Waste free camping & travel tips

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By Becca Lerman

Many of us love the idea of getting away from the monotonous struggle of day to day life, pitching a tent in the woods, and relaxing under the stars. Connecting with Mother Nature seems to be a common way to alleviate the stress we carry throughout our work and home lives. While it’s important to find solace in nature, it’s also critical to take care of our home here on Earth.

Often I’ve driven on narrow dirt roads, as far from society as possible, only to find trash scattered amongst dirt and rocks. It’s frustrating to think that those who desire to connect with nature are the ones who also take part in trashing it.

As a person who lives a nomadic lifestyle (in a van with my dog), there are a few simple alternatives I like to utilize before hitting the road to ensure that I’m producing as little waste as possible. Whether you’re long term traveling, just getting away for the weekend, or even attending a music festival – these things are all applicable and will immensely reduce your waste, the amount of space taken up in your car by single-use items, and the amount of trash you’ll have to pack up when you leave.

1. Reusable water jug/bottles

I usually travel with two 3-gallon jugs, which you can get at most stores that sell camping supplies for under $15. Having reusable containers to hold your water is an essential part of camping. Because I travel with a dog, I go through about 6 gallons every few days. For a weekend trip, you could most likely get by with 3, which is equivalent in ounces to a case of 24 plastic water bottles. I use this water for drinking (in my reusable water bottle), washing dishes, cooking, etc. I also thoroughly enjoy reusing the water I would typically drain from my cooler onto the ground.

2. Reusable Flatware

Close your eyes and picture your perfect camping scenario. Music blaring, burgers grilling, fire burning, paper plates stacked, solo cup in hand and maybe even some of those cute little decorative napkins. While single-use items typically coincide with cooking outdoors, they are incredibly wasteful items that unfortunately end up either on the ground or in the landfill.

And you don’t have to buy fancy camping sets in order to eliminate your outdoor waste. If you don’t already have reusable and non-breakable plates/bowls/cups, you’re sure to find some at your local thrift store. Grab some silverware from the kitchen, and you’re ready to go.

3. Cooler

Styrofoam is one of the most environmentally un-friendly types of waste that exists today. While a styrofoam cooler may seem convenient, especially for a last-minute getaway, the impact certainly outweighs the ease of this single-use atrocity. Many coolers can be purchased new for around $20, but if you’re not willing to spend that much, I again urge you to consider a thrift store.

I bought a higher quality insulated cooler for my travels, which has proved to be worthwhile so far, but it definitely isn’t necessary for short-term trips. A cooler is a great investment that extends beyond camping. I use mine at family BBQs, the beach, music festivals, tailgating etc. And to reduce your waste even more, it’s ideal to either make ice at home by freezing large jars/jugs of water or finding a small ice dispensary that will drop the ice right into your cooler without the plastic bag. You get more ice for your money that way, too. Being environmentally conscious can additionally allow you to become economically responsible!

4. Food prep/one pot meals

Prepping serves especially useful for weekend getaways and music festivals! I used to find myself purchasing single-serving food items for my weekend camping trips, which – when I stepped back to evaluate – I realized was INCREDIBLY wasteful.

Pre-portioning food for camping proves to be time saving, less costly, and more environmentally friendly. I invested in some reusable ziplocks and produce bags along with stainless & glass containers, found my favorite recipes, and prepped my heart out. This will especially save you money at festivals; we all know how costly food vendors can be!
In addition to prepping food ahead of time, I focused on one-pot meals. This saves energy when using a camping stove, and there are less dishes to clean after!

In conclusion, camping is – and should be – fulfilling for both humans AND the Earth. In addition to these vital alternatives, there are so many other things we can do to lessen our impact on the great outdoors. Remember, always leave it better than you found it!

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