Tips for a More Sustainable Picnic

Nothing says summer like a picnic with friends and family, and Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) is the perfect place to have a meal in the great outdoors. As you plan your outing, consider making your picnic more sustainable. Below, we have some easy tips for reducing waste and minimizing your environmental impact as you picnic at the park!

A photo of a reusable food container with two compartments filled with food, which is placed next to a ceramic bowl of berries, a cloth napkin, and a stack of four silver forks.Next to the first phot is another photo of a plate holding two cucumber and tomato sandwiches and berries.
A circular photo of cucumbers in a basket.

1. Shop Local

To plan a more sustainable picnic menu, consider the distance food travels to reach consumers. Many ingredients have a heavy carbon footprint since they are transported from far away. However, grocery stores often carry seasonal produce and products from nearby farms, making it easy to shop from local growers! You can also stop by area farm stands and farmers’ markets, such as the Cuyahoga Valley Farmers’ Market, to source ingredients for your picnic.

Bonus: Local produce is often fresher, tastier, and more nutritious. Plus, buying from area farms helps sustain local economies!

A circular photo of items on a cloth covered picnic table, which includes two stacked plates, a cloth napkin, a reusable food container, a reusable water bottle, a colorful towel, and a stack of silver-colored forks.

2. Avoid Single-Use Plates, Cutlery, and Storage

Have you heard of Plastic Free July? It’s a global movement that encourages people to be part of the solution to plastic pollution. During the month of July (and beyond), we can do our part by choosing reusable options, which will help reduce landfill waste and litter.

Sustainable Swaps:

  • Use reusable plates instead of disposable plates.
  • Pack your own cutlery; avoid plastic forks, spoons, and knives.
  • Say no to plastic baggies. Pack foods in reusable containers.
  • Don’t buy prepackaged drinks; fill reusable beverage bottles.
  • Bring cloth napkins instead of paper towels; they’re less likely to blow away and litter the landscape.

Bonus: Cloth napkins are easily made from an old towel and can be used as padding between packed plates.

A photo of a pond with lily pads. Cattail reeds are in the foreground and trees are in the background.

3. Make a Day of It

Driving to a picnic area and spending the day in the park is a great way to use less fuel. Check out the park’s maps and look for the picnic table icon to scout a location near trails and park features you want to explore. The resources below are also helpful for planning a day in the park:

Downloading the official National Park Service app on your mobile phone is another way to make planning easy. Use the ‘Find a Park’ feature to search for Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Explore the app to learn about CVNP’s trails, activities, and upcoming events.

Bonus: The ‘Amenities’ button within the app lists picnic areas (including which locations have grills) in CVNP. We love that it also provides information about restrooms, drinking water, accessibility, and so much more!

A photo of an empty picnic table in a grassy, hilly field.

4. Leave No Trace

If you make sustainable swaps, there’s a good chance you won’t have much waste to dispose of after your picnic. Still, it’s important to check the area and leave your picnic site clean and free of any trash or food. Doing so will help sustain the park’s beauty and protect wildlife.

Look for trash receptacles near the picnic area and safely dispose of any waste. If you have leftover food scraps, do not leave them for animals. Consider packing scraps in your reusable containers and bring them home to compost.

Bonus: Spending the day in the park and having a picnic is a great time to introduce kids to a “Leave No Trace” ethic. While some principles are geared towards camping, most can be applied to any outdoor recreational activity. Empowering kids to help minimize human impacts on the environment is a sustainability win!

Start planning your sustainable picnic in CVNP! And remember, if you’re having a large group picnic or celebration, think about reserving one of the park’s shelters. Keep in mind, summer is popular a time for reservations, so book in advance. You may even want to consider reserving a shelter for next summer; reservations are accepted up to one year in advance.

The Conservancy’s Extraordinary Spaces are also unique venues perfect for hosting group gatherings, including picnics and family reunions. Visit Extraordinary Spaces for more information on the Hines Hill Campus, Happy Days Lodge, and the historic Stanford House!