesquite may give a nice, smoky flavor, but burning wood, especially charcoal, produces a great deal of ash and smoke, says the NRDC.
- Finally, green your clean. Here’s a simple recipe for a natural grill cleaner that will just cost you pennies and is far more effective than chemically based store-bought products: Place your grill grate in a (preferably reused) large plastic shopping bag or trash bag. Mix three cups ammonia and one cup white vinegar, quickly add one cup of baking soda, and pour the mixture into the bag. Seal the bag and shake to coat the grate. Leave the sealed bag outside for 24 hours, then rinse with a hose to remove the burned food particles. For more natural cleaning product recipes, see .
Whether you choose just one of these options or strive for more, keep in mind that every little bit helps.