Zero Waste Camping

14. May 2020

In nature with your camper van; that’s what the camping experience is all about. Yet, unfortunately we often destroy nature by littering, polluting water and simply not being considerate of the environment. We collected some tips on how we can reduce the amount of garbage we produce in order to preserve nature — a place that gives us peace and joy.


When packing,…only the essentials! Sustainability starts at home while you are packing. Zero Waste is strongly linked to the idea of minimalism, so less is more — the backpacking philosophy. This idea can be easily applied to camping. And let’s be honest: our campers are spacious, but not a walk-in closet.
make sure you only take the essentials. This will vary depending on the length of your camping trip. Plan in advance. Take a look at the weather forecast and pack one piece of clothing appropriate for every weather condition. Then you are good to go. And don’t forget, the less you pack, the lighter the camper van and the less fuel you will consume.



Reading on a smartphone, tablet or eBook reader not only saves space and weight but also paper. However, an eBook reader only has a good eco-balance for avid reader. Audio books are also a good alternative for the road or while sitting in a camping chair enjoying the view.


Food and beverages are the number one source of waste on camping trips: a breakfast sandwich from the bakery, take away noodles, coffee to go or barbecue food wrapped in aluminium foil. On the road, we often produce an abnormal amount of waste. Here is the good news: with a little preparation, you can buy good and healthy food and avoid producing waste.


Preparation and Grocery Shopping

The best way to avoid producing waste is cooking and avoiding buying packaged food. And cooking in the kitchenette makes the cooking experience even more enjoyable. Before you embark on your trip — maybe even at home — think about what you want to cook, what you need or how you can simplify recipes. You can bring some staple foods from home and avoid having to buy them twice. This not only saves garbage, but also money.

Personally, I cannot go without my assortment of spices. You can store dry foods like rice, noodles, quinoa, couscous, muesli and nuts in glasses or cloth bags and reuse them on the road. When shopping, keep in mind to bring your cloth bags instead of using plastic bags. For short errands, you can reach into your bag to pull out your cloth bag. Even paper bags are not a good alternative. Compared to plastic bags, the ecological footprint of paper bags only improves when using them at least three times. With your cloth bag, you can do your grocery shopping garbage-free.

Cutlery and Dishes

Every camper van is equipped with a complete set of cooking utensils and dishes, so you don’t have to resort to plastic forks and paper plates. If that’s not enough, or if you’re travelling without a camper van, a cutlery set consisting of fork, spoon and knife is essential. You can find them in every outdoor store. I even have a cutlery set in my purse for business trips.


A cutting board, tupperware, a mason jar and a bread tin are part of the basic equipment for the road. You can store food in these containers or even use it for your ToGo food. Jars and tupperware can also be useful for grocery shopping. At the supermarket or at the local weekly market, you can have food like cheese or meat filled into the can or glass at the counter. For dishes, cans and cutlery, it is best to use stainless steel. This also applies to camping pots. When cooking acidic foods (e.g. tomato sauce) in aluminium pots, the aluminum can leach into your food. This can also occur with plastic.


Basic equipment that is also essential when on the road: cloth napkins or dish towels instead of kitchen rolls, a french press or Bialetti for the gas stove, and for those who take zero waste seriously also pack stainless steel or glass straws.

No aluminium foil or disposable aluminium grill trays

The famous baked potatoes or fish in aluminium foil, prepared comfortably at the campfire or on the barbecue, are favorites on camping holidays. However, aluminium foil is not only controversial from a health point of view, but it also has a damaging ecological footprint. Although aluminium can be easily recycled, the bauxite necessary for aluminium production is mined under unbelievably bad conditions for workers and the environment. This is why we should avoid it as much as possible. Alternatively, you can bring a (cast iron) pan for cooking in the open air — there is no need to buy a new one. See if you have any pans in your kitchen that can be used for this purpose. Further tips can be found on pages like Smarticular.


Washing dishes

Although you are on vacation, you still have to do the dishes and occasionally swing the cleaning rags. If you don’t want to use curd soap, vinegar and baking powder, you can buy environmentally friendly and biodegradable (!) cleaning and washing agents (included with CamperBoys camper vans). They are available in drugstores and organic markets and are a good alternative to conventional products. Don’t forget to bring the following on board: washable towels and cloths, a compostable brush and a pot scraper for cleaning the dishes.


Drinking Water

Another important aspect to keep in mind is drinking water. When preparing for your camping trip, inform yourself on the quality of drinking water at your destination. Often you can drink the tap water. In case the water is not purified, consider switching to water filters or so-called lifestraws. Using a water filter should depend on the type of pollution. There are many filters that filter bacteria, but not viruses. The best place to get advice on this topic is at an outdoor shop, or simply buy drinking water from large containers, which you can then recycle.


On the Road

A reusable water bottle should not be missing on hikes. Plastic bottles are a large source of rubbish. Especially, if they are disposable bottles, as is often the case outside of Germany. Even if the bottles are recyclable, it can be a bit annoying to collect all the bottles and return them to the supermarket at the end of your trip. You can avoid the hassle by bringing your reusable water bottle along.
If you are still looking for a disposable water bottle, a glass bottle with a snap closure is ideal, although they are heavy. Travellers prefer plastic drinking bottles for their light weight. Make sure your plastic bottle is BPA-free, as this can leach into the water and be harmful to your health. Even aluminium bottles can be coated with plastic on the inside, which is not visible to the eye. Keep in mind that acid e.g. in juices or teas can make the aluminum leach into your beverage. Therefore, stainless steel bottles are a good compromise and particularly robust.

What about my coffee to go?

It is very apparent that ToGo cups are small yet cause serious environmental damage. Here is why: the cups are made of composite materials that are difficult or even impossible to recycle. An alternative for coffee on the go: reusable ToGo cups that you carry with you. Thermos cups are an alternative, keeping your coffee or tea hot.


Hygiene is an important issue, even when talking about zero waste. As hygiene products produce a lot of waste. Zero waste in the bathroom is still a current personal struggle of mine. Conventional shower gel and shampoo are just so practical. Unfortunately, they can not only be bought in plastic bottles and often contain microplastics, which are extremely harmful to the environment, humans and animals. So what should we use instead?

Ask Grandma

The bar of soap is making a comeback. Solid soap is available for showering as well as shampooing. It is easy to travel with in a tin. When using the bar of soap in soap net, it foams like shower gel. I love it.
The same goes for deodorant. Deodorant is also available in a solid form without packaging, or you can try making it yourself. Find great recipes for natural and waste free deodorants on Smarticular. Instead of body lotion you can use oil like olive oil, sesame oil or sunflower oil. It should be a native oil. You can also use it in the kitchen as what you eat can only be good for your skin.

In general, when camping, make sure you use biodegradable soaps and cleaning products, then you can easily drain your showers and dishes outdoors.

Twice a day, three minutes

Brushing teeth is also waste-free. Toothbrushes made of plastic can be replaced by those made of bamboo or wood. They are often compostable down to the bristle. As a replacement for toothpaste, I am currently testing toothbrush tablets. You can order them online or buy them in your organic market. Here is my honest judgement: it takes some getting used to but is absolutely ok, although I was very skeptical at first. A packet of baking soda should never be missing on the road. If necessary, use it not only to brush your teeth, but also to clean very dirty pans. It is an absolute all-rounder.


Less is more

Whether you need the same amount of make-up on your camping trip as for a night out is questionable. As is often the case: less is more! We don’t necessarily need all the lotions we use, especially not in the camper van, where the space is very limited. If you don’t want to do without make-up when camping, you can easily remove the make-up with oil and a washing cloth. This will save you cotton pads and make-up wipes.


You are on vacation! This is the time to relax and leave the stress at home. So, living more sustainable should never become a stress factor. What counts is: a little goes a long way. We don’t want you to be perfect. Even one hundred percent commitment does not lead to complete waste avoidance. Glass bottles without redemption value or the packaging of dairy products, sometimes difficult to buy in glasses with redemption value, are still necessary despite all efforts. That is okay. What counts is your effort. Simply recycle these materials properly.

You want to experience your own road trip adventure in nature?