How To Zero Waste Camp

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Regardless of where you stand on the global warming debate, if you enjoy being outside, you don’t want to have Mother Nature spoiled by humans. This is why hikers and campers have adopted a zero-waste philosophy. This is more commonly summed up as “Leave No Trace.” Where you don’t leave anything you brought with you behind. And ideally, the campsite looks even better than you found it.

The very core of camping is enjoying and being in nature. Camping is a healthy way of feeding the primal parts of being that has been engineered to love and enjoy nature. It is about being in a relaxing environment and enjoying Mother Nature’s gifts.

Most people camp so that they can enjoy their time outside. Whether it is to enjoy sunshine free of distractions of work. Or to enjoy the solitude of a hike. Swimming with the kids. Or finally landing a fish they have been trying to catch for years. Spending time with Mother Nature is the essence of camping.

Unfortunately, camping can also bring harm to the environment. While forest fires get the most attention, thankfully, for all of the headlines, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, overall forest fires for the past 100 years have been declining. However, any trip into the outdoors will quickly show the bigger problem. Waste. Learning how to overcome the challenge of waste management while away from home is the key to zero waste camping.

Armed with this knowledge, we will now dig deeper at zero waste camping. And the specific things you can implement on your next camping trip. So that future generations can enjoy the great outdoors too.

Choose The Right Camping Tools And Gear

Your largest expenditures will have the greatest impact on your efforts to implement zero waste camping. This is why it’s important to invest in quality gear. While, camping equipment can be expensive at the time of initial purchase, over a lifetime of use, it tends to average out to be affordable. For example, let us look at your camping tent. A quality camping tent from a recognized brand may cost a couple of hundred dollars. Yet, when taken care of, it should last you a decade or more of monthly camping trips.

Unfortunately, there are too many horror stories of what happens to inferior gear when taken camping. In particular, by novice campers. The cheap tent gets set up. And they have a good time. But when it comes time to take down the tent, they cannot figure it out. Or they failed to bring a larger bag to hold the tent (the only person I have ever heard of packing a tent back into the sack it came in was someone who packed parachutes for a living). This is why most campers invest in duffle bags so you don’t have to become Marie Kondo of the outdoors in order to carry your tent back home. But if people can’t figure out how to pack their tent up, they will discard it at the campsite.

If you want to save money on buying camping gear, there are many ways to do so. You can look for sales at camping retailers including REI, Bass Pro, Cabela’s, and Amazon. Don’t forget to browse the camping section of Walmart. Many retailers will hold sales during the fall because of the fact that most Americans only camp Spring through Fall. They do not camp during the winter months. This is also a good time to look at Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, thrift stores, and the good old standby of a garage sale.

Consider The Type Of Hygiene Products To Use

Keeping good hygiene while camping is important. You, of course, will get dirty. And you don’t need to bring a change of clothes every day, you do want to take care of the basics. Such as brushing your teeth. There are many ways to practice zero waste while maintaining hygiene. The key is to limit the amount your bring. And to avoid using bottles as much as possible. Bottles are hard to pack. And lead to waste. Unfortunately, many of the products we use at home and may wish to bring while camping comes in bottles. Everything you can think of including shampoo, soap, and deodorant now has a zero-waste option. Though, if at all possible, leave the deodorant at home. In particular, in bear country. It has a sweet smell to them and they will come looking for it because animals will think it’s food. If you insist on it, consider trying out an alum stone instead of a synthetic deodorant.

That said, you need to consider the safety of the hygiene products you use on the environment. Typically, zero waste products are designed to be safe for the environment, including soil, run-off water, and underground water. Nonetheless, it is important to double-check.

Please look at the hygiene products that you use. There are products designed for camping. These products are manufactured with chemicals that will reduce their effect on the environment. Not only do they use minimal packaging, but their chemical composition is designed to have a minimal impact on the soil and groundwater. That being said, make sure you do all of your use of soap at least 200 yards away from any rivers, streams, or lakes to minimize any impact they have.

An overlooked item when it comes to zero-waste is your First Aid kit. A First Aid kit is an essential camping item. However, instead of buying a box just for you to use, consider bringing supplies from home. Make sure that you have a variety of bandages to use. While there are brands who compete with the reliable “Band-Aid” brand and claim they’re more environmentally friendly, personally if I need a bandage, I’m not messing around. I want something that has been proven over generations. Just make sure to properly dispose of the wrappers and used bandages.

Pay Attention To Your Food

Except for my first snipe hunt, all of my most memorable camping moments have involved food. And I spend as much time watching camp cooking videos as I do as learning new bushcraft skills. After, what’s the point of camping, if we can’t enjoy our campfire meals? But if you don’t plan properly, your food supplies end up being wasted.

If you’re like most people dinner planning on an average night consists of asking your spouse or partner or friends what they want to eat. Then debating what do you feel like eating. With camping you must plan ahead. Because there’s no running to the store if you forgot an ingredient. Plus you need to make sure food is stored properly. This is why people tend to look at canned & dehydrated foods. You can bring fresh meat as long as you take care of keeping it cold with your coolers.

If you are taking food that needs to be kept cold, we would recommend that you bring two coolers. One is for drinks. And the other is for the food. In the food cooler, pack frozen water bottles or frozen sponges. They are less messy than ice. Plus as water bottles melt you can drink them. And keep them in the shade.

Food waste is a big problem. Often it’s because we buy things and then forget we bought the food. So as you’re planning your camping trips, check your pantry and fridge and freezer. This way you can save money and use the food you already bought. This will help reduce waste by throwing away food you already had at home. While some people (like my wife) use reusable bags, I believe there’s more benefits to plastic bags. They make great dog poop bags and small trash bags on your camping trip.

Canned food and meat can be bought ahead of time. Canned food lasts for years and always good to have some on hand. Meat can be bought ahead of time and frozen. Any bread, fruits, and vegetables that you wish to take with you should be bought when you’re starting to pack for your camping trip. And you can even decide to buy them on the way. If you are visiting an area for the first time, do some research to find out the best places to buy groceries. I remember the first time we visited Broken Bow, Oklahoma. The Walmart didn’t have a grocery store in it. We had to split our shopping up among several stores.

Prepare the food as much as possible before you leave and pack the food in reusable containers and jars. Do not forget to pack oils, dressings, spices, tea, and coffee as well. Forgetting these items will inevitably result in you purchasing supplies that add to your waste.

Besides planning your meals ahead of time, make sure that you are doing as much to prepare ahead as well. While it is possible to cut and dice at camp, it’s not as convenient as home. Plus if you forget an ingredient, you most likely cannot just run to the store and get it. Thus, if you can prep and package all of the meals together first, then you will know everything is ready. Plus any leftover scraps can be used at home or put into your compost pile.

As for zero wastewater and refreshments, the best solution is to invest in a water container with tap. The container allows you to carry water in a waste-free manner. You can the water dispensers over and over again. Importantly, you can refill the container with water in the nearest town when camping.

Also plan ahead for your water. If possible, bring a container with a tap in it. This will make it easier to access the water. And by using a reusable container you can fill the water over and over. Also don’t forget a water filter as a backup source in case you lose access to any onsite potable water. If you are bringing beer and soft drinks or sports drinks, make sure to recycle your containers.

Bring along an extra bucket with a tight fitting lid to be used as a composting bucket. You can put your organic, non-meat waste into this bucket. And this could be the start of a compost pile for your home garden or yard.

What Will You Be Using To Eat And Cook?

After planning for what you are going to eat, you should also consider the kitchen utensils and eating implements that you will use while camping. For the most part, many campers tend to carry disposable implements, which, as you can appreciate, is wasteful. However, taking a zero-waste approach does not mean you carry a set of ceramic plates.

When you are done planning what you will eat on your camping trip then you need to plan on how you are going to actually cook these dishes. The tendency is to bring disposable items, which can be wasteful. However, thanks to advances in manufacturing and chemistry, you can now find biodegradable utensils, often made from bamboo. Which would be preferable to plastic. And of course, you should use reusable plates to serve food on. This could be a traditional stainless steel mess kit, bamboo, silicone or plastic. All of them should be affordable and lightweight. I have even used a frisbee as my dinner plate. Just wash it before serving on it if you’ve been playing a game before dinner!

Wrapping It Up

Getting outside is the most important part of camping. And Mother Nature has a lot to share with us. Whether it is to go on long hikes. Or to venture off on a fishing trip to finally reel in the big one. Or to hop in a canoe and paddle down the river for unknown adventures. Or heck, just to sit around and do nothing but listen to the birds sing, camping has something for all of us.

But you want to make sure you enjoy nature’s beauty without it being destroyed by man’s trash. And we want to make sure that we leave it ready for the next generation. Even better than we found it. Thankfully through modern advances in electricity and building materials, we no longer need to cut down as many trees. And our forests are returning.

But to make sure that your children and their children will be able to enjoy our forests, streams, prairies and even the deserts, make sure to practice zero-waste camping.

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