As we mentioned in Part 1 of this two-part post, in January 2018 we delivered a talk about Zero Waste Camping at Totaranui campsite – the biggest campsite in Abel Tasman National Park. Like all our talks, we based this talk on our own experience of living without a rubbish bin since the beginning of 2015, but also drew on the learnings we’ve developed since we started The Rubbish Trip (in July 2017), for which we travel full-time, while also maintaining our zero waste lifestyle.
*** If you want Christmas tips as well as Summer Holiday tips, check out this post we wrote for Sustainability Trust’s ‘Ask an Expert’ blog. ***
Before hitting the road to start The Rubbish Trip, we had been living for two and half years in Wellington without a bin. During that time we hosted many travellers who were often quite inspired by the low-waste lifestyle we were leading, and would say things like “we are so motivated to make some real changes once we get back to our homes. But we can’t start now because on the road it’s just too challenging”.
When we decided to do The Rubbish Trip, we were 100% committed to continue living by zero waste principles. We were worried that it would, indeed, be too difficult. For sure, low-waste living on the road is a different kettle of fish to low-waste living in a long-term home. There are different challenges – the transience, living in small spaces, having to be prepared and organised when your life is otherwise quite spontaneous, and needing to find out where zero waste shopping options are in each new place you visit. Having said all of that though, our experience, after 7 months on the road, is that it is totally possible to produce minimal or no waste while travelling, camping or roadtripping in New Zealand. Like so many other spheres of life where we have the potential to go waste-free – be it business, work or play – attitude counts for a lot; where there’s a will to achieve low-waste aspirations, there’s a way.
So, in this post, we want to share with you the tips we communicated in our talk at Totaranui campsite. Little things that you can try out when you go on holiday, road tripping, camping or tramping.
As part of our journey through the Abel Tasman, we decided to pick up every single piece of rubbish we found along the way. A couple of things we did not pick up – a single shoe, a bra, soiled tissue papers, and plastic bags we could see in the sea when we were high up on land – but otherwise we picked up everything else. By the end of our 4 day journey, this is all the litter we found:
Most of this litter was snack food related, particularly bits of muesli bar wrappers and chippie packets. This shines a light on the sorts of waste people tend to generate when travelling, most of which will not be littered, but will be taken away with people after they finish the walk, to be carefully discarded in a rubbish bin. So… great that it’s not being left on the ground in the Abel Tasman, but sad that the stream of people tramping, camping and travelling in New Zealand represents a steady stream of snack food packaging going into landfill, where it will remain for hundreds of years.
For this reason, we find the ‘pack in, pack out’, ‘leave things as you find it’ philosophies often trundled out for campers and trampers lacking in ambition. They focus on the displacement of rubbish – “put it somewhere else, not here” – without recognising the reality that there is no “away” to throw things to. And, they don’t encourage you to try and reduce your waste in the first place – the approach which we feel makes a bigger difference.
Based on what we found on the ground, we suggest that if you don’t necessarily want to be extreme as us (fair enough!) but still want to do something to reduce your holiday waste, start by making and preparing from scratch your favourite snacks before you go on holiday. For example, if all you do is make yourself a massive batch of muesli bars, as we did before we left (for 4 days we made 44 mini muesli bars!), that’s a great start. Another great idea is making crackers – we have a recipe that is not dissimilar to Shapes and is very easy. You can find our easy food recipes here (but note you can find recipes for just about anything on the internet).
The kinds of rubbish we found on the track also makes us believe that people are not intentionally littering on the Abel Tasman. We found a lot of items that people were probably quite annoyed about losing – a brand new hot pink cup, a pair of sunglasses, the bra and shoe, and a full bottle of water. And when it comes to all that snack packaging… a cynical person might presume these were intentionally dropped, but we can also see how this happens accidentally – the corners of packets are light and small and can easily blow away or slip out of fingers. Similarly, crumpled up wrappers can easily fall out of pockets, especially if you are getting in and out of the water, changing around clothes, like so many people do on the Abel Tasman.
For this reason, our overarching takeaway point is that the best way to avoid littering when you travel through wilderness areas is simply not to bring litter in with you. How might you do that? Well, that’s where the zero waste philosophy kicks in.
Note that the following list is focused on when you travel to wilderness areas. For a briefer, more general discussion of waste reduction on the road, check out the Summer Holiday section of this post we wrote for Sustainability Trust’s ‘Ask an Expert’ blog.
Eating is generally the main potential waste generating activity for us when we are on the road, and we suspect it is for most other people too. Here are our tips for cutting this waste down:
1) Bring reusables with you rather than disposables for meal and drink times. That is, reusable cutlery, cups, plates/containers and water bottles. Apart from the fact that reusables are not designed to be chucked out after a few uses (so inherently less wasteful), you’re also much less likely to forget these items or accidentally litter them because they’re probably worth something to you!
2) Think about what food you can prepare at home before you go camping. We knew we’d be in the Abel Tasman for 4 days, so we prepared 4 days’ worth of food (instead of going to the supermarket and buying it all pre-made). What you prepare will depend on what you like to eat. Our food prep for the 4 days took us a sum total of 2.5 hours the night before we left, so it wasn’t a particularly big deal. This is what it looked like (minus the muesli bars and loaf of bread that are missing from the photo for some reason!):
3) How do you make these things without producing waste though? Good question. We do this by buying all our ingredients from stores that sell things loose/in a bulk bin, and bringing our own bags and containers to fill up. Places like Bin Inn, or organics bulk stores are a great option. If you want to know where such places might be in your part of the country, check our Regional Zero Waste Shopping Guides to see if we’ve done one for your region yet. Remember too that you can also check these guides to see what options exist in parts of the country that you are visiting – so you can be as informed as the zero waste locals are!
4) What do you put all this home prepared food into if it’s not packaged? We use whatever containers we have on hand. Upcycled ice cream containers or Tupperware are probably what most people have in their home already. We also use beeswax wraps rather than plastic cling wrap to wrap food (for a vegan version, order from Wellington business What the Vegan).
5) Stock up on pre-made, unpackaged/sustainably packaged snacks. We get that sometimes you don’t want to have to make everything yourself before you go on holiday. Fortunately, you can get many snack foods from bulk bins – be it pretzels, trail mix, lollies, bhuja mix, etc. Most supermarkets have good snack foods in bulk, but you can get this stuff much cheaper if you go to a dedicated bulk bin store like Bin Inn or a packaging-free store. You will almost certainly pass a store with bulk bins on your journeys through the country – check our regional shopping guides to see where they might be if you don’t know already.
6) Bring unpackaged “staples” with you. We brought a small loaf of bread we got from the bakery in our own bag. We also got muesli in our own container from a bulk bin at the local organic store in Takaka (we could have made our own but were lazy). We also got veggies (unpackaged of course) for our meals, including avocados, tomatoes, cucumber and lemons, but you can take what you want. Fruit is obviously another great item to have on hand for snacks.
7) If you don’t have a travel cooker, don’t bother with one! It’s just another waste generating item/thing that you have to lug around. Here are things you can do instead:
8) If you have a travel cooker already, then your options for low-waste camping increase because you can bring dehydrated and uncooked foods that are much lighter to carry because they do not have water in them. For example:
9) What to do with food scraps when you’re on the road? Many people believe that when you are travelling, composting your food scraps becomes impossible. This is simply not true. We have not put a single bit of food waste or scraps into a rubbish bin the entire time we’ve been on the road. Wherever we go though, we bring with us a dedicated container for food scraps, so that we can carry these around with us until we find somewhere we can put it – whether it be a community garden or the compost of a kind stranger or host (find ones near where you are through Share Waste). You do have to be prepared to carry your food scraps around with you (the most we’ve gone is about 3 days). If you are travelling with a vehicle, consider investing in a bokashi bin for your car/van/caravan/motorhome. These are small, so take up very little space. They are airtight and odourless and you can put pretty much any food waste in them (including meat, seafood and cooked food), which ordinarily you would not put in composts because of the odour and the potential to attract pests. They break food down very quickly and then you just need to find somewhere to dispose of the juice, but the side of the road would be entirely fine (just don’t put it in conservation land because it may be disruptive of natural ecologies).
If you do bring some packaging with you (or acquire some along the way), opt for easily recycled options (e.g. avoid soft plastics and foils that are not easily recycled everywhere across New Zealand). Be aware that recycling systems vary widely across NZ – what you do in your region may not be the same in the region you’re going. So, check both the local council website and the campsites you will visit, to see what is and is not recyclable where you are staying, and how the recycling system works. Finally, be prepared to take your recycling home with you if there are little or no services in the area you visit, or take a trip to a recycling centre on your way home, rather than putting your recyclables in a rubbish bin.
This is pretty much all we’ve needed to keep The Rubbish Trip rubbish free! We hope you find some of these tips useful for your own holidays, camping and tramping trips. Maybe you’ve got your own tips you’d like to share in the comments below. Or, if you’d like to know more about reducing your waste when it comes to camping gear and leisure equipment, we discuss this in Part 1 of this two-part post.