Originally Published: 05/26/10
Gorgeous warm weather just begs for alfresco dining, whether it's a weeknight supper with your family, or a barbecue with all the friends and neighbors. Here's how to dine outdoors both stylishly and eco-responsibly.
- Say no to paper. Paper plates — or worse, non-recyclable Styrofoam — are wasteful and damaging to the environment. Instead, invest in a set of non-breakable but casual dinnerware made of melamine or Vitrelle®, like those from Corelle. You could also assemble a set of fun, mismatched pieces culled from the extras in your china cabinet, or check out yard sales and thrift shops. With mismatched sets, you won't care if a piece breaks, and it's easy to replace.
- Use cloth. Cut down on waste even more by using dishtowels instead of paper towels for cleanup, and inexpensive cloth napkins instead of paper ones (the added advantage being that they won't blow away in the breeze). You can follow the mix-and-match theme of your dinnerware by finding random cloth napkins at thrift stores. Brightly colored washcloths also make good napkins for messy meals, and look adorable at a party table when tied with a piece of rope or twine.
- Decorate creatively. Kids' sand pails or large pickle or jam jars (washed, with the labels soaked off) make great vessels for a casual arrangement of fresh flowers and greenery from your garden. For candleholders, fill jars partially with sand and put a votive in them, or wedge a taper candle into an empty, cleaned wine bottle. Pull out your strings of Christmas-tree lights and use them to festoon the shrubs or railing surrounding your dining area.
- Explore natural insect repellents. Instead of dousing your yard — and your body — with chemicals, consider some natural ways to get bug-free. Certain plant-derived essential oils, like citronella, clove, lemon, eucalyptus, and peppermint, are believed to repel mosquitoes, and you can make your own bug spray by diluting a few drops of any of those essential oils in water or alcohol. As for the yard, you can seek out natural solutions by lighting citronella candles, planting marigold flowers in your garden, and removing any standing water, which may be serving as a breeding and hatching area for new mosquitos.
- Make better choices for grilling. Gas or propane grills pollute the air less than charcoal grills. If you only have a charcoal grill, you can limit the negative impact the charcoal has by using natural, wood-derived charcoal, and starting your fire with a chimney rather than with lighter fluid.
- Feast on green choices. Burgers and dogs are de rigueur at barbecues, but there are great alternatives to the mainstream, ultra-processed brands. Consider grass-fed beef for your patties, and try looking for small, responsible producers for sausages or hot dogs. You might even opt for veggie dogs, especially ones made with non-genetically modified organisms or ingredients (called GMOs). Of course, staying local, when possible, is also a great idea. Buns from your local bakery and locally-grown toppings like lettuce and tomatoes rack up fewer food miles and support local farmers and businesses.
- Make your own beverages. Instead of buying store-bought sodas or lemonades, try mixing up your own using a recipe you find online. For something really fun and different, you might invest in a home soda machine or carbonator to whip up fizzy drinks — you'll cut down on the waste of packaging, be able to use natural ingredients instead of chemicals, and you'll know exactly what's going into your drinks.
- Make recycling easy for guests. When you're entertaining, it's a great idea to set out clearly marked receptacles for recyclables and trash in convenient places. If you compost, be sure to leave a bowl or container out for scraps, too.