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17 Ways to Turn Your Trash into Treasure

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Last updated on August 30, 2023

Trash or rubbish in a cardboard box that can be reused for other purposes - camping checklist

Camping by its very nature brings out the resourcefulness in us much more so than at home. While perfectly reusable items tend to be just thrown in the waste when the conveniences of home are at our fingertips, camping forces us to go back to basics to make do with and reuse what we have.

When resources are limited, there are plenty of easy and fun ways to put our waste and product packaging to good use to make our camping life easier and to reduce our contribution to landfill.

This article is part of our eco-friendly camping guide and follows on from our ways to reduce our camping waste article. You can also check out our zero waste camping article for more practical tips.

Here are our ideas to reuse your waste:

Stackable Single Use Food Containers

Image of single use containers that can be reused

1: Store Your Food and Leftovers

Hard containers or stackable single use food containers can be used to store leftovers, cheese and other fridge food items as well as picnic lunches and snacks.

Use easily stackable containers used for takeaway food, spreadable butter and margarine, yogurt and dips. Collect them at home as well for your next camping trip, but try to reserve only the more durable containers that won’t deteriorate after a few uses and end up in your camping waste.

Plastic Drink Bottles

Image of two water bottles that can be reused

Plastic drink bottles can obviously be used as a refillable drink bottle, but they also can serve a number of other purposes around the campsite:

2: Cool Down your fridge

Fill bottles with water and freeze them for your camp fridge to help keep your food cool. Read about that and more in our tips for managing your camping fridge article.

3: For an extra supply of water 

Keep an extra supply of bottled water in your camp kitchen or in the car. Bottles are easy to pack into tight spaces in the car and can give you an extra emergency water supply on those long trips. Bottled water in the camp kitchen can also be useful if your bucket is otherwise occupied fulfilling one of the 9 other functions we have identified for it around the campsite.

4: For a simple shower or wash 

Fill one or two bottles with warm to hot water for a simple shower.

5: DIY lantern 

Something the kids will enjoy, create a lantern by filling a bottle with water and strapping a headlamp around the side with the light facing inwards.

Bags and food wrappers

Image of plastic and food wrappers that can be reused

Even now with more and more stores and food manufacturers rightly limiting the use of single use plastic bags, we still accumulate them. Shopping bags, ice bags, bread bags, snack wrappers and bags with a zip lock seal all come in handy for all sorts of purposes around the campsite - so don't throw them out. Unless they have been used for perishable foods such as raw meats, cooked foods and dairy products, they can be safely washed and dried together with your regular dishes.

So think before you throw and consider our ideas to reuse bags and food wrappers:

6: Store food

Store dried foods and leftovers in dry food wrappers, such as chip and other snack wrappers. They are often very durable, can be used numerous times and if necessary can be sealed with a rubber band. They can also be inverted and washed along with your dishes. We wouldn’t, however, suggest using or reusing bags that have contained perishable foods, such as meat, dairy products and leftover cooked food.

Image of bowl with plastic covering secured with elastic band

7: No more cling or plastic wrap

Replace cling or plastic wrap with a piece cut from a clean food grade bag or food wrapper and a rubber band. These flat pieces of plastic can be easily washed and reused as well. This method won't work for every cling wrap application, but it will for high sided containers. You can read more about this in our camping uses for a rubber band article. If the bag is large enough, you can also just enclose the bowl or plate inside the bag.

8: Your shopping companion

Take with you shopping to reuse when purchasing food items such as bread, fruit and vegetables and items at bulk supply stores.

9: For sandwiches and rolls

Pack your sandwiches and rolls together in a food grade bag or larger food wrapper for picnic lunches instead of wrapping each item in cling wrap.

10: For a rubbish bag

Use as a rubbish bag for the campsite or in the car.

11: Divide fruit and vegetables

Separate fruit from vegetables in the cooler or fridge.

12: Hold wet items

Hold wet items such as umbrellas, rain coats and shoes when travelling in the car.

13: For used toilet paper

Carry used toilet paper and other related waste during a walk or trek. Toilet paper does not break down in the ground as quickly as we might think, especially in dry areas. When going on a walk or trek, ensure you have a dedicated bag to use just for this purpose.

Cardboard boxes

Two cardboard boxes that can be used -wine box and vegetable tray

Cardboard boxes aren't generally a by-product of camping, but they are plentiful in supermarkets and liquor and grocery stores along the way, and come in handy around the campsite. They are recyclable, light weight, they can be reused and they can be flat packed and easily packed for transportation.

14: Waste or recycle bin

Use as a general waste or recycling bin instead of a plastic bag. They can also be emptied and reused again. We especially find the 6-bottle wine bottle boxes are a good size for this purpose, and an ice bag fits inside one of these boxes perfectly if a plastic bag is required for general waste.

15: Organise your food pantry

Organise your food pantry items in your camp kitchen and to allow for easy access to your food pantry items. The more shallow fruit and vegetable boxes provide easier access.

16: Carry groceries

Carry the groceries in the absence of reusable shopping bags. Some stores don't make them available for their customers to use but others do. Choose boxes that will be useful around the campsite, such as the 6-bottle wine boxes and the more shallow fruit and vegetable boxes as we mentioned above.

17: Use as a bag box

Use as a bag box instead of a bag bag. No it's not a typo. When you collect all of your bags and wrappers to reuse as we mentioned above, store them in a box for easier access (again a 6-bottle wine box is a good size). When you are ready to move on, stuff the bags and wrappers into a larger bag and flat pack the box.