The average American will produce 4.4 pounds of waste per day. With the amount of readily available disposable and packaged goods, it’s convenient to buy and throw away single-use items. The problem with our linear materials economy is all goods end up either incinerated or in landfills. Incineration is harmful to both the environment and the economy. It releases air pollutants and toxic ash, and it reduces the number of jobs and stifles innovation. Landfills have numerous issues. Toxins and leachate in the landfills are environmental hazards and pollute groundwater. Additionally, landfills produce greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide and methane), which have serious implications for global warming and climate change.
The author of Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste, Bea Johnson, has a methodology she uses to eliminate waste known as the 5 R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot. Surprisingly, recycling should be one of the last resorts for getting rid of waste, as the environmental benefits are questionable. Johnson has stressed that it’s very possible for everyone to live a zero waste lifestyle based on living rather than having. She’s even managed to reduce her family’s spending by 40% while becoming zero waste. It’s not the cost of zero waste living that’s the issue for most people: it’s the inconvenience and the changing of habits. When starting to live waste free, people have to find a bulk store, bring utensils along with them, begin composting and recycling, and change their diets. It sounds intimidating but can be achieved with gradual changes in your lifestyle. In becoming zero waste, these gradual changes are essential to making a lasting impact.
When it comes to camping, I immediately think about nature, fire, hiking, and the wilderness. What doesn’t come to mind is trash. On a normal camping trip, I would pack plenty of plastic bags, packaged foods, and other packaged items. I had never put much thought into how much trash our Crew was lugging out of the campsite after every trip.
From the 16th to 18th of November, 2018, Crew 255 went on a car camping trip to Antietam National Battlefield. On this trip, a few of the Venturers, myself included, decided to see how little waste we could produce.
The zero waste camping process started with packing. I didn’t have trouble packing my clothes and gear in a waste-free way, but when it came to food, it was hard to get started. For my two breakfasts, I packed oatmeal and fruit. The oatmeal was from a large container, and I brought it in a smaller tupperware. For lunch, I packed a sandwich, some clementines, and granola in containers. I brought two dinners: one was couscous and the other was falafel and clementines. I also brought some nuts, granola, and trail mix as snacks. All of my food was packed into reusable containers and stored in my bag. Although I didn’t buy everything in bulk, I managed to not bring packaged foods along with me. I was careful to bring only what I knew I would eat, reducing the amount of food waste I would potentially produce. Additionally, I brought reusable utensils, bowls, water bottles, and bags. We used the firewood available onsite and brought some other wood that wasn’t packaged.
We arrived at the campground on Friday evening, and we pitched our tents and made food after the sun had set. The next morning, we prepared our breakfasts and then went on a hike around Antietam National Battlefield. I brought a daypack with a water bottle and a waste-free lunch, and the group ate at the visitor’s center.
The final destination for Saturday’s hike was Nutter’s Ice Cream, a local creamery in Sharpsburg, MD. Even though it came in a disposable cup with a spoon, we all had our giant, delicious, and well-worth it scoop of ice cream.
Returning home on Sunday, I was surprised to see how little waste I produced over the weekend. After unpacking everything, I only had one resealable bag to throw out and three sheets of paper (our campground permit and some maps) to recycle.
A single weekend of zero-waste camping doesn’t make that much of a difference, but the point of the trip was less about the immediate effects and more about the changes that the experience will bring into my lifestyle. In researching zero waste living, I found that every year, American adults receive 41 pounds of junk mail. The U.S., with 5% of the world population, produces 40% of the world’s waste. There are so many reasons to minimize our trash production but so few people putting in enough effort to actually make a change. I will be sure to make gradual changes to my habits and be more environmentally conscious every day.
We left a lot of footprints in the snow and mud during our camping trip at Antietam, and I’m proud to say that for those of us who chose the zero waste experience, our carbon footprint was practically invisible.