Zero Waste Camping

15+ Zero Waste Camping Tips for the Conscious Traveller

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After living on the road full-time in a caravan for a few years, I’d like to share some zero waste camping tips. If you can swap out some of your old, less sustainable habits with some more conscious practices, that’s awesome.

Remember, going zero waste is a journey, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Zero waste camping is a fickle beast, especially once you head into outback and rural regions where the concept of an eco-friendly bulk food store doesn’t even exist.

Moving towards a lower waste lifestyle is much easier at home in the convenience of a house, but there are many habits that you can take on the road with you as well.

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Zero Waste Camping Tips

Water

Water Container

Water is the number one resource that you’re going to need for camping, whether it be an overnight trip or a two week trip.

The rule of thumb is always carry more water than you think you’ll need. It’s wise to anticipate situations where the car may break down, there’s an emergency or it ends up being a muddy weekend with lots of extra cleaning!

There are a few options with transporting water for a zero waste camping trip:

  • Water bladders
  • Water jerry cans
  • Collapsible water bags
  • Water bottles

Water bladders are great for larger amounts of water and are best stored across the passenger seat floor or in the back of the ute/ car. The great thing about a bladder is that it can be rolled up and stored away once it’s empty.

We had a 100L water bladder while living on the road, which made it easier to drive to the nearest town and restock. There are plenty of ways to find water while camping.

20L water jerry cans and 10 – 20L collapsible water bags are great for smaller quantities of water and are handy to have on your camp table for everyday use.

Rather than buying individual bottles of water, take an insulated water bottle each and keep refilling from the larger water source that you have.

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Ice

Ice Esky Cooler

If you’re storing your food and drinks in eskies with ice, there is a way to avoid plastic-wrapped ice from the servo.

Make your own ice blocks at home, if you’ve got the freezer space.

  • Block Ice – Use empty ice cream containers (or whatever large containers you’ve got) to freeze up water and make your own big blocks of ice. Take the ice blocks out of the containers and put them into the esky just before you leave.
  • Crushed Ice – If you’ve got a spare freezer, invest in a heap of ice trays and make up a big batch of ice cubes.
  • Water Bottles – You can fill any plastic water bottles that you’ve already got with water and freeze them up for your esky.
  • Frozen Meals – Pre-make your camping meals and freeze them at home. Put them into the esky to create more frozen blocks, plus you’ll be eating through them as you go.

To keep that ice frozen as long as possible, keep your eskies in the shade (you may have to keep shuffling them around as the sun moves throughout the day). You can also add some salt to your ice for a longer-lasting block, as long as it’s not drinking ice.

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Rubbish

Rubbish plastic bottle

When it comes to rubbish while zero waste camping, reducing the amount you’re actually taking with you is the best starting point.

Leave the campsite cleaner than when you arrived. If you see any rubbish lying around, collect it and dispose of it in the best way that you can.

Tips for reducing rubbish

  • Buy your snacks and ingredients from a bulk food store where you can fill up your own containers.
  • Store food in reusable containers & cloth bags instead of plastic bags and packets.
  • Avoid disposable plates & cutlery.
  • Buy things that are packaged in boxes and cans, rather than plastic.
  • Avoid snack packs and individually wrapped food.

For any rubbish that you do accumulate while camping, disposing of it in the most environmentally-friendly way possible is the goal.

A Dirty Gear Bag that straps to your spare wheel (on the back of the car) is perfect for storing rubbish, cans, bottles and recycling until you get home.

Dirty Gear Bag
Dirty Gear Bag (eBay) →

Disposal of rubbish

BURN IT – Any paper and cardboard waste can go into the campfire.

RECYCLE IT – Use a dirty gear bag to store things that can go into the recycling bin at home.

CASH IT IN – Find your nearest ‘cash for cans’ depot and recycle any cans and glass bottles that are eligible.

COMPOST IT – Use a lidded bucket or container to store food scraps that can go into your home compost system or to the chickens if you have them. Don’t throw food scraps into the bush – they take too long to decompose, encourage scavengers and can introduce species that aren’t endemic to that environment.

REDCYCLE IT – Any scrunchable plastic bags and packets can go into a REDcycle bin (found at many Coles and Woolworths stores around Australia).

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Personal Hygiene

Outdoor shower

Just because you’re camping, doesn’t mean you can’t stay clean and hygienic. Here are some zero waste camping hygiene tips.

Washing yourself

One of the most wasteful personal hygiene consumables that people use while camping are the dreaded wet wipes or baby wipes.

Most baby wipes are made from non-biodegradable materials and plastics. They will still be hanging around landfill holes 100 years after the day you used them.

Instead of cleaning yourself with wipes, use a damp face washer instead. Give it a quick hand wash with a dash of detergent and water in a bucket, then hang to dry for later use.

Face Washers
Face Washers (eBay) →

Taking a bar of soap in a soap container produces less waste than liquid soap in a pump bottle, plus a bar of soap takes up way less room!

TIP
Remember not to discard soapy water anywhere near waterways, as the rain run-off can still see those contaminants heading downstream. Never use detergents or soaps in natural waterways.


Periods

For women who are on their moon cycle, try using a menstrual cup. You can easily empty it out in the toilet and rinse it in the shower or a bucket of water.

If you’re more comfortable using tampons, opt for organic cotton.

Lastly, if you have the privacy and water facilities, you can use cloth pads. You may be able to rinse each one out after you’ve used it, if not, it’s not a big deal if you’re heading home to a washing machine in the next two days or so. Throw used cloth liners into a lidded bucket of water to soak.

? READ: How to Have an Eco Period >

Nappies

If possible, use cloth nappies. You can either hand wash them in a bucket and hang to dry or head to the nearest town (if there’s one close by) and wash them at the Laundromat.

Use damp cloths instead of disposable wipes for wiping messy hands and dirty bums.

Modern Cloth Nappies
Modern Cloth Nappies (eBay) →

If you really can’t wrap your head around cloth wipes for dirty nappies while camping, opt for biodegradable wipes. They’ll still end up in landfill, but they have the possibility of decomposing a little quicker.

The same goes for ‘eco nappies.’ Don’t be fooled by the greenwashing term, the nappies will still end up in landfill for hundreds of years. The pro for eco nappies is that the manufacturing process is slightly less detrimental to the environment, so they’re still a better option than regular nappies, if you’re going that route.

? READ: 10 Eco Baby Tips >

Toilet Paper

Who Gives A Crap toilet paper review

Did you know that most toilet paper you find in the supermarket is actually harvested from virgin forests (naturally grown, untouched bushland)?

For a more sustainable toilet paper solution, go for bamboo toilet paper (a sustainable, fast-growing grass) or recycled toilet paper (made from recycled paper waste).

You may be able to find these in the supermarket, if not, I highly recommend Who Gives A Crap.

? READ: All About ‘Who Gives A Crap’ >

If you need to use the bush as a toilet, here are some tips:

  • Head well away from pathways and anywhere that people would walk through.
  • Dig a hole at least 15cm x 15 cm (6 in x 6 in).
  • Do your business in the hole.
  • Use natural toilet paper (leaves etc.) or minimal plain, unscented toilet paper. A very small amount of toilet paper can be buried, otherwise put it into a bag to dispose of in a rubbish bin later.
  • Fill the hole in and cover with natural materials.

Toiletries

For toiletries, go for a bamboo toothbrush and a little jar of homemade deodorant if you’ve gone down that path. Bars of shampoo and conditioner are a great hair washing option, rather than plastic bottles.

You could try your hand at DIY sunscreen and DIY insect repellent. If that doesn’t appeal to you, opt for natural, zero waste options. Etsy is a good place to source out those types of products.

? READ: Eco Bathroom Ideas >

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Power, Cooking & Lights

Camping cooking

The main things you’re going to need power for are lights, charging devices and cooking. Plus, you’ll need to keep your fridge running, if you opt for a 12 volt fridge rather than an esky.

Solar

If you’re going to be camping on the regular, I’d invest in some type of solar and battery set-up.

You can get a little USB solar pack with inbuilt battery that’s perfect for recharging phones, speakers and anything that runs off a USB cord.

For something that holds a lot more power, look into a solar generator.

The pros of a solar generator versus a fuel generator is that the solar ones are quiet, don’t require fuel and therefore don’t emit any emissions. You can charge them from the sun, by plugging into 240 volt power and even from the car while driving.

Solar Generators:

  • No fuel required
  • Can charge via the sun, 240 volt power or the car while driving
  • Quiet (no noise like a petrol generator)
  • No emissions

Solar generators are great for powering a fridge and lighting. You could even run a 12 volt washing machine if you wanted to!


Cooking

The best way to cook while zero waste camping is over the fire. You can use regular stainless steel pots and pans on a BBQ plate or stand. Otherwise, you can opt for heavy duty cast iron. It’s amazing how many things you can cook in a single cast iron camp oven!

Camp Oven
Camp Oven (eBay) →

It’s not a bad idea to have a back up cooking device though, just in case you can’t get enough fire wood or it pours with rain.

A little gas camp stove is perfect, especially for boiling the kettle in the morning if the fire’s not yet going. A gas BBQ is also a very versatile cooking apparatus for camping.

When I was living in a caravan on the road, I didn’t have an oven, so I literally used a Weber BBQ for four years as my oven and grill!


Lights

There are a range of USB rechargeable lights, LED strip lights and solar lanterns available. Most of them can be recharged with with the sun or via a USB power source.

Solar Lantern
Solar Lantern (eBay) →
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Utensils & Crockery

Camping eating plates cutlery

For a truly zero waste camping experience, ditch the disposable plates, cups and cutlery that are so common in the campground.

If you really must use disposable plates, go for recycled paper plates that can be tossed into the fire or compostable plates if you’ve got a compost bin at home.

Otherwise, metal and wooden cutlery and utensils from home are perfect. For plates, anything washable and reusable is good. If you’re looking to buy a dedicated camping set, bamboo is a very sustainable resource.

For people who like to eat off ‘real’ plates, Corelle crockery is extremely light. Being made from vitrelle glass makes them chip and break-resistant. I can personally vouch for Corelle, as I had a full set of their dinner plates, side plates and bowls bouncing around in a caravan for years and they never got so much as a chip in them!

Making sure each camper has their own reusable, insulated cup is essential. Whether it’s a hot cuppa in the morning or a cold drink at happy hour, that same mug can be washed and reused for all occasions.

Take a few beeswax wraps, containers or cloth bags to store food leftovers to avoid plastic bags and wraps.

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Cleaning

Camping washing dishes

Although it’s tempting to pack paper towels, disposable dishcloths and wet wipes, there are far better alternatives for zero waste camping.

A reusable dishcloth, like the Norwex microfibre one, is perfect for washing the dishes and wiping down the table. Just hang it to dry between uses.

? READ: What is Norwex? >

A few tea towels for drying dishes and wet hands will do the trick and again, keep one hanging somewhere handy so that you’re not tempted to reach for paper towels.

To avoid wet wipes, take a tub or bucket for washing your dishes after each meal. Easy as and no need for disposables!

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Campfire

Campfire

When it comes to campfire considerations, make sure you stick to the designated campfire spots, if there are spaces already provided.

You can forage for fallen timber and kindling for a campfire, but sometimes the popular camps are quite well-scoured. You might have to take your own firewood in, especially if you’re relying on it for cooking.

If you want to avoid using those plastic-wrapped fire starters, check out the options and ideas below.

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Put leftover candles into an empty can and then into a pot of boiling water on the stove. One the wax has melted, you can use it to make fire starters.

Homemade Fire Starters:

  1. LINT – Put lint & melted candle wax in egg carton slots. Use a fork to make sure the lint has fully soaked up the wax. Let set, then cut up for individual fire starters.
  2. SAWDUST – Put a spoonful of sawdust into paper cupcake cups or egg carton slots. Pour melted wax over the sawdust and let it set.
  3. SHREDDED PAPER – Shred up recycled paper or cardboard with scissors and put into paper cupcake cups or egg carton. Pour melted wax over top and allow to set.
  4. COTTON WOOL & VASELINE – Rub vaseline into cotton wool balls and store in a container, ready to use.
  5. ORANGE PEELS – Dried orange peels are a natural fire starter. Leave them to fully dry out before storing for use.
  6. PINE CONES – Completely dried out pine cones are another natural fire starter.
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Camping Gear

Camping gear

For your camping gear, always buy the best quality that you can afford. That way, your items should last you the longest time possible, reducing the need to throw out and replace things regularly.

If you’re only an occasional camper, maybe you can consider borrowing some items off a friend or family member who has what you need. You can repay the favour by loaning them the items that you have, reducing the need for both of you to buy more stuff.

Another option is to shop for camping items on the second hand market. It’s amazing how many people buy all the gear and never get around to actually using it! You can grab some really good quality items for a fraction of the cost, eliminating the need to buy new.


Now it’s over to you to have a crack at implementing some new habits into your zero waste camping journey.

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