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“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”-Anne Marie Bonneau, Zero Waste Chef
It’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like “none of it really matters” but like the quote states above, we don’t have to wait to get get it perfect to make an impact. We need to do it now.
In the spirit of Earth month, here are some handy tips on reducing waste on the trail
Everyday is Earth Day – Making an Impact
The Great Outdoors
Caring for our outdoor spaces is one easy way to take care of the earth, and everyone can do a little bit together. I have written several pieces here about my experiences in picking up trash on the trail and in my community, and believe that small decisions and changes add up to bigger impacts. We all have a role to play.
Our Consumption Habits
Another way we can make an impact is to look at our own consumption and see where we can make changes. It starts with each one of us.
I learned a lot during my 3 years as a Granite Gear Groundskeeper. Cleaning up along the trail and in my community forced me to look long and hard at my own personal consumption habits. For instance: if the most common trash I find is fast food or snack related – I may ask how am I contributing to that? In our home, we try to reduce single use plastics, buy less “new things”, recycle, and grow/preserve a garden, step by step. We’re not perfect, but I am more aware of the waste we create and we’re chipping away at it.
zero waste mindset on the trail
In the last few years, I have started to look for ways to bring a zero waste or circular mindset to more of my outdoor activities (it’s not really practical to bring a glass mason jar to store food on a backpacking trip.) It’s a work in progress.
So…here is my imperfect list of tips for reducing waste on the trail. Lets go!
Food Waste and Packaging
Re-use your bags and containers: I remember my grandma washing out plastic bags and reusing them. Everyone always said this was a ‘depression era thing’. Grandma had it right. After my Superior Hiking Trail trip, I had a BUNCH of plastic food bags, most of them thrown away…it opened my eyes to how much of my own trash I was packing out on trips and motivated me to start look for ways to reduce and reuse.
- Zip top freezer bags last a LONG time. Reuse ’em!
- For homemade backpacking meals, I washed out bags from previous trips and then switched to reusable BPA-free bowl bags. They are sturdier than ziplocs, and lighter and cheaper than silicone bags. I bought mine from Dutchware and they have held up well to multiple uses.
- Some people wash and reuse their store bought dehydrated backpacking meal bags. You may even be able to enjoy some of the thermal benefits of mylar/heat reflective packaging.
- For cold soaking/rehydrating or food storage, the Talenti Gelato container is a favorite with thru hikers – it’s a nice wide mouth container, hard to break and you get to eat all of the gelato before you use it! Note: the Talenti is NOT for hot liquids or food, it WILL melt/warp.
- Reuse light weight plastic water bottles you already have, wash them and then recycle them when you can no longer use them.
Reduce your single use plastic: Make it multi-use plastic. Plastic lives longer than any of us will, and reusing it is one way to reduce impact.
- I used to buy individual serving peanut butter packets but disliked packing out and throwing away all of the empty packets.
- I switched to a basic Coghlan’s refillable squeeze tube. It’s great for loading with peanut butter or a combo of peanut butter and honey. It works for any kind of butter or spread that does not need refrigeration. Hello Nutella. I’m not going to save the world by eliminating a few peanut butter wrappers. But it’s a step in the right direction.
Buy in Bulk/Make your own: Another way to reduce waste is to buy food in bulk to reduce packaging or make dehydrated meals and snacks from scratch and package them in reusable or recycled containers.
- Grow a garden and learn how to dry tasty fruits and vegetables to add to your hiking and backpacking food.
- Take food out of its packaging before you hit the trail and recycle it at home
- Instead of individually packaged instant coffee, make your own instant coffee mix and ditch the single serve packets. (I mix instant coffee and hot cocoa or powdered whole milk in ONE bag, that I reuse and just scoop out by the spoonful each day). Or if you want ground coffee, MSR makes a nice single cup for a good pour over brew.
Gear: Give it a Good Life and Make it Last
Only buy what you need, buy used when you can, take good care of it, repair it–then sell, donate or recycle it properly when its no longer usable.
- Use what you already have – be creative!
- Clean, inspect and repair your gear after each trip so it lasts longer
- Buy used-REI used gear, Repair Lair, Garage Sale/Gear Swap groups are great resources
- Recharge it- I’m gradually moving towards rechargeable and solar gear as my old gear dies.
Hygiene and Keepin’ it Clean
- Ditch your baby or personal wipes, most of them are made of plastic- I switched to thick paper towels in my kit.
- Use a menstrual cup instead of tampons and pads that are single use and need to be packed out. I still bring a couple for backups, plus they double as a first aid item. See Backcountry Hygiene: How to Pee, Poop and Period Like A Pro
- Reuse hotel toiletry, eyedropper bottles and refill with sunscreen, soap etc vs buying more small plastic bottles.
- Reduce TP waste by using a Backcountry Bidet and a Kula Cloth.
Leave it Better Than You Found it
If you’re waiting to do everything perfectly and be a perfect recycler or a perfect environmental steward, don’t wait. Just do something small…now… because it can ripple and open opportunities for more. Picking up that one little piece of trash is better than not picking it up at all.
- Leave the trail better than you found it – pack it in, pack it out.
- You’ve heard of the 10 essentials, don’t forget your 11th essential- its a trash bag!
- Any bag will do, and the best one is the one that was going to go in the trash already (bread bags, etc). Give it a second life as a trail clean up bag.
- Read my featured story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and more about keeping the trail clean in these posts
- Simple Act Has Profound Effect- Star Tribune Article
- Why I Pick Up Trash and Things I Learned as a Groundskeeper
- All stewardship posts
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
As I’m gearing up for this summer’s hiking and backpacking trips, I would love to hear your earth-friendly tips in the comments or continue the conversation on the Wandering Pine Facebook and Instagram.
Happy Earth month!