Break Out the Red, White & Blue (Tablecloths)

During the snow days, we were probably dreaming about summertime. And finally, Memorial Day – first official day of summer – is almost here. No matter how you observe Memorial Day – marching in a parade, visiting cemeteries or memorials – there’s bound to be a picnic or cookout somewhere along the way.

Here are a few things to consider as you prepare for the holiday …

The picnic is not a new concept. According to Merriam-Webster, the first known use of the word “picnic” occurred in 1826. Picnics even precede Decoration Day (the precursor to Memorial Day), declared in 1868. But the plastic items that we use for eating outside – and sometimes inside – are a fairly new invention. One might say plastic came late to the picnic. Early picnic baskets were filled with glassware, metal or crockery dishes and metal cutlery. According to the Superior Plastics Company, plastics came into wide use in homes after World War II and by the 1960s had replaced many materials in the kitchen. Manufacturers soon began making plastic spoons, forks, and knives that were meant to be thrown away after one use, eliminating the need to use water, electricity, and manpower to wash them. (According to Superior Plastics, this was a plus).

Then in 1970, along came the “spork,” patented by a Massachusetts company and made famous by Kentucky Fried Chicken. (If you’ve never bought a bucket of KFC, the spork is half-spoon, half fork).

Today, we do have more choices for our picnics. Companies are producing edible cutlery that  comes in flavors, compostable cutlery made of material like bamboo, and even dinnerware made of fallen leaves. But why don’t we just go back to the old-fashioned ways, reducing our dependence on these plastics?

Washing up was good enough for picnickers until the middle of the 20th century when we decided it was easier to just throw things away. We were swept away by convenience, not thinking about where these things would end up and how they would affect our environment.

So before you pack your picnic basket or get ready for the barbecue, remember that not only are these plastics taking up space in landfills, the manufacturing process uses up valuable resources. This Greenpeace video from a few years ago tells “The Story of a Spoon.”

And make sure dish soap is on your shopping list.

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