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Entertaining outdoors? These tips can lighten your environmental footprint

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Posted: Monday, June 2, 2014 10:00 pm | Updated: 1:38 am, Sat Jun 7, 2014.

(BPT) - From lunch on the porch to parties on the patio, warm weather brings you outdoors for entertaining with family and friends. But these get-togethers often create a lot of waste. Is there anything you can do to lighten your environmental footprint?

Turns out there is. Here are some simple tips to enjoy entertaining while reducing packaging and food waste and increasing recycling at your next outdoor gathering.

Look for lightweight, re-closable packaging

To reduce packaging waste, lightweight is key. And to prevent food waste, choose the right packaging.

* When shopping for your menu items, look for foods packaged in lightweight, minimalist packaging, such as plastic wraps, pouches and zipper bags. Many summertime favorites (hot dogs, sausages, chicken tenders, deli meats, dried fruits, nuts) today are sold in lightweight, re-closable packaging. Even many prepared side and main dishes come in thin yet tough plastic pouches that help protect food while creating very little packaging waste. This packaging helps extends the shelf life of food in the grocery store - and at home - so we waste less food.

* Lighter packaging also helps cut down on fuel needed to deliver food and drinks, which can result in less energy use and fewer emissions during transport. For example, one company replaced its glass jar for dry roasted peanuts with a recyclable plastic jar, emblazoned with the label: “84 percent less packaging than glass jar by weight!” The company said that the switch would result in a 25 percent reduction in trucks on the road to ship the same amount of nuts, along with saving millions of pounds in packaging and shipping materials.

* Keep food from wasting away and spoiling in the outdoor heat with simple reusable ice packs. Inexpensive plastic zipper bags work great - just fill with ice cubes when needed. Or fill with water, set in the freezer, and use to keep cold foods cold. Then simply return them to the freezer to use again or use the water on your plants or garden and reuse the bag.

* If there are too many leftovers for your own use, send extras home with guests using airtight plastic storage containers and zipper bags, which help keep food fresher in the fridge, so you and your guests waste less food. The right packaging is an investment in protecting our food and all the resources we use to produce it.

Recycle and look for recycled products

When entertaining outdoors, many people prefer shatter-resistant plastic tableware. Fortunately, today more plastics are being collected for recycling and returning to homes as new outdoor products.

* Plastics recycling has gone well beyond bottles and milk jugs in most community curbside programs to include yogurt cups, deli containers, lids, bottle caps, clamshells for fruit, and more. And now your plastic bags, along with wraps from products such as water bottle cases, napkins, produce, and buns, can be dropped off at thousands of participating retail or grocery stores for recycling. Visit Earth911.com or IWantToBeRecycled.org to see what plastics are collected for recycling at curbside or retail stores in your community.

* Recycling everyday plastics during your outdoor party is a great way to help valuable materials live a new life. An easy way to encourage recycling and to collect more recyclables is to place a clearly labeled recycling bin next to the outdoor trash.

* Another simple way to help the environment is to look for serving bowls, cups, plates and utensils made with recycled plastics, which helps keep more plastics out of landfills.

* Many manufacturers now use recycled plastics to make durable outdoor furniture and accessories, such as flower planters, birdhouses, and lawn furniture. And in some communities you can recycle these products at the end of their long life.

* Lightweight outdoor rugs woven from fibers made with recycled plastics are another eco-friendly option for your outdoor space - and they can be cleaned by rinsing with a garden hose.

So look for packaging that helps you entertain with less packaging and food waste - and make sure recycling is an integral part of your plan - so you can lighten your environmental footprint all summer long.

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