Camping inherently may seem like an environmentally friendly activity, unfortunately, this is not always the case. Disruptions to the land and waste produced when camping can have a serious negative impact.
By practicing zero waste camping, you’re helping to care for the land and ensure it’s available for future generations. However, is this camping style even possible?
Let’s take a look.
What Is Zero Waste Camping?
Zero waste camping means you’re minimizing the amount and toxicity of your waste while camping. You’ll be as conservative as possible when it comes to your camping resources, reusing when you can, and limiting the number of items you burn or bury.
The goal is to limit your footprint and impact on the natural environment where you’re camping. By following zero waste camping, you’re helping to ensure that future generations can enjoy the same activities.
Why Do People Care About Zero Waste Camping?
Zero waste camping is crucial because it ensures that plants and animals can continue to thrive in an area for years to come. This is especially true when camping on public lands, as one of the leading causes of agencies shutting down camping at public lands is the abuse of the land.
The Bureau of Land Management, the United States Forestry Service, and several other agencies manage public lands available for camping. By limiting the impact on the land when using it, campers help preserve the land and its availability for others.
However, even if you’re not planning to use the lands for camping, it’s everyone’s responsibility to take care of camping areas and keep it as clean and natural as possible.
What Are the 5 Rs?
You may have heard of the three Rs – reduce, reuse, and recycle. However, those that embrace the zero waste movement follow five Rs. Let’s look at each of them!
Refusing free things helps you to eliminate one-time-use items in your life. Things like coffee cups, utensils, or plastic and paper straws are all items you typically only use once. Getting free stuff can be convienent, but it prohibits you from minimizing your environmental impact.
Learning to refuse doesn’t mean you have to go without either. You can still have that morning cup of coffee, as many coffee shops let you bring your reusable cup. You can also take pictures of flyers and purchase digital music and movies instead of physical copies. Every decision to refuse is another step towards zero waste.
When it comes to camping, refuse items like paper plates, disposable cups, and plastic cutlery. It may be easier or less time-consuming to use, but it might surprise you how much waste you create, even on a short weekend camping trip.
A great way to practice zero waste camping is to stop wasting things! Reusing items in your life may take some creativity, but it helps eliminate waste. Just because something breaks doesn’t mean it’s garbage. You may be able to repair it or even use parts in another item.
Don’t forget that just because you don’t want it doesn’t mean someone else might not. You could gather all of your unwanted items, have a yard sale, and make a few bucks on things you were planning to toss. Someone else could have a use for them and be willing to pay you for the item. Or you could just donate them.
Camping supplies are often items that people purchase with good intentions but then rarely use. So, do some thrift shopping in stores, yard sales, and even on popular websites like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. You could score a great deal on lightly-used camping gear!
When you practice reducing, you’re simply limiting the number of items you need. When it comes to camping, there are plenty of gizmos and gadgets out there for you to purchase. However, you don’t need lots of fancy gear to have a great camping trip.
We live in a society that encourages us to acquire and gather as many possessions as possible. It’s not uncommon for people to own so much stuff that they’ve run out of room and need to rent a storage locker to hold the stuff they don’t use that often.
When you recycle, you treat the items that would typically be thrown out for them to be used again. There are many initiatives where sports companies recycle shoes and tires to make athletic surfaces and playground materials; the items get a new life and purpose.
While camping, there are many things you can do to recycle and avoid creating waste. You can make citronella candles or firestarters. You could even use milk cartons to create homemade lighthouses to use as camping lanterns. It can be exciting to find new ways to recycle while camping!
Composting is another way to look at this form of zero waste camping. By composting, you allow the items that can break down over time to do their thing. The better you are at composting, the more you can speed up this process as well.
One of the most common ways to do this while camping is for those who use composting toilets. This form of waste management means you no longer have to look for a dump station or a site with a sewer connection. Composting toilets can break down the solids and liquid toilet waste and make it safe to spread as fertilizer on trees and other items that don’t produce fruit or items for consumption.
Did You Know: Composting isn’t just for your food…it’s for your toilet too! Read more to find out What’s So Great About RV Composting Toilets?
How to Practice Zero Waste Camping in an RV
If you want to practice zero waste camping in an RV, we’ve got a handful of things you should consider. Luckily when using an RV its much easier to track your resource consumption than in a house.
When you’re in an RV, you naturally have less space to consume things. You have to be picky about what makes the cut when it comes to your limited storage space. Allow yourself time to process items thoroughly and look for options that serve multiple purposes.
So if you’re RVing and want to practice zero waste camping, work at consuming less now. Challenge yourself to see how little you can actually consume to grow your zero waste camping skills. Finding creative ways to consume less can become fun if you see it as a challenge.
Water, Power and Sewage and garbage are all very easy to track in an RV and it can be a great way to understand how much you use at home too. Most everyone we talk to agrees that spending time in an RV helps us all learn important lessons about our consumption.
Upcycle When Possible
Renovating an RV can be a fun way to make it your own, but it can get expensive. By upcycling, you can give your RV a new look and feel but still limit the amount of waste you’re creating. Using reclaimed wood can bring new life to cabinets and shelving. Upcycling fabric to make pillows, cushions, or curtains is a great option for limiting waste.
Pro Tip: Apart from trying to be as zero waste as possible while camping, these are 20 Golden Camping Rules Every Camper Should Know.
Avoid Plastic Whenever Possible
Plastic is one of the biggest enemies of zero waste practices. Many plastic materials take upwards of 450 years to decompose in a landfill. These items typically see minimal use and then spend hundreds of years decomposing. Try to avoid them.
When it comes to the containers you use for storing foods and ingredients, choose glass. It may be more expensive, but it’s easier to clean and lasts much longer, which is better for the environment.
If you’ve ordered anything lately, you realize that many manufacturers use entirely too much packaging for their products. This packaging may look great on the shelf, but you’re likely looking for a way to dispose of it the minute you get the item home. While you may not eliminate packaging from your life completely, look for ways to recycle as often as possible.
The best way to introduce zero waste camping and make recycling a habit is to have a place for your recyclable materials. Otherwise, you’ll be more likely to throw it into the trash instead of recycling.
Find a large container or box that you can designate for your recyclable materials. If you don’t know where to take your recyclables, ask the campground or use an online search engine to find the nearest recycling center.
Prevent Food Waste
Even though an RV fridge may not be large, it’s easy to forget about the leftovers or to make too much food. Both instances result in wasting food. This means not only wasting money, but also generating unnecessary waste.
Pay attention to how much food you’re making. You don’t want to make too much food if you don’t have a place to store it. You also want to limit the number of leftovers you have because most RVs lack large amounts of storage space in the fridge and kitchen cabinets.
Can You Ever Be Perfectly Zero Waste?
For most people, it may not be possible to reduce your waste to zero. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying.
Finding ways to reduce your waste as much as possible is the goal. Any attempt at zero waste benefits the environment and creates less waste. So don’t be afraid to give it a shot and challenge yourself to find new ways to reduce the amount of waste you create.
Should You Try Zero Waste Camping?
Whether you’re tent camping or in an RV, we think it’s important for everyone to limit the amount of waste they create while camping. Not only is it better for the environment, but it reduces costs and stress for campgrounds.
If boondocking is more your style of camping, you’ll also appreciate not having to find a place to dump your trash as often.
Ultimately, spending time in nature often generates a desire to reduce our impact on the environment around us. Attempting to zero waste while camping is an excellent start in helping protect the fragile ecosystems around us. We all likely want to pass on the ability to enjoy nature and the animals that call it home to future generations, after all.
What are your favorite ways to reduce waste while camping? Drop a comment below!
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Saturday 13th of November 2021
We are somewhat back to basic folks and have always practiced the aforementioned ideas. We are not the stereotype that folks think of when hearing that term. We have, as our livelihood, been in the furniture recycle/restoration/refinishing/repair/repurposing business for 43 years and raised 7 kids in a rural setting. Living a low impact lifestyle is not hard and you don't have to go without in practicing true conservation. Whether at home or in our travel trailer, we practice our lifestyle. We are a consumption based society and we waste and are drowning in literally tons of things. Love the "R's" and love to show folks through example how easy and how financially and environmentally beneficial they are. Thanks for the article! - Marc
Mortons on the Move
Monday 15th of November 2021
That's awesome! Thanks for sharing your personal experience. :)
Saturday 13th of November 2021
This is one of your best articles! Thank you. One waste item I struggle with is kitchen waste - banana, orange and apple peels, veg scraps, and so forth. On a short trip of a week or less, I can save them to bury in my yard at home, but for longer trips, it becomes a challenge, so I'm always seeking options.
Mortons on the Move
Monday 15th of November 2021
Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the article!