Young woman and young boy and girl laying on a picnic blanket outside in the woods eating watermelon

Sustainable ideas to make your next outdoor party or barbecue environmentally friendly.

Last Updated: May 25, 2021

These easy-to-follow tips will make transforming your next outdoor soiree into a sustainable feast feel like a walk in the park.

From Fourth of July celebrations to Labor Day hangouts, there are plenty of opportunities to throw together an outdoor summer party that keeps sustainability at the forefront — without sacrificing the fun.

It’s often easier to throw an eco-friendly party or BBQ at home, but when you take the party on the road, it can be a little trickier to make choices that are good for the environment. Planning ahead, keeping things simple, and choosing sustainable supplies are surefire ways to make your summer hangouts as eco-friendly as possible.

Here, we break down different ways to reduce the impact of your party on the environment, from sustainably sourced food to plastic-free packaging, eco-conscious grilling, and more.

4 quick tips for a zero-waste party

1. Forego the forks. Serve up finger foods like sandwiches, nuts, and fruit kebabs so you can skip the utensils altogether. If you need a fork, try compostable or biodegradable options.

2. Pack real plates. Bring reusable plastic or tin plates from home. If that's not possible, try compostable disposable plates.

3. Nix the paper napkins. Pack a stack of cloth napkins or bamboo napkins for guests to use.

4. Cover the table in fabric. Don’t buy a plastic tablecloth. Instead, cover the table in flat sheets, which you can get for a song at your local thrift store.

Eco-friendly tips for party foods and drinks

Image of fresh baked pie, container of strawberries, and someone juicing a lemon on countertop

Sustainable swaps for eco-friendly eats

A barbecue starts with the food, and while it’s easy to let your imagination run wild with menu planning and flavor pairings, your food choices are the first step in transitioning to a more sustainable soiree. The production of food has a profound impact on the environment, to the tune of around 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

In general, the more processed and packaged a food is, the bigger its environmental impact. These simple tips will help you fill up your guests with earth-friendly food.

Image of greens in a reusable storage bag

Rethink the meat

Research finds that processed and unprocessed red meat — pork, beef, lamb, and goat — has the highest environmental impact out of 15 common food groups. While going meatless is ideal, you certainly don’t have to banish meat from your menu to reduce your summer party’s carbon footprint — especially if you have some die-hard carnivores in your midst.

  • Choose locally raised meats. Bonus points if you can purchase the meat directly from the farm: The shorter the distance it has to travel to get into your hands, the better.
  • Opt for organic. Certified organic meat is raised in a more humane environment without growth hormones or antibiotics.
  • Use less. Instead of grilling up a mixed-meat smorgasbord, keep it to one meat item, and supplement with lots of seasonal salads, grilled veggies, and a mess of sweet ’n’ smoky beans for your outdoor entertaining endeavor.
Image of grapes in a reusable storage bag with bananas and other fruit in background

Purchase the right produce

Organic farming practices reduce non-renewable energy use, lessen groundwater pollution, and promote biodiversity. Organically grown food is better for your body, too. Here’s how to responsibly buy produce.

  • Hit the farmer’s market. Buying produce from local farmers cuts out the transportation factor.
  • Buy in bulk. Buying produce in bulk means less packaging, and it’s generally less expensive.
  • Ditch the plastic bags. Even if you buy your produce at the supermarket, you can reduce its impact by eschewing plastic produce bags or reusing your old ones.
Image of picnic blanket with watermelon, popsicles, grapes, kiwi, Murphy's incense sticks, and Grove water bottle.

Drink sustainably

Americans throw away more than 70 million plastic water and soda bottles every single day, and around 60 million of those end up in landfills and incinerators. Here’s how to hydrate at your backyard bash, beach hangout, or pool party without contributing to land, air, and water pollution.

  • Pass on the plastic. Aluminum cans are better than plastic bottles when it comes to serving sodas.
  • Hydrate in bulk. Instead of serving drinks in individual containers, fill large beverage coolers with ice-cold water, tea, or lemonade.
  • Choose kegs over cases. If you’re serving beer, consider growlers instead of cans or bottles. Even better, get your keg from a local brewery.

Grove Tip

BYOC (bring your own cup)

Purchase cups that can be recycled or composted. Better yet, as a fun party idea, ask your guests to bring their own drinkware to show off their beverage holder for the night. Even a mason jar can work! Skip the straws, or opt for silicone, glass, or bamboo straws instead of the plastic variety.

Sustainable tips for food storage & packing

Woman placing sliced red bell peppers into a reusable zipper sealed bag

Packing for the party

Food packaging, including the packing up we do at home, has a hefty impact on the environment. Plastic wraps are made of PVDC, PVC, and polyethylene, which are costly to recycle and clog machines. When plastic wrap is sent to the landfill, it releases highly toxic dioxin into the environment. According to National Geographic, Americans buy enough plastic film each year to shrink-wrap Texas. Try these alternatives instead.

If You Care 100% Recycled Aluminum Foil

Aluminum mining and standard foil manufacturing are energy-intensive processes, but If You Care Aluminum Foil uses 95 percent less energy to produce. Made from 100-percent recycled aluminum, this foil can be recycled over and over again.

Find it on Grove

BioBag Resealable Bag Set

Zipper-sealed bags are invaluable for transporting food, but recycling them usually requires a special trip. BioBag Resealable Bags are made from plant-based materials that are compostable and biodegradable.

Find it on Grove

If You Care Paper Snack & Sandwich Bags

If you’re serving up sandwiches, seal them in these If You Care Paper Snack & Sandwich Bags — they’re unbleached, uncoated, and untreated. Grease-proof and biodegradable, they’re also great for packing snacks. Compost them when done if you can!

Find it on Grove

Find more top-rated eco products for an outdoor party

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Try these 15 natural & eco-friendly outdoor party items for your next gathering.

We've gathered the top-rated natural and plastic-free products, reviewed by actual Grove members, to use during your next outdoor gatherings or events. Scroll through to find convenient, pretty, and eco-friendly items that won't slow your party planning down.

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Mrs. Meyers cleaning products and Grove Co. cleaning caddy

Become a Grove member

Wondering who Grove is, what types of products we offer, and how to get a free gift set when you sign up? Learn more about flexible monthly shipments, customizing your shipment, and joining millions of happy households — no monthly fees or commitments required.

Deciphering product labels: What’s the difference?

Biodegradable products

Biodegradable products break down in the environment, turning into basic components like carbon dioxide, water, and biomass. Although almost everything will eventually break down — even if it takes hundreds or thousands of years — it’s understood that calling a product “biodegradable” means that it will biodegrade within a reasonable amount of time. The landfill doesn’t have the right conditions for breaking down these products, so it’s always best to toss them in your compost bin whenever possible.

Compostable products

Compostable products are, by nature, biodegradable, but they’re designed to break down in a specific composting environment, where they become nutrient-dense compost for the garden. Your backyard compost doesn’t get hot enough to break down most compostable products, but if your city has a composting facility, it’ll take about 90 days for compostables to decompose. Compostable products are not recyclable.

Recyclable products

Recyclable materials can be turned into new items. Aluminum, glass, paper, and certain plastics are the most commonly used recyclable materials. Recyclable plastics are labeled with a number (one through seven) that corresponds with the type of plastic and the recycling process it requires. Not all recycling companies will accept all plastics, so ask about their policies.

Reusable products

Reusable products aren’t necessarily biodegradable or recyclable, unless they’re labeled as such. In many cases, products that are reusable, such as plastic plates or canvas shopping bags, take more energy and resources to produce than biodegradable, recyclable, or compostable materials. The key to “breaking even” is to get as much use out of your reusable items as possible.

How to make grilling & cooking more sustainable

The lowdown on charcoal

If your outdoor party outing involves grilling, you’ll probably be using an on-site charcoal grill. Unfortunately, charcoal grilling releases up to 11 pounds of carbon dioxide into the environment per hour, compared with just 5.6 pounds for a propane grill.

Lighter fluids, too, are rife with volatile organic compounds and can alter the taste of your food. Try these eco-friendly alternatives to standard charcoal and lighter fluid.

Natural charcoal

The main problem with charcoal briquettes is the toxic additives, such as coal, sodium nitrate, and borax. Choose a natural charcoal that doesn’t have these and other additives. Charcoals certified by the Forest Stewardship Council come from sustainable timber operations.

Charcoal chimney

A charcoal chimney replaces lighter fluid and consists of an open-ended metal cylinder with a handle. To use it, place the charcoal on the grate inside the chimney, and start a small fire at the bottom of the cylinder. The charcoal will light from the bottom up. When it’s ready, carefully pour it into the grill.

Electric charcoal starter

An electric charcoal starter is faster and safer than a chimney. Hot coil starters have a heat-resistant handle on one end and an electric coil at the other. Stack the charcoal up, insert the coil in the middle, and turn it on. The charcoal should be ready in around eight minutes.

Grove Tip

Grilling: Before and after tricks

Pre-grilling: Pack a wire brush and a paste of baking soda and water to scrub a park grill.
Post-grilling: Put the fire out with water as soon as you’re finished cooking to reduce emissions.

Eco-friendly serving & utensil tips

Young girl fixing flower centerpiece on a plated patio picnic table with Black woman sitting down across

Dig in guilt-free

A barbeque can quickly go from an eco-friendly feast to environmental nightmare when you pull out the disposable tableware. Though they may fit the party theme, plastic plates, utensils, and cups that end up in the landfill may take lifetimes to decompose, and they leach chemicals into the ground when they do.

While bringing reusable plates, cutlery, and cloth napkins from home will get you the most sustainability points, we know circumstances and storage don’t always make that a possibility. Here are some sustainable swaps for traditional disposables to incorporate at your next outdoor entertaining soiree.

Grove Co. Hydrating Hand Sanitizer

Your party site may not have a suitable place to wash up before the feast, so bring along this Grove Co. Hand Sanitizer Spray, which kills 99.9 percent of germs. Made with moisturizing coconut oil and pure essential oils, it has a soothing lavender scent.


Tree-Free Napkins

These Tree-Free Napkins are made from sugarcane and bamboo, which are sustainable resources. They’re fragrance- and dye-free, making them great for sensitive skin. Biodegradable and compostable, these serve as a solid alternative to conventional paper napkins.


Grove Co. Compostable Cutlery

Strong, heat-tolerant, and petroleum-free, this compostable cutlery is made with sustainable materials and comes in responsible packaging. Plus, you can take them home to wash and reuse for your next dinner party, backyard bash, or outdoor movie night. Yum, popcorn.


Grove Tip

Aim for a zero-waste party

“If you buy compostable plates, cups, and utensils, then everything from your barbecue or outdoor party can be composted, making it a zero-waste outing!” says Grove Director of Sustainability Danielle Jezienicki. “You can shop Grove’s compostable bags for clean up, too.”

Cleaning up sustainably

Woman about to pull a sheet from a paper towel roll she is holding in her hand to clean up from cutting a grapefruit

Post party to-dos

Like most forays into nature, leaving the spot better than you found it is the golden rule, and you should strive to pack out everything you brought with you to your outdoor grilling party. Luckily, cleaning up after your guests is easy as pie with these Grove favorites.

Seedling by Grove Tree-Free Bamboo Paper Towels

These paper towels are made from 100-percent sustainable bamboo, making them a more environmentally friendly option than conventional paper towels. The super-absorbent 2-play sheets require less roll for wiping up messes, and serve as a sustainable swap for jobs where cloth towels just won't cut it.


Grove Co. 100% Recycled Trash Bags

Dispose of your trash responsibly with these trash bags, made in the USA with 100-percent post-consumer recycled plastic.

These trash bags are strong and durable and contain no new plastic. Minimal packaging further reduces their carbon footprint.


BioBag Pet Waste Compost Bags

If a furry companion is included in your plans, bring along a few BioBag Pet Waste Bags to clean up after them.

These bags are super sturdy and made from plant-based materials that are compostable and biodegradable. Plus you can use them as quick trash bags for food scraps if you're in a bind.


Learn more about Seedling by Grove

Other outdoor party must-haves

Young blonde woman placing a bowl of sliced watermelon onto a picnic table using Murphy’s Naturals mosquito candle

Sustainable safety

Don’t forget these outdoor essentials that’ll keep you safe and comfortable all day long. These party must-haves protect your family from the sun and pesky insects, ensuring a carefree outing you won't be recovering from for days afterwards.

Babo Botanicals Spray Sunscreen

Protect yourself from the sun with this fragrance-free sunscreen, made with zinc oxide and organic plant extracts that are gentle enough for sensitive skin. Made in the USA, this SPF 30 sunscreen offers broad-spectrum protection and is never tested on animals.


Murphy’s Naturals Mosquito Repellent Stick

Keep the mosquitos at bay all day with Murphy’s Naturals Mosquito Repellent Stick, which comes in a travel size that’s perfect for tossing in a bag. Apple the DEET-free and plant-based stick to exposed areas of skin for on-the-go mosquito protection.


Badger Balm After-Bug Balm

No matter what precautions you take during your pool party or night around the fire pit, chances are you’ll end up with an insect bite or two. Bring along this soothing balm to end the itch and find relief. Made with colloidal oatmeal and menthol, it’s doctor-approved and hypoallergenic.


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