Guest column: Make your cookout good for the environment

When the sun comes out in the Snoqualmie Valley it feels only right to celebrate with a BBQ, picnic or backyard potluck. And with great weather comes the season of paper plates, plastic forks and disposable cups.

While you’re deciding between the burger or veggie skewer, ice cream or cake, there’s another factor to consider. Every year, Americans throw away enough paper and plastic cups, forks and spoons to circle the equator 300 times. That’s more than 7,460,000 miles of garbage.

That doesn’t mean outdoor fun can’t be green. It just means a little planning is needed to make sure we are celebrating sustainably.

When you’re throwing a backyard party, send out the invites paper-free and stop by your farmer’s market for local and organic ingredients. Then, make sure to break out the reusable cups, dishware, cutlery and napkins. After all, it takes a lot of water to produce those paper plates; up to a half-gallon per plate, in fact.

The bonus? Your picnic table will look all the more Instagram-worthy with your favorite summer dishes laid out.

Before friends and family arrive, set up and label separate containers for garbage, recycling and compostables. This way you can focus on throwing a great event without worrying about things ending up in the wrong containers. To make things even easier, you can affix posters with pictures to show what goes in the different containers. Just download them from the Waste Management website: http://wmnorthwest.com/snoqualmie.

If you’re heading to the park and don’t want to lug ceramic dishes, consider asking attendees to bring their own plates and silverware. If that’s not an option, use compostable supplies that you can toss in your food or yard waste cart when the party is over. By adding to the compost instead of the landfill, you’ll be ensuring healthy soil to grow the produce needed for next summer’s picnics.

On your way to that BYOB potluck? Instead of bringing a six-pack, purchase a growler from your favorite local brewery and fill it up on site. You can use it all summer for those frosty pale ales. If lemonade is more your speed, opt for a reusable pitcher.

With the weather on your side and a bit of planning, having a fun and sustainable summer has never been easier. Enjoy!

Michelle Metzler is Waste Management’s recycling education and outreach manager.