Summer is one of the best times of year to get out of the house and into a tent. Camping has so many great qualities, including being surrounded by trees, lakes, open air, and enjoying the serenity of nature. Nature helps us start fresh, clear the mind, and escape from our everyday. 

Camping also has a bit of a downfall when it comes to waste. Since camping is away from our homes, our regular dishes, food storage, and cooking methods, the convenience of single use items becomes a go-to. From styrofoam plates, plastic cutlery, and packaged foods, single use items increase the garbage we may produce while enjoying the nature we love. And, unless the garbage comes with us when we leave the campground, we may not even notice the impact our choices have had. We should be able to enjoy nature in a way that is also friendly to the beautiful spaces we visit. 

Below are some choices, items, and food suggestions to consider when planning your next camping trip to the great outdoors! That way, we are able to enjoy nature while also considering our ecological impact. 

Setting the Table

Preparing for outdoor meals is one of the biggest causes of camping waste but it’s also an easy one to adjust and make low waste. Switch out single use dishes for ones you simply use at home. This could even mean creating a camping set with old/used dishes and having this set be strictly packed for camping and picnics. 

Reusable napkins are another easy switch from a store bought package or a roll of paper towel. Although napkins and paper towels are compostable, while camping they often don’t end up there as most campsites offer garbage disposal only (and sometimes recycling). Reusable napkins does mean laundry at the end of your trip, but considering that you’ll be washing towels and camping clothing anyways, this more sustainable option really doesn’t make a dent in the overall workload. One item to consider alongside reusable napkins is a fabric laundry bag to contain the dirty ones as well as any clothes or towels. 

Bar dish soap with a cellulose cloth

Doing the Dishes

Now that you are using real plates and cutlery, you’ll need a sustainable way to wash dishes without wasting water or damaging the space. First, a bucket for containing a small amount of water will be your best friend, and for this you can reuse large ice cream pails or use a bowl that may be able to hold all your dishes while traveling to and from the campsite. 

Next comes soap! Choose a soap that is labeled as biodegradable and pack it in a small leak proof jar or container. Even better, consider switching to a biodegradable bar soap. Bar soaps like this one are light and easy to transport and they serve many purposes. The one in the above photo is an all-in-one soap and can be used for hands, clothes, and even as a stain remover! 

Lastly, cloths! Bringing along a few washcloths are perfect for dishes. Cellulose cloths are a new love of mine as they are much faster at drying than regular cloths. They are also super light and flat for packing and create very minimal odor when used multiple times. 

Food Preparation

When camping, food preparation becomes so important when making an effort to have a low waste camping experience. Cutting ingredients in advance and meal prepping is incredibly helpful. Storing meals and ingredients in containers that are stackable makes storing empty containers easier later on. Mason jars are also great for food storage, although they are a bit heavier in weight so perhaps a last resort for backcountry camping, but if you are not backpacking your food to your site they are a great food storage choice. My best suggestion for bringing mason jars camping is to store your arrival night meal in the jars (such as layered jar tacos). Once you’ve eaten the meal and washed the jars they become cups for drinking! Mason jars are also great for snacks like trail mix or storing fire starter kits, matches, and anything else you need to stay dry. 

Untwisted cinnamon rolls finished with icing

Fun Camping Foods  

Sometimes being inventive with the meals and snacks you plan is a way you can reduce waste. Marshmallows and smores are a classic campfire snack, but there are other amazing desserts that are way too underrated for their level of deliciousness! 

Untwisted campfire cinnamon rolls (My personal favourite) – To make, prep any cinnamon bun recipe (I like one’s without yeast for camping) and store the unbaked rolls in a container. To bake them fireside, simply unroll the cinnamon roll around a carved stick. Make sure you tuck the ends under the dough so it doesn’t fall off the stick. Cook it over the campfire for about 5 minutes until it poofs up and chars slightly. Enjoy while it’s still hot! I’m telling you they are amazing! I might even prefer these over marshmallows. And if you make smaller rolls than what the recipe says, you’ll have many more to make over the fire!

Chocolate peanut butter banana boats – Bring along bananas, peanut butter, and chocolate chunks. Cut the bananas open lengthwise, keeping the peel mostly intact. Stretch the peel back and spread peanut butter on the inside of the peel. Place the chocolate chunks on the inside as well and close the peel as best as you can. To warm the bananas and melt the chocolate, place the bananas on the top of the grill over the fire. You can also place them in the fire if there isn’t a grill, however this is difficult to do without a tray or a small piece of tinfoil. 

Other Low Waste Camping Ideas

  1. Bring a bag for recycling
  2. Bring along a container for compostable items to dispose of later at home
  3. Make ice at home and store in Stasher bags or containers – when it melts it becomes drinkable water
  4. Try refillable propane cylinder kits
  5. Have a laundry bag for dirty clothes and reusable napkins
  6. Make candles in cans or jars to keep bugs away (citronella and cinnamon essential oil repels mosquitoes) – Add herbs like thyme to the candles when you pour them the wax
  7. Bring a water jug with a spigot for easy hand washing   
  8. Try DIY fire starters 
  9. Limit prepackaged foods and prep as many foods as you can in advance – packing out what you pack in is a lot easier when you have less packaging
  10. Deny styrofoam exists!

Hopefully these ideas help light the flame to your low waste camping experience. If you aren’t sure how to adjust your current camping routine, make a list of all the things you usually bring and meals you usually make. For each point write down an idea about how you can change each item. This will help you figure out the steps you can take to reduce your camping waste. 

Happy camping!

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