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A Guide to Zero-Waste Camping

11.13.17

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A Guide to Zero-Waste Camping

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In our world, attempting to move away from unnecessary consumption and waste production can make one feel like she’s swimming upriver. True, making a concerted effort to execute on zero-waste camping (and implementing some of this advice in your day-to-day) requires planning, research, time, education, and a dedicated effort to exclude superfluous luxuries. But the benefits are immense when put into perspective—and the moment when you see a couple toting away a full trash bag from a weekend excursion while your only chore is emptying the compost, you’ll feel the positive payback.

While there are myriad ways to eliminate waste from your camping scene, we’ve condensed our list to the top four most impactful ways to reduce your footprint—most will come into play before you embark on your overnight adventure. Whether you’re backpacking across the high alpine or you’re pulling your camper into a busy state park, these tips hold true. Above all: Be a catalyst! Don’t hesitate to fire up a discussion with your friends and camping buddies. When it comes to lessening impact, there’s power in numbers. For more actionable ways to make a difference in the outdoors, become well rehearsed in the seven cardinal principles of Leave No Trace.

1. Aim to buy used gear

The outdoor industry—especially the outdoor clothing industry—is devastatingly wasteful. From water-polluting dyes to bolts of unused fabric that find their end in a landfill, some wasteful practices along the production line are simply unavoidable. Now, no one is advocating that you revert back to the woolen outerwear and external-frame/canvas packs of our camping forefathers, but if you keep a close enough eye on your local second-hand store and Craigslist, the right gear is bound to show up. The flip side to this coin: repair broken, ripped items. Most gear companies have excellent repair programs. If not, there’s sure to be a tailor or a gear expert nearby that will happily lend a hand. Be resourceful!

2. Buy food in bulk

As our collective psyche begins to comprehend just how ridiculously wasteful individual and serving-sized plastic packaging is, buying in bulk becomes easier and easier. There is an impressive number of lightweight, durable food storage options available for purchase online and at your local gear shop. From silicone watertight baggies to burlap sacks and nearly everything in between, a simple “reusable sandwich bags” Google query will serve up thousands of options. There’s bound to be one that will fit your specific camping needs without taking up additional space in your pack. As an added bonus, you can throw most in the dishwasher or the washing machine once you get back home. 

3. Carry reusables

Dovetailing from the suggestion above, carefully curating your camp kitchen gear is a worthwhile endeavor and, if done right, you’ll need not replace it for years. Plus,that moment in which you get to whip out your silicone stemless wine glasses and pour everyone a glass of rosé out of an insulated thermos will secure your status as camp hero. 

When it comes to knowing what to buy, we recommend steering clear of plastics and opting for stainless steel—it is easier to clean, more heat resistant, and will hold up much longer than plastic will. For a car camping kit, consider investing in a set of four bowls, plates, flatware, mugs, and, as a bonus, washable napkins (that can double as dishwashing rags). Additionally, a cheap, durable water jug or cooler will eliminate your need for buying plastic bottles from the store. Winning.

For even more bonus points, become accustomed to using refillable liquid fuel for your camp stove in lieu of canisters that get tossed after a few trips. 

4. Compost!

Step one to managing compost in the backwoods: do as much as you can at home. Peel bananas, oranges, potatoes, cube melons, deseed and slice peppers, dice tomatoes, and core apples. Then, to manage what’s left (if any), bring along a small, collapsible airtight container to store food waste until you can return home to your compost bin. 

5. Sweat the small stuff

Bringing several extra bandanas, making your own cleaning solutions and storing them in reusable containers, opting for unpackaged bar soap and shampoos, and searching for compostable dog poop bags are minor details that can make a difference. As with any new endeavor, it will take time to adjust to the added effort it takes to get creative to beat the system. Trips to the grocery store will invariably take longer as you bring along all of your reusable jars to fill with bulk items. While some may contest that the effort is too great, the stakes have never been higher for our planet and future generations. Cultivating good, clean habits in ourselves not only can have positive impacts on our own lives but can pave the way for those that look to us to lead by example.

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