Zero Waste Camping (Back to Basics)

by Kyle
Zero Waste Camping

Pristine landscapes, flowing rivers, and clear blue skies – most of us love to commune with nature.

Camping is one of the most popular summer activities across the globe and I have some good news for you.

You are not going to have to give up your nature trips because you are practising zero waste camping.

In fact, camping is one of the easiest activities to do where you can leave no trace that you were ever there!

All it takes is a little bit of forethought and planning.

What Exactly Does Zero Waste Mean?

  • This environmentalist and conservationist term involves responsible recovery, consumption, reuse, and production of any product.

This does not just include the product; it also includes the materials that go into making the product and the packaging it comes in.

Your most important takeaway on the Zero Waste term is that you in no way endanger the environment, or adversely affect animal and/or human health.

The basic guidelines for Zero Waste contain the “Five R’s”:

  • Reduce
  • Reuse
  • Recycle
  • Rot
  • Repurpose

You need to be thinking of these guidelines when you are planning your camping trip.

Of course, you also want to incorporate these guidelines into your daily life as well.

One of the biggest ways that you can make a positive impact is by purchasing reusable canvas bags.

They are sold in almost every store in the world and the reduction in plastic bags not going to the landfill is staggering.

Plus, the canvas bags are stronger than the plastic ones, so you don’t need to use as many!

What you want are products that are made out of either recyclable material or biodegradable material.

Each person who purchases these types of products increases the demand for alternatives to plastic.

When talking about camping, whether it is at a local campground or finding a hidden jewel off the beaten track, there are many ways that you can reduce your personal impact on the area you are camping in.

This is how!

Choosing The Proper Zero Waste Gear

zero waste camping gear

When it comes to choosing a tent, sleeping bags, and backpacks, you want to go with a brand that is reliable and will stand the test of time.

With many companies now starting to think about their environmental footprint, you should also be able to find one that is constructed using all or partially recycled materials.

Columbia and Vaude are one such companies and both are very well known and well respected. While this may cost you more at the onset, you will save money in the long run because you will have items that are capable of lasting more than just one season.

But nothing lasts forever. Once your gear starts to show signs of wear and tear, opt to repair whatever you can.

Or, if you must purchase something new, donate your old equipment to an organization like the Boy Scouts or the Girl Guides.

They will be thrilled to get your equipment and you have saved all of your items from being thrown in the landfill before their time.

Consumable items 

This category includes your food and beverages.

The greatest amount of waste produced while camping comes from food. Instead of using plastics utensils, reach for your cutlery drawer instead.

You can bring your metal knives, forks, and spoons along with you and take them back home when you leave.

For water, think about bringing along some refillable water jugs and reusable water bottles.

You can buy these almost anywhere and it really cuts down on the amount of plastic that gets taken to the landfill.

Eco Water Bottle

A good brand I can recommend is Tree Tribe.

Their reusable eco bottles are some of the most durable high quality ones on the market.

Plus, they plant a tree for every products you purchase.

Buy Tree Tribe Bottle

If you are collecting water from a lake or stream while you are camping, you will want to bring something along to purify your water if there are no posted signs saying that the water is potable.

This is because the water that looks so clean and pure will be full of parasites or bacteria that you definitely do not want inside your body. There are several different ways that you can go about this.

In a pinch you can boil your water to kill off the microorganisms, you can filter it through a cloth, or you could add some iodine to the water.

However, the easiest way to make sure your water is safe to drink is by bringing along purification tablets or by using a purification straw like the LifeStraw.

When it comes to food, prepare as much of it ahead of time as possible. And only bring what you can reasonably eat.

For what you must prepare while you are out in the wild, bring along a reusable container for peels, seeds, etc. so that you can throw it in the compost when you get back to civilization.

It is never a good idea to bury compost while you are camping because it could attract wild animals who pose a risk to your safety.

Try to prepare meals that only use five or less ingredients.

This will cut down drastically on the amount of food you will need to bring along with you.

Instead of bringing along large bags or boxes of dry ingredients, portion the amounts you will need into reusable containers or jars from your kitchen. For seasonings and spices, consider bringing a small amount in empty pill bottles.

If you’ll be bringing meat with you to eat, take it out of the package at home and put the needed amount in airtight containers that you can wash later.

Further Reading: 21 Benefits of being vegan

Since you’ll also be storing your meat in a cooler, the airtight containers help to contain the smells that may attract unwanted visitors!

Clean and prep any of your fruits and veggies at home if it is possible.

  • For example, if you will be bringing celery with you, cut off all the waste portions at home and store the cut sections in water.

It will leave you with far less stuff to lug around, and there will be very little, if any, food waste to bring home and compost.

How to cool things down while zero waste camping

zero waste cooler

What will you do about ice while you are on your zero waste camping trip?

It is essential that you have some way to ensure that your food doesn’t spoil before you get to eat it.

You could go to the store and purchase ice in bags but that would completely defeat the purpose of zero waste.

What you can do is freeze some refillable water bottles. The bonus to doing this is that you are also able to drink the water once it defrosts!

You can also freeze your meat or any vegetables that you are going to cook. As long as you are not constantly opening your cooler, food can easily stay frozen for several days.

In fact, most coolers now come with a label that guarantees how long they will keep things frozen.

How to keep things clean while zero waste camping

zero waste camping

Napkins and paper towels create a huge amount of waste that is left at campsites every year.

Instead of bringing these paper products with you, bring reusable cloths instead.

You can use them for washing dishes, wiping your hands and face, and anything else you can think of.

You can wash the clothes in a tub of water with biodegradable soap and hang them to dry overnight so they are ready again for the next day.

If you are at a campground that has shower facilities, keep your shower to under two minutes and turn the water off until it is time to rinse.

The same goes with using the sink to brush your teeth. You can also use some of your purified water to brush your teeth and wash your face instead of running water in the sink.

If there are no shower facilities available where you are, make sure that you have brought along some dry shampoo.

This does wonders to freshen up your hair.

You can bathe in lakes or streams unless it is prohibited but never put any type of soap in the water.

How to keep warm while zero waste camping

keeping warm while zero waste camping

If you are going to be cooking hot food, you will either need a small grill or a campfire.

Grills are extremely convenient because they are ready to go at a moment’s notice. If you need to use a campfire, there are several things you need to know.

  • The most important thing about starting a campfire is to make sure that it is in a safe location away from anything flammable.
  • Rim your pit with stones so that a grassfire will not be started accidentally.
  • When it comes to the wood you are going to burn, always use wood that is native to the area you are in. If you bring wood in from another location, you run the risk of introducing non-native insects or plant life that could disrupt the native flora.
  • Gather your firewood from the area you are in, or if you are at a campsite, they often have bundles of wood for sale.

Final thoughts

Zero Waste camping is not as hard as it sounds, is it? All of the above instructions can easily be followed by anyone who is willing to do so.

Just remember to leave everything as it was when you found it, and to leave nothing behind.

If no trace of you remains, you have successfully completed your first Zero Waste camping trip. Congratulations!! 

Further Reading:

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