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Color Your Picnic Or Barbecue Green

Labor Day weekend and barbecues and picnics go together like hamburgers and potato salad.

But they can also use up a lot of paper plates and napkins, and create a lot of other waste.

So, how can you make them friendlier to Mother Earth?

The Early Show environmental lifestyle contributor Danny Seo offered ideas on making those get-togethers greener.

With the right choices, you can make sure your outdoor celebration is fun, simple and as waste-free as possible.

Just think about the big picture, says Seo. "The food, the plates and utensils, and the beverages are what really count; going green with these choices can make a big difference."

Here's how you can do it, according to Seo:

  • PICNIC TABLE AND CHAIRS: You can help complete the cycle when you recycle HDPE plastic -- milk jugs, detergent bottles, margarine tubs -- in your curbside recycling by buying outdoor picnic tables and chairs made from recycled plastics. Besides being environmentally friendly, recycled plastic furniture does not fade, chip or warp and does not need to be covered. It can be left outdoors year-round and just hosed off to clean. Loll Designs uses modern designs to create colorful outdoor furniture like picnic tables and half benches.

    PRICES: Picnic Table $639, and Half Benches $229;

    TIP: Choose lighter colors such as white, sand and red, so they reflect the heat of the hot sun the best (black benches will get hot more quickly). Also, mix and match colors for a customized look: red benches with brown table and red table legs with a white tabletop.

  • RUG: Find the perfect spot in a grassy area and lay down a rug that's good for the earth and easy to care for, too. Vivaterra's reclaimed oriental rug looks like a fancy woolen woven rug, but it's really made from recycled plastic soda bottles and reclaimed plastic packaging. Interlocked plastic tubular threads create a stain-proof rug that can be used indoors and outdoors; it can be washed down with a garden hose and left outside to dry. Because it's woven plastic, it won't trap water or grow mildew.

    PRICE: $39;

    TIP: Just roll up the rug and keep it snug with two belts to carry to and from your picnic.

  • PACK IT ALL UP: Repurpose a reusable grocery store tote bag as a picnic bag. LL Bean's Boat & Tote bag was originally designed in 1944 to help people carry ice from the car to the ice chest. It was designed to be rugged, stand up to heavy weights and was lined to be waterproof. Today, the bag remains an LL Bean bestseller and comes in a variety of colors and sizes. The large camouflage organizer bag is lined with rubber, so spills stay contained and can be easily wiped up. And when you're not using the bags for picnics, they work perfectly as a green reusable tote at the grocery store.
    PRICE: $44;
  • STORE & STACK: It can take up to 1,000 years for a plastic sandwich to biodegrade in a landfill. Instead of using flimsy bags that don't do much to protect your sandwich from being crushed anyway, think reusable tins and canisters.

    A good option is from SIGG, a Swiss company that has been making outdoor supplies for hikers and campers since 1908. Their large food storage boxes are made from hard-working aluminum and -- if you ever wear them out -- they are fully recyclable as well. If you use it to replace 300 bags, it'll have paid for itself; a good choice to use everyday.

    PRICE: $29.99 for large size;

    Another alternative comes in the form of Japanese metal Bento boxes. Three stackable containers keep foods separate, so you can put a sandwich in one layer, a salad on another, a sweet treat on top. Stack them up, add the lid and click on the carrying case to keep them snug and tight.

    PRICE: $19.50 Large size. You can find them in Asian markets or online at

    TIP: You can also just wrap sandwiches in non-stick aluminum foil. The foil helps protect food and keeps it colder, longer. It's recyclable; just toss the clean aluminum foil into your curbside recycling bin, or crumple it up into a ball and use it to clean your backyard grill.

  • ECO DISPOSABLE PLATES & BOWLS: Yes, the words "eco" and "disposable" don't have to be mutually exclusive from each other. When you can't use your fine china outdoors, do the next best thing: green disposable plates and bowls. There are lots of ecological choices out there won't cost a lot and are fully biodegradable and compostable. One choice is from the everyday value line at Whole Foods called 365. Their 365 dinner and appetizer plates and bowls are made from sugar cane and reed pulp -- a fast-growing, renewable resource -- not virgin paper from trees. The odorless and durable plates can withstand oily and saucy dishes and are totally biodegradable and compostable, too.

    PRICE: $2.99;

  • USEFUL UTENSILS: If you're planning an outdoor party for a crowd, reusing stainless steel utensils and washing them back at home may not be the easiest or cleanest solution. When you are serving a crowd, go green with biodegradable eco-plastics like Cereplast, which is made from starches from potato, wheat or rice, all renewable and biodegradable materials. A set of 240 eco-plastic utensils -- 80 spoons, forks and knives each -- can be safely thrown away in the trash to slowly biodegrade in a landfill or you can toss them in a compost bin, where they'll decompose more quickly.

    PRICE: $19/set;

  • THINK REUSABLE & RECYCLED NAPKINS: Cloth napkins are the greenest choice since they can be washed and used over and over. A good and inexpensive napkin choice is bandanas; they come in a variety of colors and can be found at most outdoor supply and Army/Navy stores.

    If you're throwing a party for a large group, think recycled. Look for paper napkins that have the highest amount of post-consumer recycled content; post-consumer content means paper that is put out for recycling -- office paper for example -- and is re-pulped and made into new paper products. An economic choice is Marcal paper napkins, which is made from 100 percent recycled paper (most of it post-consumer) and features drawstring on the packaging for easy storage. Every year, Marcal recycles over 200,000 tons of paper to make their products and they also manufacture many of the pricier private label brands sold in stores, too. So buying the manufacturer brand -- Marcal -- saves money.

  • FILTER YOUR OWN WATER: As more people break their bottled water addiction, people are turning to filtered tap water to drink right at home. But filtering water at a picnic is difficult. Pure Water2Go bottles are recyclable plastic water bottles with a built-in carbon filter and they come in a variety of sizes. The 16 oz sports bottle can filter up to 80 gallons of water and last around 3 months of daily use. The filter removes chlorine, bad taste and odor, as well as a significant proportions of heavy metals, including Lead, Mercury, and Copper. One bottle replaces approximately 200 plastic water bottles.

    PRICE: $12.95;

  • THINK LOCAL: Many of us don't think local when it comes to stocking the ice chest. But German beer has to be flown in from Germany and water bottled in Fiji has to be shipped in from the South Pacific. To help cut down on the fuel waste used to bring these drinks from their source to your store to your backyard picnic, think local.

    Go for locally-brewed beers and sodas for your next bash. The amount of fuel to get them from their factory to your store is significantly less and you're supporting local businesses, too. If you buy soda, look for aluminum cans packaged in cardboard boxes, not bound together with plastic six-pack rings. The cardboard is made from recycled fiber, is recyclable, and the cans are the greenest choice since they can be recycled indefinitely back into new aluminum soda cans.

    TIP: Bring an empty tote bag to bring back all the empty cans and bottles for recycling; crush them down to maximize space. Save freezer packs and wrap them around beverages to keep them cool and reuse them over and over.

  • THINK WHOLE FRUITS: Pack fresh, organic fruit that "wraps" itself: apples, bananas, pears, peaches, and oranges. No additional packaging is needed to keep them protected and fresh. Use an empty compartment from your food storage containers or a piece of aluminum foil to wrap the core and peels and take it home with you. Leftover food left in public trash cans can be tempting to wild animals, who will tip the cans and allow trash to be strewn throughout the park grounds.
  • ECO BARBECUE: More than 63 percent of us who will barbecue in the backyard will use real briquettes over gas grilling this Labor Day. Normal Briquettes are made from timber waste, sawdust, cornstarch and then binded together with lighter fluid to help the consumer start the barbecue more quickly. When lit, the chemical charcoal gives off carbon monoxide poisoning and the chemical fillers (corn starch and lighter fluid) can effect the taste of the grilled food. Real charcoal is made the old fashioned way, using hardwood trees to cull energy from them by "coppicing" them and then them into black, organic pieces of genuine charcoal. Tip: For a natural firestarter, use some lint from the lint trap of your dryer to get the fire going. Just be sure to use lint that's 100 percent cotton; save it after you dry a batch of towels or sheets.

    PRICE: $16.60/20lb bag;