5 million reasons to get outside (and 17 Zero Waste hacks for your next camping trip)

Australia is as fabulous a country as they come for a road trip. Here you can find sunshine, small towns, and expansive beaches just an hour or two out of town. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the bright lights of the city, but nothing feels quite as good as leaving Sydney (and those five million other people) in the rearview.

Without too much effort, you might find yourself on a 7 mile beach, alone but for the dolphins. It’s bliss to have nothing to do but make a fire, read, surf, hang out with friends and take in the Milky Way (or debate which constellation is actually the Southern Cross).

And yet, have you ever noticed how a camping trip can quickly escalate into an environmental disaster? It’s usually food related. Processed foods, disposable everything, bottles of water, wasted food and constant trips to overloaded garbage bins after every meal. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Here are a few things I do to keep waste to a minimum while car camping:

  1. Make block ice ahead of time. This is where an old plastic container can actually be your friend. The ice will melt over the course of your travels, but don’t drain the cold water, and keep the lid of the esky closed.
  2. Freeze some food. If you have food you’re planning to bring along, freeze it overnight and pack it just before you head out so it performs the dual function of keeping your cooler cold, and later, feeding you.
  3. Stock up on whole fruit and veg. Although tip #1 is all about keeping your esky cool, #3 is about keeping food out of it to begin with (thus saving room for chilling beer). Whole fruit and veg don’t need to be refrigerated or bagged since they come in their own handy biodegradable wrappers.
  4. Take road snacks. Avoid fast food pit stops and their chemical laden wrappers by eating before you leave the house and packing a few snacks. It can be simple, like some fruit and nuts, or fancy, like chia pudding with luscious ripe figs and passionfruit. Your call. 
  5. Embrace the miraculous sealing powers of the mason jar. The two part lid system creates a trustworthy seal so it can be chucked into the cool ice melt water without waterlog. Excellent for those times when you’ve over-catered and need to store leftovers. It doubles as a spare cup! Just please don’t pour boiling hot liquid into a very cold mason jar – while made for canning, they don’t handle dramatic temperature changes any better than regular glass jars (just ask me how I know).
  6. Say no to disposable plates and cutlery. It’s the first thing and the worst thing many an infrequent camper thinks to buy. So unnecessary. Instead, score some lightweight plates, bowls and utensils from your local op shop and do a quick wash up afterwards.
  7. Wash your dishes with less water. Camping is a great context for figuring out smarter ways to do everyday tasks. You don’t need heaps of wash water or to let the water run the whole time.
  8. Check if where you’re going will have potable water. If it won’t, bring your own so you aren’t put in that awkward position of having to buy water from a store. A good water filter could do, but I don’t have one.
  9. Trade paper towels for tea towels. Too easy.
  10. Think ‘quick cooking’ to conserve fuel. Brown rice may be more nutritious, but it takes a long time and lots of fuel to cook (just ask me how I know this). Couscous is a quick choice. And when cooking veggies, cut them into small pieces.
  11. Drink beer from cans instead of bottles. Crack a tinny – aluminium cans are lightweight, readily recyclable, and easy to pack in and out. And you might have to pack it all the way back home, as many campsites still only offer garbage bins. 
  12. Use a thermos to keep hot water hot. If you boil water or stop at a highway reviver station, don’t waste that heat energy. Capture it in an insulated thermos in case you want some tea later, like even the next day. True story. Thermoses are also really good for keeping cold stuff cold. They are also one of the most common items you can find at any op shop.
  13. Recycle your metal bits. Foil bunched into a fist sized ball and empty gas cylinders are all recyclable in curbside collections in my council and many others councils in Sydney.
  14. Pack out your organics. I take a jar because I can’t, won’t, and don’t stop composting.
  15. Pack out your soft plastics. I try my best to avoid soft plastics, but sometimes bad plastics happen to good people. Take those chip and marshmallow bags to Coles or Woolworths and recycle them at the RedCycle bins at the front of the store.
  16. Shampoo less. Try a freshwater rinse and forgo the shampoo. Especially if you’re going to be in and out of the water. What is camping if not a chance to relax your routine a little.
  17. #Take3forthesea. The hiker’s playbook says pack it in, pack it out, but these days, with so many wild landscapes succumbing to pollution from single use litter, it’s more important than ever to take out more than you brought in.

How it’s your turn – what’s your favourite tip for Zero Waste camping, car-based or otherwise?

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