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Zero Waste Camping

Zero Waste (or low waste) living and camping, backpacking, travel is getting more and more popular. 

Why? 

Because our trash problem is visible everywhere if you walk around with open eyes. Overflowing bins, filled with single use paper cups (lined with plastic), single use cutlery, single use plates, plastic snack wrapper, plastic bottles, etc.
Littered or lost plastic trash in the woods, in parks, in the cities, ..
Waves are washing up plastic trash on beaches….

When out on trails it sadly is a common sight to see overflowing bins. Trash get picked out of bins from wildlife, birds, or the wind is catching lightweight trash, carrying it somewhere else..
It is a sad common sight to see littered or lost trash on trails. 

Again: almost a 100% Plastic trash. From coffee cups, plastic bottles, plastic snack wrapper, plastic bags, to cigarette butts, even diapers and chewing gum, etc…. 

Why this is bad? 

Plastic is not biodegradable. It will break down over time into tiny micro plastic. It might take plastic over hundreds of years to break down into tiny micro plastics.
Until then the plastic is a great hazard for wildlife. From balloons, plastic bags and wrappers, wild life can suffocate to death if they eat it accidentally. They can get caught in plastic strings… Some seabirds even feed their babies plastic bits because they think the plastic that floats in the ocean is fish… 

Even bio-plastic and so called compostable plastic will NOT compost or break down quickly in nature. It is only compostable in the right conditions (e.g. heat) AKA compost facilities. Sometimes a home compost will do the job too (it should be clarified on the plastic if it is home compostable though).

So if we love nature, if we enjoy to explore nature, to hike, walk, camp, enjoy beach days, diving, surfing, paddling, chilling in a park while listening to birds, then yes, we need to do some changes in our daily life and change some habits.
Are you joining me?

The blue spots are littered plastic bottles and lids at the start of a trail...... vs..->
refilling my filter bottle from a river
Reusable filter bottle! I can drink from any fresh water source. No single use plastic bottles needed.

What can you do?

If you love nature, and are aware about the problem and like to make less trash not only at home but also when traveling, camping, hiking, you only need a few tips and tricks and a few items to make this possible. 

And after a short while you will see how quick your trash will get less and how much better you will feel. Producing less trash almost always automatically will help you to eat and live healthier too. 
This will lead to a better life quality, not only for mother nature but for you too. Having more energy because you eat more fresh food, and maybe even losing some weight while helping our planet… What is better than that 😉

Start with the 5 R´s: Refuse-Reduce-Reuse-Recycle-Rot

Refuse what you can:

Say no to single use plastic and other single use items whenever you can. Refuse free gifts that you actually don’t need. Buy unpackaged and plastic free packaged bulk food whenever you can. A lot of supermarkets and farmers markets have bulk options already (just bring your own bulk bags), or try to check out some zero waste stores. Bring your cotton bag to buy bread to refuse the single use plastic or paper bags. Refill your reusable bottle to refuse single use plastic bottles.

Reduce what you can’t refuse:

If you can’t refuse certain items, buy less of it. Or buy in larger bags to reduce the small packages. If you go camping don’t buy small sachets of oats, or instant coffee. Buy large quantities and fill the amount you need into small reusable container or bags.

Reuse:

Reuse what you already have. Reuse zip loc plastic bags. Don’t throw them away after one usage. Wash them, dry them, refill with nuts, sandwiches, etc. Bring reusables instead of single use: cups, cutlery, plates, napkins, bags…

Recycle:

Recycle what you can’t refuse. First step: ask your local recycling waste management what kind of plastic and packaging actually can get easily recycled. They can tell you what kind of plastic they allow in the recycling bin (the number of plastic is always printed on the packaging). This is different from town to town, so don’t ask any blogger/influencer if they don’t live in your home town. Call your waste management and ask directly. If you go to another country/town for your hiking/camping trip ask there… Carry your trash with you until you find a recycling bin. This is where I like to say: it is easier if you only bring reusables and NO single use with you, this way you don’t need to carry trash with you;)
Don’t buy food that is packaged in black plastic container: Be aware that no recycling sorting machine can detect black plastic!!!!!! Black plastic at the moment cant get detected by sorting machines so it won’t get recycled if you put it into a recycling bin. 

Rot:

Food that ends up on landfill is a huge climate threat. It can’t compost on landfill because of the lack of the right temperature and lack of air and bacteria. It will only slowly degrade and rot and release methane, a strong greenhouse gas!!
If you have a compost bin around, always put your food scraps in there. If theres no compost bin provided in your home town, check if they have a compost drop off on the farmers market or garden center, you could also ask neighbors with a compost, or get a kitchen compost, etc.

If you have your own garden, think about a home compost. Your plants will be happy about the fresh homemade soil….

Refuse these single portioned plastic wrapped snacks...
falafel hiking snack
Bring homemade snacks in reusables instead.

Zero Waste tips for hiking, backpacking, camping

Just a few simple tips, tricks, hacks and essentials can already make it easier to reduce trash when camping, hiking, backpacking, traveling.
Zero Waste car camping is definitely a little easier than zero waste backpacking, but reducing trash is possible whatever you do and wherever you are. If you are aware and have some priorities.

Zero Waste Camping Food:

  • Oats: Porridge or muesli is my favorite breakfast. I buy Oats from bulk with my own reusable bags or Oats with paper packaging.
  • Bread: Refuse the single use paper or paper-plastic or plastic bread bags. Bring your own reusable bag if you get bread from a bakery or if your supermarket is offering unpackaged bread and bread-rolls. 
  • Spread: make your own hummus or other spread made from sunflower seeds, cashews, veggies and use old jam jars to store and carry it. 
  • Cheese/meat: if you really need to bring cheese and meat on your trip, ask your local deli if you can bring your reusable container (make sure it is sparkling clean). Organic stores and farmers markets are mostly more welcoming and open for the BYO Container thing. Supermarkets often have crazy health laws, so it is not allowed everywhere. If you eat animal products, and can’t find any store where you can bring your own container, try to repack the food into reusables before you hit the road. 
  • Milk: look out for milk in glass bottles. It is easy to find organic milk in glass bottles in Germany, a few refill stations also pop up everywhere. In other countries you can’t find glass bottled milk anymore. Try and swap milk with water for your breakfast, or use powdered milk for your coffee, packed in reusable jars or reusable zip bags. Or try to cut down the dairy and make your own plant-milk. Easy to make from oats, sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews, etc…
 

Bulk food: 

buy rice, pasta, flour, salt, pepper, lentils, nuts, hiking snacks, in bulk with your reusable bulk bags. 

Plastic free packaged food:

Or go find food packaged in carton with no hidden plastic bag inside (learn my plastic-free hack how you find out if theres a bag hidden inside in my blog post here: plastic free shopping in supermarkets) Or in glass jars instead of plastic container (peanut butter, jam, etc.) I shop plastic free everywhere I go and actually, it makes shopping  so much easier if you focus on plastic free food. You won’t get lost in the thousands of product and brand masses anymore… Check out where I shopped and lived low-waste/single use plastic free already: Zero Waste shopping around the world)

Homemade food:

Some food is so easy to make and so much cheaper if you make them at home. Cookies, muesli bars, energy bars/balls, sandwiches, bread, falafel balls, couscous or pasta salad, etc. etc. etc. I know not everybody likes to bake or cook, but maybe you do, or you like to give it a try. Check my recipe section for more inspirations. If you are on a multiple day trip look for a hut/hotel with a small kitchenette and bring your camping cooking gear when camping.

spicy cashew nuts hiking snack
My plastic free nuts in my beeswax snack bag vs plastic litter I picked up on the trail
Snack Bulk shopping at bulk barn in Canada. Just bring your own reusable bags/container to avoid plastic bags.

Drinking water:

  • Bring your reusable bottle wherever you go. If you live or travel through a country with safe tap water: refill from tap!
  • If you are visiting an coffee shop or restaurant, ask kindly if they can refill your bottle. I have never had a NO yet. (learn more about how to refuse plastic bottles when traveling)
  • In countries with no safe tap water: bring a filter bottle. Check my review here.
  • When hiking or backpacking in the back country and you can’t carry all the water you need, you can choose between a few different options. From filter, filter bottles, chlorine tabs, etc. so you can drink from any fresh water source you find.
  • Multi day car camping trip: bring as much water as you need. Get the 5 gallon refillable container and refill if you have an opportunity nearby, or just bring enough water. Check beforehand if there is  a spring with drinking water or any other drinking water refill source where you can refill jugs. (Check how much water is needed when hiking)
  • If you fancy sweet drinks or alcohol choose the glass bottles or get some cans and make sure to carry them with you until you find a recycling bin. Recycling facts: Aluminium can get easily and infinitely recycled and is of high value VS plastic bottles that are theoretically recyclable but according to the EPA only 30% of recyclable bottles were actually recycled in 2015. Recycled plastic is of very low value because virgin plastic is still cheaper, and PET can only get recycled a few times before it ends up on landfills because it becomes less sturdy after the recycling process.
Refill from a mountain spring
refilling my filter bottle from a river while kayaking
Drinking lake water with my filter bottle

Zero Waste Camping / Backpacking Essentials

Other Zero waste camping gear

Zero Waste Hygiene while Camping/Backpacking

Pack it in, pack it out!

If you don’t want to carry your own trash, don’t make any! Don’t leave other things behind than footprints… 

Bring a Bag for all kinds of trash. For wipes, toilet paper, tampons, food scraps, tea and coffee grounds, sachets, wrapper, try to avoid bringing any single use packaging and learn about the Leave No Trace principles before you hit the trail.

Tips for humans who menstruate:

Pack it in, pack it out. For women this also includes used tampons, menstrual pads. So if you like to avoid carrying these items with you after usage, you should give a menstrual cup a try. 

Solid Human waste:

should get dug with a shovel in so called “cat-holes” (6-8 inches/20cm deep, 200feet/60 m away from wild water/camp/trails). The proper disposal of human trash is very very important and get`s even more important the more humans will get outside enjoying nature, exploring the wild!!!! 

The proper disposal is important to avoid water pollution, to minimize the possibility of spreading diseases and maximize the rate of decomposition.

Toiletpaper and Tissues:

If you are backpacking in the back country where it is allowed to camp wild, with no official camping places and no camping toilets, remember to bring natural unbleached toilet paper with you.
Don’t leave any extremely bleached and tear resistant tissues or toilet paper behind.  They need a long time to break down eventually.
Have you seen the ads for the washing machine resistant tissues? If they don’t break down when you accidentially put them into the washing machine, and wash them with 60 degrees hot water how could they possibly quickly degrade in the wild???
If you don’t like to carry your used toilet paper with you, use natural paper like leaves, or very natural unbleached toilet paper and bury it properly.

Biodegradable wipes? NOT biodegradable when left behind in the woods! Never leave those behind. They need perfect conditions to break down. They also should never get thrown into toilets. They are known to clog up drains, costing cities huge amounts of money to prevent damages. Only flush the three P´s: Poo, Pee, Paper!

Soap, shampoo, dishwashing water:

Dishwater and shower water belongs into the bushes, not into wild waters! 
Don’t use soap for dishes or to wash yourself directly in any wild water/lakes/rivers/streams!!! 
Use only small amounts 
natural, bio-degradable soap* (can be used for body and dishes and laundry so no need to bring 3 different soap bars) and wash yourself and the dishes 200 feet / 60m away from any wild water! 

Natural biodegradable soap is made with natural oils and they are degradable but only if they have contact with soil! If you wash them out into wild streams directly they will pollute and could cause harm to wild life and plants. (source: wisegeek.com).

Palm-Oil Free! try to avoid conventional palm-oil based soap as they are the cause for deforestation and loss of habitat for wildlife such as Orang Utans. Read more...

Cigarette butts

Sadly a common sight everywhere. Cigarette butts! In the city, in parks, on beaches, in the forest, around lakes, in front of houses…. they are everywhere. 

It looks like it is a legal littering thing… Not many people think about this could become a problem for wildlife, plants, pets, small children on playgrounds, our water and all those who live in the water… 

Cigarette butts are the most littered item in the world! 

Why this is a problem?

  • the most common cigarette filters are made out of a form of plastic!
  • Not biodegradable.
  • Depending on the environment the butt ends up, it will take between 18 months up to 10 years to break down into micro plastic.
  • The toxins in the tobacco in one cigarette butt can poison between 40 and 700 Liters of water and kill all the organisms that live in the water. 
  • And no, throwing the butt into a sewer is not a good idea either! The rain washes out the toxins, or in some cities/countries the drain goes straight to the ocean.
So if you are a smoker and want to smoke during your hike, on a beach day, in the park, get yourself a pocket ashtray*, for your ash and the butt! Or just reuse a small glass jar* for your butts and dispose of them responsibly.
 
Cigarette butts can actually get recycled. A lot of countries have such projects already, so go do some research if you can send your butts to a cigarette recycling project. In the US Terra Cycle has such a program for you

Believe me, reducing waste it is easier than you think. In the beginning everything new seems to be overwhelming, but just start trying! With a few weeks/months of experience everything will become easier….

Have more questions? Feel free to drop me a message

Happy Low-Waste Hiking!

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