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15 Ways to Reduce Single Use Waste

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Last updated on August 30, 2023

Reusables to replace single use plastic - reusable bag, food containers, KeepCup, water bottle, straw, cutlery and bowls

When you think of all of the single use items in our daily lives now we sometimes wonder how our past generations survived. Surely it wasn’t that hard for them.

Many of our single use items are not recyclable and are made of all sorts of substances that can take a very long time to break down, some in excess of 1000 years. They unnecessarily add to waste and landfill and consume valuable resources to produce, transport and dispose of.

This article is part of our eco-friendly camping guide which includes other articles:

Keeping in mind that every bit counts, here are our tips to reduce our single use waste when we are out camping and touring:

In general

1: Be informed, prepared and equipped

Being aware of the problem is only half the battle. Before you head off on your camping trip, familiarise yourself with ways to reduce single use items and in your camping setup ensure that you and each member of your family or group are properly equiped to actually make a change. Read on for more tips.

While on the go

2: Reusable food and drinkware for everyone

We ARE on holidays and are therefore more likely than normal to consume takeaway food and drinks and to enjoy a treat, all of which can generate significant amounts of single use waste. But the good news is, armed with our camp kitchen and reusable drink bottles, we are also well equipped to respond to the associated waste challenge.

Equip everyone in your travel party with a reusable water bottle, straws and even bowls and cutlery. If they enjoy a hot drink, make sure they have a ”keep cup” and, if they enjoy a slushy, a water bottle that has a wide opening. Also choose the largest water bottle you can that will fit in your car bottle holder to reduce the amount of times you will run out.

3: Enjoy an ice cream cone

Unless in the case of a food intolerance, insist on ice cream for everyone in a digestible cone rather than a cup. Ice cream cups can come as a plastic bowl or a shorter version of a takeaway coffee cup. They also require a spoon and all of this just ends up as waste.

While in the stores

4: Take your own bags and containers to the stores

Ensure you have enough loose reusable shopping and fruit and vegetable bags for everyone in your camping setup, including the kids, and make sure you take them with you to the shops together with any refillable containers and any other plastic bags and wrappers you have accumulated.

Use these bags for your general groceries where possible as well as your fruit and vegetables in place of those supplied by the stores. If you need to buy some, ensure they are biodegradable or compostable or at least extremely durable.

5: Buy in larger quantities (if practical To Do So)

We covered this topic in the 8th point of ways to reduce general camping waste, but it’s also relevant in terms of reducing single use items. Buying in larger quantities while camping is not advisable unless you expect to consume it at the campsite or if you can pack it out when you move on. If the answer is yes, larger quantities will have a lower packing to product ratio and fewer single use items to end up as waste.

6: Avoid pre-packaged and over packaged products

Also touched on in the 7th point of ways to reduce general camping waste, some stores are more likely than others to unnecessarily pre-package their produce. Buying your produce loose and carrying it out in your own bags can really reduce your single use waste as well as your waste volume. Stores that tend to be more flexible with their packaging and more likely to accept your bags and refillable containers include local butchers, green grocers, bakeries, farmers markets and bulk supply stores.

In the kitchen and bathroom

7: Reseal existing packaging

Rather than be tempted to transfer a product from its existing bag to something like a sealable snap lock bag, you can reseal the bag or packet itself. A rubber band can be used to seal a lot of different types of packaging to keep the air out. Alternatively, in many cases a clothes laundry peg works just as well. Just roll the top of the bag to make a thick edge and clamp it with the peg. Reusable bags and containers are also another option.

8: Pack lunches in reusable containers

To avoid using cling wrap or snap lock bags, keep a few stackable plastic containers with lids in your camping setup to hold lunch for a picnic or day out for your family or group. One container should be large enough to hold sandwiches or salad rolls for everyone, one to hold some cut fruit and one for another type of snack.

9: Make your own drinks

For the fussy drinkers, if local water is drinkable but not all that palatable, here are some suggestions to reduce plastic bottles:

  • Use concentrated cordial mixed with water to avoid buying bottled drinks.
  • Use a water filter to improve the water quality.
  • Boil your water for the following day before you head off to bed if you have any doubts about the water quality. With the right water bottle, preferably stainless steel with a secure lid, you can also turn this into a hot water bottle to keep you warm in bed. Just make sure you allow the water to subside and cool for 5 minutes before pouring it into the bottle, and don’t completely fill the bottle.
  • Bring a soda making machine if you have room in the car.

10: Use a camp fridge and not an Icebox

This is a hard one for us as we sometimes like to use ice rather than our absorption fridge, especially if we are on an unpowered site and ice is easily accessible. But for each bag of ice there is a single use plastic bag, and even if you can find a few subsequent uses for it, the bag will still pretty quickly end up as waste.

Ice not only generates plastic waste, it needs to be transported, possibly long distances, and kept frozen until we buy it.

11: Eat more vegetarian and vegan meals

I really only noticed when I recently cooked a vegan meal for family members that vegan dishes create a lot less packaging waste than dishes involving meat and dairy products, with vegetarian dishes sitting somewhere in between. Although my meal was delicious (if I do say so myself), I’m probably not ready to go all out vegan any time soon. But a good supply of vegan and vegetarian recipes in our camping cookbook made with products that can be purchased loose and without packaging can help reduce packaging waste.

Being meat and dairy free, ingredients for these types of dishes are also more likely to be stored at room temperature rather than refrigerated, such as coconut oil instead of butter, which will also alleviate the pressure on our limited camping refrigeration.

12: Refill

Refill, refill, refill. Farmers markets, green grocers, bakeries, butchers and bulk supply stores are more likely to allow you to refill your own containers and bags with fresh and whole foods. Unfortunately, if we are unfamiliar with the area in which we are travelling and camping, we aren’t always going to know where these stores will be located, and in the case of markets, when they are being held. As part of your camping plan, identify these stores and markets and their opening times before you arrive.

Around the campsite

13: Avoid devices with single use batteries

Every household would use disposable or single use battery powered devices from time to time, and likewise every campsite.  They are inexpensive to buy and the devices they charge are less expensive than the rechargeable alternatives. The problem with these batteries is that they add to our waste and landfill, they take up resources to produce and transport, they take a long time to break down, and as they do the toxic and corrosive materials they contain can leach out.

Alternatively, batteries required for rechargeable and solar powered devices can be recharged and reused time and time again. Compared to disposables, rechargeable batteries will add far less to your waste volumes, they will be more economical over time and will cause less havoc to the environment.

You can read more on our thoughts on batteries HERE, charging them HERE and our suggested power and fuel setup article HERE.

14: Use a stove with a refillable gas bottle

While disposable or single use butane and propane gas canisters are convenient due to their relatively small size and ease of use, the average camper can go through one every day or two. Gas cooking stoves fuelled by refillable LP gas bottles may be bulkier to pack and may take a little more time to set up at the campsite, but in our view the environmental and waste benefits of refillable gas bottles outweigh the inconvenience.

To give you more flexibility, choose a cooker than can run on both disposable propane canisters as well as refillable LP gas bottles – see our shopping guide. When passing a service station, as well as fuel for the car, you should consider filling up or swapping the LP gas bottle, even if not completely empty, to avoid running out just when you’re about to make that morning coffee.

15: Avoid non-refillable firelighters

Gas fuelled non-refillable firelighters can last a long time and don't add a great deal of volume to our waste, but they are still a very common disposable camping item.  Even if you can source a refillable firelighter, the actual refilling process can be problematic, especially if you are in a remote area. 

Unlike your typical gas fuelled firelighter, matches are biodegradable. It might be prudent to have a gas fuelled fire starter as a backup, but choosing a camp cooker with a piezo button and using matches as your first fire starter backup will still make a small difference, and as we said earlier, every bit counts.