Summer is a great time to begin your journey towards a zero-waste lifestyle. Longer, warmer days offer more possibilities to embrace the outdoors, but that often also means more flights, extended car journeys, and events with single-use plastic and wasted food.
With a little imagination, you can fill your summer with zero-waste activities that are perfect for the whole family. We’ve compiled a list of easy tips and activities that’ll take you from the backyard to the great outdoors, and can be scaled up or down to suit all ages and abilities. Plus, many of these activities can be combined into whole days or weekends of zero-waste summer fun!
We know that cars are CO2 emitters, but they are also huge generators of microplastics, with tires degrading on roads and the material entering the water stream. So, why not leave the car at home this summer and plan an eco-friendly bike crawl with friends or family. Meet at a central location or have a leader collect the bike crew one by one. Instead of bars, stop off at each other’s homes, where the host can prepare delicious zero-waste refreshments in reusable water bottles or low-waste alternatives—just don’t forget the bamboo straws!
This zero-waste summer activity is perfect for both urban and rural residents, and while the less mobile can join for a shorter leg of the journey, the Spandex devotees can bookend their day with a few extra miles.
For those lucky enough to have a beach nearby, take advantage of nature’s playground to stage a zero-waste summer Olympics. Long jump, hurdles, swimming races—and you don’t need to bring a scrap of plastic, everything you need is already waiting for you on the beach.
Get the kids drawing lines in the sand for the 100m dash, make hurdles out of driftwood, or collect stones for shot putters. You can even make zero-waste medals using shells or other beach debris. To finish off your zero-waste summer event, get everyone collecting beach waste with reclaimed plastic bags and recycle everything you can —the fullest bag wins gold!
For anyone lucky enough to have an outdoor space to themselves, why not give your terrace or backyard a zero-waste makeover and throw a summer garden party? Start by upcycling old clothes and table clothes into shabby-chic bunting and cloth napkins. Next, get creative with table decorations, incorporating anything from dried flowers in mason jars to homemade candles. Finally, don’t forget to ditch the plastic and go with steel cutlery—you can even donate old plastic cutlery to worthy causes.
With plastic-free July upon us, this could also be the perfect event to launch your personal zero-waste challenge. Make sure you tell your guests that your event is strictly plastic-free and be prepared to share what you are doing to reduce waste. Transparency and education are key to the zero-waste movement, and this is a golden opportunity for you to engage family and friends.
When the average US family can waste 180 gallons of water a week, a zero-waste water fight might sound like a misnomer—but it doesn’t have to be. So rather than running the tap in the backyard, move the battleground to a natural body of water. Additionally, the plastic in water balloons is wasteful as well as dangerous since it can end up anywhere from the mouths of pets to public drainage. If you have water guns these should last for years, and many are available second-hand. But even these aren’t necessary for a refreshing frolic. Cups or buckets can be refilled, harm-free from the river until everyone is suitably soaked.
And if getting to the river or beach isn’t an option, staging the fight in a thirsty garden of plants and flowers will result in little to no waste. Water conservation games, where the aim is to preserve water while passing it amongst a team in a relay race format, will do the same.
Wild Swimming Pool Party
From rivers to lakes, and everything in between, wild swimming has become a super popular pastime. So instead of a summer pool party confined to the backyard, get the whole group out to a river or lake and soak up the natural, invigorating experience of wild swimming.
You can go as big or small as you want, from a dip in the river to a zero-waste camping trip. You can even make it a stop on your zero-waste summer road trip. There are a few important things to remember before you dive in. First, look before you leap and check out this guide to safe wild swimming and, when you do hit the water, make sure you and your invitees use zero-waste sunscreen that is plastic-free, wildlife safe, and won’t pollute the water.
Farmers Market Family Feast
Skip the grocery store and head to a farmer’s market near you for a feast of fresh culinary possibilities. Grab your reusable shopping bags, head down to your local farmer’s market, and pick out the freshest organic produce for that alfresco, zero-waste dinner you’ve been meaning to throw. If you end up with any food waste that you can’t use or donate, summer is also an ideal opportunity to start your own compost.
Compost lies further down the zero-waste hierarchy than reducing and reusing but is still a top zero-waste living tip. Check out the differences between the two strategies here, and start building your own compost bin in the garden or outdoor space today.
If you vow never to go supermarket grocery shopping again after your trip to the farmer’s market, then food foraging for edible fruit, plants, and fungi is the perfect zero-waste summer activity for anyone interested in sustainability. You might be surprised at the depth of foods available on your rural doorstep.
It’s very important, however, to be aware of local laws, never take too much, and not to damage plants, habitats, or property. Additionally, you should be very careful about what you pick, as certain plants and mushrooms can be dangerous. There are many great resources that help you with identification, allowing you to learn as you forage. You may be able to find guides to give you a tour of local areas that are good spots for food foraging.
Wildflower Picking and Drying
While trekking around the forest or meadows, here’s a side project for kids or adults ahead of getting everyone back around the table this summer. The US imports $1.6 billion worth of picked flowers from around the world, so (legally) picking a small bunch of flowers from your local forest goes a long way to avoiding waste. Just make sure you obtain a permit where necessary and be careful not to damage the local flora and fauna.
Drying flowers is a good strategy to avoid waste, and it’s a beautiful way to create and hold onto memories. Here are nine more zero-waste ideas on how to make the most of your fading blooms.
Summer Fashion Show
If you’re buying new shorts, tank tops, hats, and other summer fashion staples each year then you’re doing it wrong. After all, reusing and upcycling old clothing is one of the best zero-waste summer activities you can do—and it can save you plenty of cash without your wardrobe becoming stale. In fact, you can reuse old clothes, reduce the need to buy new clothes, and keep materials out of landfill all at the same time!
With a pair of scissors, needle, and thread, a few accessories such as old buttons, ribbons, and patches, almost any item can have new life. Cut-off jean shorts are about the easiest to make, but you’re only limited by your imagination, and you can chop, change, and combine all kinds of clothing into new summer trends. You can even try your hand at hats and raincoats made from old umbrellas to reduce plastic pollution for the colder, wetter months. Just don’t forget to parade your upcycled clothes for everyone to see!
Fly it High
As zero-waste activities go this is one of the most satisfying. Kite making can be as simple or as tricky as you want it to be, but once it’s in the air, the sheer joy is hard to match. What’s more, this zero-waste tip is sure to save money over purchasing a plastic version from the store!
You can start and finish making your kite outdoors in good weather. Begin by scouring the outdoors for the perfect crossbars for your frame. Next, old plastic sheeting, broken umbrellas, torn plastic fabrics, and even trash bags can be upcycled into a durable covering. The challenge is to use whatever you have on hand in the garden shed or out in nature. Here is a simple DIY kite-making guide to get you started.
These zero-waste summer activities are sure to help you generate less waste over the coming months but don’t forget, you’re only limited by your imagination.