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Low-Waste Camping

When people go camping, the break in routine can also mean a break from normal habits. Relaxation and quality time with others is usually the main focus, which can unintentionally lead to more waste. However, with a bit of preparation, you can control the amount of waste you create while having fun, whether you’re car camping for a night or headed on a cross-country cycling tour.

Reduce packaging

Remember to continue your low-waste shopping skills when preparing for vacation: shop for staples like oatmeal and coffee as well as snacks in bulk, and avoid buying individually-packaged foods for their convenience. You can also dry or preserve your own fruits and vegetables or freeze meals to take with you. Since most camping situations involve a vehicle, it is easy enough to pack reusable containers, dishes, utensils and cookware to bring back home. For hiking or biking trips, reuse lightweight containers or plastic bags rather than buying the disposable options of pre-packaged food.

Reduce food waste

A change-up in meals and reliable refrigeration can lead to extra food waste while camping if you are not careful. Start ahead of time by planning your meals for the duration of your stay and packing perishable food wisely. Preparing some of your ingredients at home allows you to compost or recycle any packaging or food scraps so you don’t have to think about it during your trip.

To keep your food from spoiling without refrigeration, bring a reusable cooler with ice packs, or for longer stays, refresh your ice regularly (don’t forget to recycle the bag once it has dried out). Bring only enough food to last several days.

Once packed, don’t open the cooler more than necessary, and make sure to store all of your food in water-tight containers to prevent soggy foods and cross-contamination. If possible, keep separate, smaller coolers for both meat and for beverages, and keep your coolers in the shade and not inside a hot car. Although cooking over an open fire can be part of the adventure, hot flames can often result in burnt foods. Choose a camp stove for more reliable meal results, especially with main courses. 

Replace disposables with reusables

When camping, opt for durable equipment and reusable options wherever possible. Choose long-lasting equipment when searching for items like tents, coolers, folding chairs, camp stoves, air mattresses, and even flashlights or rain jackets. If you’re just starting out or concerned about making an investment in so much gear, borrow from friends or consider renting some of the basics from outfitters like Hoigaard’s, REI, or the UMN Center for Outdoor Adventure.

Bring a large water cooler and/or personal water bottles rather than packing bottled water; find the campground potable water source when you first arrive. Pack a set of reusable plates or bowls, cups, and utensils instead of paper, Styrofoam and plastic. If you plan meals for hiking, on-the-go, or plan to eat out, bring reusable containers for each person. To replace paper towels, napkins or towelettes, bring a set of old towels in different sizes—you can hang them on a line to dry them in between uses. Avoid cooking in aluminum foil, and instead opt for cooking irons or a designated set of cast iron pans or regular kitchen pots and pans that can handle rough use. For dishwashing, bring reusable tubs, scrub brushes and dish towels. Make sure to dispose of your greywater (from dish tub and handwashing) according to the campground or natural area’s policies.