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Low Waste Camping Tips

Camping should be one of the easiest places to go low waste. So it seems kind of backwards that being outdoors in nature can actually be one of the hardest places to remove waste. Ziplock bags, food packaging, disposables, ice bags, water bottles – the list goes on and on. I’ve been camping for years and have slowly gotten better at reducing my waste each time I go. So I wanted to share some tips with you today on low waste camping!


The Cooler – invest in a good one – this way you don’t have to buy so many bags of ice because your ice will stay solid longer. The first step to keeping your ice lasting longer is to cool your cooler before putting food or drinks in it. Use ice from your freezer and put some in your cooler with the lid closed for a few hours.  Drain it, then add reusable cooler packs, cold beverages and any frozen foods you plan to bring and consume on your trip. You can also make ice blocks in old plastic containers (the large ice blocks last longer than cubes). Make sure your drinks and food are all cold before putting them in as some of your ice will melt if you put in warm drinks. You may have to add a bag or two during the trip, but your ice should last much longer than normal. 

Cooler with ice


Camp Suds – First of all don’t use regular dish soap if you won’t be pouring your waste water into a sink/drain. Campsuds is a biodegradable washing soap and is great to bring camping but you must know how to use it so that you aren’t doing additional harm to the environment. Campsuds are meant to be used in a bucket of water at a campsite, not in a body of water for washing dishes or yourself. Dump your wastewater onto the ground far away from a lake or river so that the bacteria in the soil can safely biodegrade the soap. Using this soap in a body of water can impact the aquatic life and increase nitrogen levels in the water.


Food – Camping does require some meal prep. Don’t just throw in some groceries and be on your way. Plan out meals so that you purchase food that will actually get eaten and prep what you can ahead of time – this is partly a low waste tip but also a camping hack to make things easier for when you are actually camping. 

  1. I prep my fruits and veggies ahead of time – this means I won’t have to purchase packaged items like baby carrots and can instead purchase from a farmer’s market, cut them up and store them in containers
  2. I always make a batch of healthy muffins and some kind of pasta sauce/chilli etc. I freeze the pasta sauce so then it acts as an ice block in your cooler as it melts. 
  3. We purchased reusable plates, cups & cutlery back a few years ago and we wash them with our pots and pans like you would at home. There is no reason to bring plastic cutlery and disposable plates instead of reusables. Instead of tinfoil to cook with on the fire, bring a cast iron pan if you have one. They work great on the fire and your food tastes so much better.
  4. Make your own instant oatmeal or pancake mix. Measure out all the dry ingredients ahead of time into a mason jar and just add the wet ingredients when you cook. 
  5. Containers are your best friend – You know those plastic takeout containers you keep? They fit a sandwich perfectly! I use these containers to store tons of food as well as reused bread and milk bags. I also have a few silicone bags that are airtight which work great at the bottom of the cooler. I use the same reusables camping that I use at home – no need for additional Ziplock bags and Saran Wrap.


Drinking water – This is the one that drives me crazy. You don’t need to bring a case of water bottles with you when you go camping. Almost all Provincial & National parks in Ontario will have potable drinking water. Ensure this on their website and bring a large reusable bottle to fill up and use from. We got this one at Canadian Tire and we fill it up at the campground water spigot. It has a tap on it and works great for filling up water bottles, pots, dish washing bins etc. You do not need to purchase bottled water to go camping in most instances. If you find out you will not have potable drinking water and have to bring your own, purchase the largest jugs you can find instead of individual water bottles. Or purchase some drinking water tablets like you’d use backcountry camping to treat your water.


Camping Gear – before purchasing new gear, look for it in your local Buy Nothing group (either for keep or for borrowing) or try to purchase second hand on Facebook Marketplace. I just purchased a pack for backcountry camping from Facebook Marketplace and it looks practically new. Not only will you save money, you’ll keep items from entering the landfill. 

Another way to keep camping gear from the landfill is to try to repair your current items before purchasing another. We have a good quality tent that is quite old and the waterproofing was flaking off of the seams. You can purchase a little kit with a tube of liquid that you paint over the seams to reseal them. Now the tent is as good as new and only required a $10 fix.

If you do need some new tech gear like flashlights, portable speakers, chargers etc. opt for ones that are chargeable as opposed to ones that need single use batteries. Some lanterns and speakers even have solar panels that can be left out in the sun to charge. 


Toiletries – If you are going car camping – skip the travel sizes. Just bring your regular products from home. If you have very large bottles of conditioner and shampoo, use refillable silicone tubes for these or try out shampoo and conditioner bars which is what I use at home now too.


Recycle – bring a cardboard box to place your recyclables into – make sure you separate them from your garbage just like you would at home. Campgrounds have dumps for garbage and recyclables separately. I’ve often also seen a separate area for alcohol cans that are for a bottle drive, ensuring they get recycled properly too. 


Those are my low waste camping tips. I know lots of people who had international travel plans are camping this year, some of whom are camping for the first time! So I hope these tips are helpful. While camping, your littles will love doing some nature themed activities to keep them busy. Nature scavenger hunts and collecting items (that are found on the ground and not picked from trees and plants) are great fun. Check out my blog post of nature activities for kids – some of which would be fun while camping!


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