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.

The Ulitmate Guide to Zero Waste Camping

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. Dryer lint makes good kindling as well.

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. Still though, look for secondhand options first, and see about borrowing secondhand. With any reusable product, it takes dozens of uses to make them better than the disposable counterpart in terms of resources used.

 

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 throughout the parks. When we tent camp we fill up a large 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. Most Parks have recycling bins on site.

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 with 5 ingredients or less to minimize the number of ingredients you need to pack. Pancakes and skinny biscuits are a staple camping breakfast for us. Sandwiches, stir-fry, and burritos 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 store dry goods.

 

To make managing food waste easy, make sure you do 3 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 “banana peels.” Don’t even leave your cooler in your tent. They’ll still try to get in – it’s happened to me.
  3. Of course, you’ll still have the occasional banana peel or orange skins so for compost I recommend using an airtight 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.

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.

 

 

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

Ice

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.

Gear

You can find about anything and everything secondhand. Heck, you could even just borrow someone else’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.

Here are a few brands I trust:

 

I’m sad this is even a tip, but keep a watchful eye in and around the dumpsters at parks. Many people throw away perfectly usable tents, sleeping bags, air beds, fans, coolers, and more simply because they do not want to bother folding the items up or just don’t want to hassle with taking it back home. My grandparents, who are campground hosts for the majority of the year, save thousands of dollars worth of items from the dumpsters and then donate them to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

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 a 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. Zero Waste isn’t about being perfect, it’s about being fully aware of how our actions have consequence. This doesn’t mean you have to eliminate every single thing you enjoy. Just be mindful.

Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

 

CAMPING TIP | Do NOT under any circumstance, burn your plastic trash in the fire pit. Burning plastic releases dangerous pollutants into the air that you breathe.

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 | Reuse greywater in 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 to avoid cooking in foil as it might not be very good for you. Use cast iron skillets or a dutch oven over the campfire instead. Also, don’t buy new. Declutter your kitchen to find necessary camping items. I had a few duplicates in my kitchen that I put in my camping supplies.

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 I hope, 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!

 

2 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Zero Waste Camping

  1. Thank you for the tip about the Dutch oven! My mom gave me one, saying she loves hers, but I didn’t know they were so practical and multifunctional!

    Melamine is a common material for camping dinnerware. How does it measure up? I heard there was something that could leech out, but it is very durable. I also don’t know for sure whether it is recyclable.

    Speaking of recyclable, what do you do with broken plates?

    I’m gradually reading through a whole bunch of your posts, so if you’ve already written a post with answers, feel free to ignore a question or link to the post!

    • Hi K! So sorry for the late response! I do not know enough about melamine to say that it’s safe. From vaguely reading about it, I’d be hesitant to use it.

      For broken porcelain plates, I break them up into tinier pieces and add to the bottoms of my flower pots to help with drainage. So far, it’s worked pretty well. 🙂

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