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5 tips for zero waste camping this summer

Get ready to go camping waste free with these five tips for zero waste camping. Camping is probably one the most popular activities that Albertans take part in. Be it “in-style” glamping or “roughing it” in the backcountry.

The longer days and the greening grass are sure to get you excited to start enjoying the great outdoors. Our beautiful province is full of amazing natural areas for us to enjoy. We love to pack up our gear and get away from it all. However, no matter how or where you set up camp, to truly become one with nature, we have to enjoy it with as little disruption as possible. 

To help you create a low-impact, waste-less camping experience this summer, use the following tips, resources and downloadable Camping Planner.

Plan ahead – research the area, the facilities, the rules and regulations 

By knowing what to expect you will be better able to prepare and pack the things you need. Some campgrounds have full services facilities like showers, flushing toilets, dishwashing stations and cook-houses while others may only provide the basics such as pit toilets (outhouses) and potable water pumps. If you’re looking at backcountry areas, there will be no facilities, but there are still rules and proper etiquette to follow. 

Backcountry camping takes a lot of preparation and a clear understanding of how to minimize impact. Remember, just because it’s deemed a “public use recreation area” does not mean anything goes. This is still a natural area and deserves our respect. Be prepared to not only bring IN all your food and drinks and hygiene supplies (including unscented, undied TP) but also to be prepared to carry it all back OUT. These areas are not serviced, meaning no one is coming in to clean up your mess, so don’t be that person that leaves trash and toilet paper everywhere. 

Campgrounds with basic offerings may have hand-sanitizing pumps, but you need to supply your own soaps (dish and hand), towels, and most likely drinking water. When it comes to your soaps, it’s always best practice to use natural, unscented soaps and dispose of dishwater properly (in drains if provided). Waste water may not be carried through a treatment system. For full service facilities, you will enjoy the luxury of running water, but you still need to make sure you bring your own soaps, towels, and hand sanitizers. 

For more information on campground services, rules and regulations visit Alberta Parks.

Have the right equipment, tools, and know-how to reduce your waste

After all the research on your chosen destination, be ready with the right stuff. As part of your research, you should know what waste management services are available at your chosen location. If there are none, you must carry out everything you bring. Leaving garbage in the fire pit is poor etiquette and not safe as all flammable items should be cleared from fire pits upon leaving (fire safety info)

If there’s only a garbage and no blue bin or compost bin, consider how you will take that waste home with you. Be ready with a separate bag or bin for your empties bottles, cans, and containers.

Waste removal and management is critical when you are camping. It keeps our natural areas natural, as well as keeps ourselves and the wildlife safe. If you are not clear on bear safety and how to maintain a BARE campsite, Parks Canada offers plenty of free education services online (click here), and in-person at certain conservation centres, campground amphitheatres or park offices. 

In some instances of bear country, you may need to hang your food and waste in a tree (learn how here). Be ready with enough rope to do so. 

If you are back country camping you’re going to need tools like a shovel for cat holes and garbage bags or bins for your waste. You will also need to have natural toilet paper and may need a bag (dog poop bags work) to carry out human waste. For more details on how to properly manage waste, check out awesome website, Leave No Trace.

Prepare a zero waste camping meal plan

Meal planning is the best tactic to reduce waste as much of the waste humans carry in is related to food. Its our favourite and most complex of the tips for zero waste camping. Having a plan for the length of time you will be out will ensure you only bring what you need. It will help you reduce waste. 

Here are a few zero-waste food prep and packing hacks to get you started: 

  • Freeze your planned meals ahead of time. Frozen items like pasta sauce, chile, or soup act as ice-blocks in your cooler. 
  • Pack reusable cutlery, plates, cups, and cooking gear – avoid disposables. Thrift stores are great places to create your kit of camping kitchen gear.
  • Save money! Make your own Ice for the cooler. Fill a Re-used yoghurt container or ice-cream pail with water and freeze = ice block. Fill up re-used bags like bread bags with cubes from your freezer. Or use those hard plastic ice-packs that you simply fill with water and freeze.
  • Pre-make your own instant oatmeal or instant pancake mix. Simply add all the dry ingredients into a container or reused ziploc, then add the wet ingredients the day-of.


Zero Waste Camping Oatmeal

Oatmeal: instant oats, cinnamon, a dash of salt, and raisins.
Add boiling water, let sit and enjoy.

Zero Waste Camping Pancakes

Pancake mix: 1 cup of flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 2 tbsp sugar.
Optional: 1 tsp Cinnamon or a handful of chocolate chips 

Day of: add one egg and 1 cup of milk, pour on a skillet (med heat), once bubbles no longer close over themselves, flip over.
Once cooked, smother with your bulk fill syrup and enjoy!

Being creative and thinking ahead can help you reduce your waste. With many other benefits like cost, time and space savings on top of yummier, less pre-packaged meals! Spend more time enjoying the outdoors and less time cooking, cleaning, and dealing with garbage. 

Water for zero waste camping

Bringing enough water for your trip is important. Knowing how much drinking water and washing water is needed can be tricky. And making sure not to waste the water, well that’s another story. 

One of the key tips to zero waste camping, is to get a large water jug. Choose a camping-specific water jug. Or simply use one of the blue “Culligan” 18 L water jugs with a $5 pump. Avoid buying a flat of water bottles, please! Most serviced campgrounds offer potable (drinkable) water that you can refill your jug with. But, make sure you confirm this in your research. 

For those interested in going backcountry or hike-in camping, investing in a water purifier is a good idea. 

Remember, it is a big no-no to wash up (dishes or yourself) directly in waterways. Soaps are not good for our waterways. Always dispose of waste-water appropriately:

  • In your trailer system or if in a full service campground, in the provided facilities 
  • In outhouses when possible
  • Create a sumphole to dump dish or bathe water. You can dig a small hole, far away from waterways, that can be covered over when done

Technology and camping 

Not as obvious but one of the key tips for zero waste camping is to leave the tech at home or reduce the use. With so many of our digital gadgets being portable today, it can be way too easy to pack them along. Bringing the tech along usually means the need to charge batteries by starting the car or running a generator. The noise this causes can be very disruptive to other campers. You can reduce pollution, both noise and carbon. . If the iPad, laptop or Nintendo Switch is truly needed for the long drive, turn them off and stow them upon arrival. 

If music is something you love having, consider using a portable speaker, fully charged at home. You may need to charge it, but it’s less disruptive than using car or trailer speakers. For those talented folk, bring your guitar! 

Other fun campsite activities that don’t require electricity could be: cards, books, chalk or crayons for the kids, frisbees, or ladder ball. Or take advantage of the area: go hiking, bird watching, or just dip your toes in the lake. Be prepared to spend the time truly disconnecting and enjoying the outdoors. 

As you can see, being well-prepared will also make your experience so much more enjoyable. 

To help you pack the essentials, download this free Camping Checklist:

~ Briana

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I'm a passionate environmentalist at heart. Striving to create a difference in my community and in my home to make the world just a little bit better.