The Ultimate Guide to Zero Waste Camping

I’ve been camping since before I could walk. As a family, we could never afford lavish vacations or even fly anywhere so camping was every year’s family trip. I’ve camped all across the US and still, those vacations, remain some of my favorite and most cherished childhood memories. Now, as a mom, I get to take my little guy on camping adventures and begin those memories for him. For it was spending so much time in state and national parks that sparked the love I have for the Earth.


This past weekend, we took Oliver to Watkins Mill State Park. We were a little anxious to see how he’d handle it. Well, I’m happy to report, that child had an absolute blast. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so happy. He played in the dirt, took many bike rides, played on the jungle gym, and even got to sleep in his very own bunk bed. He thought that was pretty fantastic. Oh, and did I mention that he slept entirely through both nights?! Uhhh….WIN!


I hope with all of my experience, I can provide you with a complete guide on how to lower your waste while camping and of course, prevent you from pulling out your hair. 

Ditch the Disposables
I mean, well duh right? Of course, if you want to eliminate some of your waste you’d opt for reusable plates over ones you’d just end up throwing away. Yes, I know what some of you are thinking…”But paper plates make good kindling.” Maybe, but they are still disposable.

Now, for camping, I don’t recommend glass or porcelain plates. Just because camping isn’t necessarily the most dainty of activities. Just to prevent any accidents, I suggest using some reusable secondhand plastic plates like the ones I have pictured. Or even some stainless steel or enamelware. Anything that is durable. 



Beverages
The popular beverage of choice seems to be bottled water. I see it everywhere around other camper’s sites. Most parks have safe, drinkable water with hydrants through out the parks. When we tent camp we fill up a water container with a spout that we use throughout the day.

If you grab some soda or beer, just make sure you recycle your containers after use. 


Food

You don’t have to eat like a first-year college student when you camp. Fix healthy meals like you would at home. Just simplify them a bit. Keep your meals under 5 ingredients to minimize the number of ingredients you need to pack. Pancakes and skinny biscuits are a staple camping breakfast for us. Sandwiches are also pretty popular. 

Prepping your dry ingredients ahead of time for pancakes saves time and waste.



For your ingredients, consider bringing some of your bulk staples in smaller containers or jars. I use mason jars for rice and quinoa and even use a few of my old plastic containers.


To make managing food waste easy, make sure you do 2 things. 1. Be very mindful of how much food you’ll eat and only bring what you will finish. 2. Prep as much as you possibly can at home. Chop, peel, and core your produce ahead of time so that you can utilize your compost at home rather than have to worry about it in the woods. If there’s one thing you don’t want to have in or around your tent, it’s easily accessible food. Raccoons will be in your tent faster than you can say “egg shells.” 

Of course, you’ll still have the occasional banana peel or orange skins so for compost I recommend using an air tight container to keep it from smelling until you can get home. This would be a good opportunity to reuse some of those plastic containers you’re phasing out.



Foods such as spices and condiments don’t need to be repurchased in smaller containers. take some of your stash at home a put them into smaller jars or even old pill bottles.

What about ice? Most ice comes in plastic bags so you can do a few things ahead of time to reduce your bagged ice consumption. Fill up water bottles with tap water and freeze to use as ice packs. Once the ice melts, you have water to drink. If there is any food you can freeze ahead of time, that also works. You can also take large containers to gas stations and pay for just ice out of the soda machine. Bottom line, just make sure your food is properly cooled to avoid any potential spoilage.

CAMPING TIP | Please do not bury your compost in state or national parks. It’s usually not allowed and can attract unwanted animals to your sites like raccoons, possums, or even bears. Many of these animals that become used to eating human food have to be put down as they are too close to humans and pose a threat.

Gear

You can find about anything and everything secondhand. Heck, you could even just borrow someone’s gear. Why buy? Unless camping is something you plan to do several times a year, borrowing would be the best option. Some retailers like REI even do equipment rentals. If you do plan to buy, buy quality. Don’t waste your money on cheap versions that will break easily.



Toiletries

Pack your toiletries from home. Keep things plastic free and reusable like bamboo toothbrushes, homemade cosmetics, a safety razor, package free shampoo, natural bug repellent. For more tips on zero waste bathroom items, check out my post HERE.




Activities

Seriously, you’re camping, put down the phone. Go on a bike ride, a hike, go kayaking, or just sit by the fire with good book. Reconnect with nature. Trust me, you’ll feel SO rejuvenated after a couple of days screen free. 



CAMPING TIP | Do not use non native firewood as this can cause non native species of plants taking over and disrupting local biomes. Use local firewood or just buy a bundle of firewood from the park.





Indulge

Eat the damn S’more. Don’t deprive yourself of special moments in order to avoid trash. 



CAMPING TIP | Do NOT under any circumstance, burn your plastic trash in the fire pit. Do I really need to explain why?

Other Misc Tips

PETS | If you have pets, throwing away your dog poop is unavoidable as it is not allowed to leave it on the ground. I use compostable dog poop bags. 



CLEANING | Bring your cleaning supplies from home. I brought rags, baking soda, and my vinegar spray to clean up.



RV | If you have a camper, you could reuse your grey water on your garden once you got home rather than dump it down the sewer. Just make sure you use plant friendly dish soap.

COOKING UTENSILS | Try avoid cooking in foil as it might not be very good for you. Use cast iron skillets or a dutch oven over the camp fire instead. Also, don’t buy new. Declutter your kitchen to find necessary camping items.

Well, hopefully that wasn’t too much information. I just wanted this to be as thorough as possible. Camping is one of my absolute favorite hobbies and hopefully this guide takes a little bit of stress off of your plate if you are planning your first trip.

Now enjoy this photo of my giving my grandfather, who is a Missouri State Park Volunteer, bunny ears. He’s a hoot!



Do you have any questions on zero waste camping that I didn’t address? Ask below! 

Happy zero waste camping!



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