How to have a sustainable summer

By Cara Waudby Tolley | April 25, 2022

When we’re out and about, low impact living can require more thought. Rae Ritchie shares her ideas.

Scenes of litter-strewn beaches and beauty spots across the UK grabbed the headlines last summer. With many of us planning to holiday at home this year too, the problem of rubbish could surge again – but it doesn’t have to.

There are simple steps we can all take to make this a more sustainable summer by reducing our waste as well as our carbon footprint. Whether you’re planning a day at the seaside or an epic camping adventure, here are some easy ways to make the most of the season without eco anxiety. That just leaves the weather to worry about.

Before you go anywhere

Start by creating a kit of seasonal essentials: sunglasses, sun hats, washable napkins, reusable bottles and cups. Don’t forget a bag for rubbish so you’re not adding to overflowing public bins. If you own a car, stash games equipment in the boot. Having everything you need easily accessible saves time, hassle and money as well as waste. No more having to buy a cheap plastic frisbee or football because yours is still in the garage.

Use what you already have – old baby sets are great for crockery, while towels can double up as a picnic blanket. Not enough spare cutlery? Check out charity shops.

When you do need to buy new, opt for lower waste alternatives where possible. Forego mini plastic toiletries, for example, in favour of those with recyclable packaging (such as bespoke sample sets from Circla) or no packaging (such as Kind2 shampoo bars).

Heading out

“Whether we’re having a staycation, or taking day trips, we can be conscious of our carbon impact,” says Vicky Smith, sustainable travel expert and founder of sustainable travel company Earth Changers. How? Prioritise low carbon travel and activities.

“Choose trains and renewable energy powered transport over private fossil fuel cars,” Vicky continues, “and leg power where you can – walking and cycling tours, for examples.”

Mix energy-intensive days out, such as theme parks, with low carbon leisure. The Big Butterfly Count, for instance, takes place every summer and is fun for all, while Lucy McRobert’s 365 Days Wild: A Random Act of Wildness for Every Day of the Year contains a range of nature-based activities to try.

If you’re going to visit a rural area, be sure to familiarise yourself with the latest version of The Countryside Code, released this spring, beforehand. It will help you to avoid causing harm, however unintentionally. This is especially the case if you’ll have a dog with you. Just search on gov.uk.

Join the Planet Mindful community and make a pact to prioritise your self care – try an issue here for just 99p!

Drinks and snacks

Wherever you end up, your summer kit bag will help reduce food and drink related waste – as can apps. Download RWRD to find nearby independent coffee shops and Refill to locate places for topping up water bottles, plastic-free hot drinks, takeaway food refills and zero waste shopping.

Want a sweet treat? “My favourite ‘zero waste’ tip for beach trips (and pretty much any trip anywhere if the sun is vaguely shining) is to get your ice cream in a cone and not a cup,” says Jen Gale, author of
The Sustainable(ish) Guide to Green Parenting: Guilt-Free Eco-Ideas for Raising Your Kids. Unlike an ice lolly, everything is edible so “you can scoff ice cream and polish your eco-halo simultaneously,” she jokes.

More generally, avoid the singleuse plastic wrappers found in petrol stations and motorway services by stocking up with sustainable snacks ahead of time. Thanks to a growing number of products that combine taste with eco credentials, this no longer means just vegetable sticks and fruit. Bodyhero bars, for example, combine rich chocolate flavour with vegan certification and fully recyclable packaging. They’re also high protein, so a good choice if you’re planning something more strenuous than just sitting in a deckchair.

Outdoor eating

If your favourite picnic food comes in plastic packaging, could you make it yourself instead? Whipping up a dozen sausage rolls isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time, but it could be part of the whole picnic fun. The same applies to barbecue dishes, especially salads and sides.

Another way to make grilling more sustainable is to trade meat for plant-based dishes; consult Rukmini Iyer’s Green Barbecue: Modern Vegan & Vegetarian Recipes to Cook Outdoors & In for inspiration.

Barbecue fuel also has an environmental impact. As Georgina Wilson-Powell explains in Is It Really Green? Everyday Eco-Dilemmas Answered, many charcoal bricks are made from unsustainably logged tropical wood and release twice as many toxic particles as gas-lit barbecues.

“Disposable charcoal barbecues are the most harmful of all,” says Wilson-Powell of an item us Brits get through more than one million of every year. “As well as being energy inefficient, they are covered in single use plastic and are non-recyclable.”

Leave no trace

Eschewing disposable barbecues is one tactic for reducing waste and carbon emissions if you’re camping this summer. A second strategy is to avoid buying cheap equipment that is unlikely to last more than one season (or even one trip). Get what you need by browsing sites such as Freecycle or borrowing from family and friends.

There are even platforms dedicated to sharing camping equipment – a great choice if you’re sleeping under canvas for the first time. On Tentshare, for instance, you can rent tents and items such as roof boxes from owners around the country.

Tentshare founder Rebecca Heaps recommends a ‘leave no trace’ approach to the great outdoors. “When leaving a camping area, it should look exactly as you found it,” she says. “Take everything with you, take your waste home.”

‘Leave no trace’ is a great motto if you’re heading to the beach, too. As well as taking your own waste with you, keep your eye out for #2minutebeachclean stations that are stocked with everything you need to do a quick litter pick while you’re there. Leaving a place better than you found it is the ultimate sustainable summer goal.

About the author

Rae Ritchie is a writer and speaker specialising in sustainability. Her newsletter, Turning the dial: Moving towards a more ethical life, is available via raeritchie.com.

Read more

This article first appeared in issue 17 of Planet Mindful magazine. Discover more about sustainability here.