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Environmentally conscious picnic

Going on a picnic? Choose items made of reusable or renewable materials. photo by Ann L. Fouty.

Pack some Michigan made products for a picnic. photo by Ann L. Fouty.
June 27, 2013
A tisket a tasket, the picnic basket is being readied with food, drinks, sunblock, napkins, plates and insect repellent for an outdoor escapade.

With a little pre-planning, the picnic can be environmentally friendly and the menu filled with Michigan-grown or Michigan-made products.

Begin by choosing cloth table coverings and napkins, biodegradeable utensils and reusable plates, bowls, glasses and containers.

Styrofoam and plastic bottles are the first items to uninvite to the picnic.

Americans send 21 million tons of plastics to landfills and incinerators each year, said Melissa Sargent, education director for LocalMotionGreen at the Ecology Center.

And many more are tossed on the ground.

"Plastic can get into the waterway and wreak havoc on wildlife," she said.

The alternative is to find plates made of potato starch, corn or other agricultural by-products. Select chlorine-free, recycled paper for napkins and plates or compostable paper products. She noted local grocery stores do carry these products.

"Feel free to ask if you don't see it, otherwise they (stores) won't know what to carry," Sargent added.

Bamboo, a renewable wood, now is being used for utensils, cutting boards and plates and is recommended as an alternative.

To hold beverages, Sargent suggested using stainless steel or glass containers.

"There are glasses with silicone sleeves so when dropped they don't break," she said.

For utensils, pack metal, not the good silverware, she laughed, but something else, or those made from biodegradeable materials, such as potato starch, cornstarch or compostable material.

Select a linen, cotton or nylon tablecloth to spread on the ground or picnic table.

"Nothing fancy, something you don't mind if it gets dirty," she said.

Vinyl would not be her top choice for a table covering because of the chemicals used in the material, but it is reusable.

When it comes to food, aluminum foil should not come in contact with the food because aluminum is a heavy metal and detrimental to human health. Food can be wrapped in waxed paper or a waxed paper baggie. Aluminum foil can be the final wrapping. Instead of tossing in the garbage, toss it in the recycling bin.

Manufacturers offer a number of reusable options in which to pack food.

Cloth reusable sandwich bags can be washed and reused and are equipped with fabric fasteners. Stainless steel compartmental containers have silicone lids and come in various sizes.

Sargent said plastic containers can be used provided nothing hot or anything with fat is put in.

A thermos is an option to keep food items hot for up to three hours. After that time has passed, the food can start to go bad.

Pack everything in a cooler, not made of Styrofoam, she said.

The food is protected. Now the humans need to be protected.

Wearing a hat and light colored clothing helps prevent sun exposure and keeps mosquitoes at bay, she said.

A big no-no is using a combination sunblock and insect repellent.

It is advised to use sunblock and lip balm that are mineral based and the active ingredient blocks out both UVA and UVB rays. Select products with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, rather than oxybenzone and octinoxate that disrupt hormone function. Sunblock should be reapplied about every two hours.

"The minerals form a physical barrier. It might be chalky so you have to rub it in," Sargent said. "It's a good idea to use sunblock if you are outside more than 15 minutes."

Main stream manufacturers have a number of alternative products to DEET to be used as insect repellent. DEET can cause alterations in the brain and nervous system, including motor deficits and learning and memory dysfunction, according to a LocalMotionGreen at the Ecology Center information sheet.

The organization recommends repellent containing lemon-eucalyptus oil, PMD, citronella, soy oil or picaridin.

Generally using a sunblock combined with the repellent DEET requires frequent reapplications, thus the increased concern of exposure to DEET.

For more information about repellents, sunscreens and picnic items, visit the following sites recommended by LocalMotionGreen at the Ecology Center:

Repelling mosquitoes — localmotiongreen.org/newsletters/2003-august-newsletter.pdf

DEET free repellents — lmgresources.org/library/?p=1384

Sunscreen tips — lmgresources.org/library/?p=1392

Greener choices for your next picnic — lmgresources.org/library/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Greener-Choices-for-Your-Next-Picnic.pdf

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