Less Waste in Less Space: My Commitment to Create Less Waste in My Camperlife

Earth Day 1970

Earth Day 1970

April Twenty-Second marked the 49th annual celebration of Earth Day, so it’s a good time to address an obvious contradiction in my decision to move into a camper. I’m giving up the comforts of a stationary house because I want to wake up in a camp spot shaded by fir trees still fresh with morning dew and see a lake, or a mountain, or a family of deer from my window and then move to another beautiful camp spot with a different beautiful natural view. I value my time in nature more than I value square footage—aren’t I such a progressive Earth lover. But my adventure is dependent on a gas guzzling, 6,000 pound, V6 engine truck. The further I roam, the more crap I’m spitting into the atmosphere and the more fossil fuels I’m sucking from the earth. In an attempt to offset the damage I will be doing to our planet, I’m committing myself to think more deeply about the waste I’m producing.

Committing Myself to Less Waste:

In 2012, then twenty-one-year-old Lauren Singer began living a no-waste lifestyle in New York City. Since then, she has gone on to create the trashisfortossers.com, which gives advice on living with less waste and sells low waste products through Singer’s “Package Free” shop. She has also managed to contain all her waste in a 16oz mason jar. I’m not challenging Singer to a no-waste completion, but I have taken some of her advice on minimizing my own waste. Maybe most importantly, I’ve taken her advice to “Remember it’s a process!”

Assessing Where I Can (And Can’t) Make Changes:

Going into this commitment, I knew some aspects of camperlife would make going low waste more difficult, so for me, the first step was to sit in my camper and visualize my daily routine. When I get up in the morning, how much water do I really need? Can I make breakfast instead of quickly grabbing a single serving of prepackaged yogurt? Do I have to throw my coffee grinds out or can they be repurposed?

Based on my expectations for the project and my experience living in the camper last year, I thought through a complete day and came up with a few changes I can make and a few I just can’t.

Here are some changes I can’t make in my camper:

  • There is no room to buy in bulk

  •  There is no room for an average trashcan, so I need plastic bags to collect the trash on a daily basis (there also isn’t a lot of room to get away from the trash smell).

  • Glassware will shatter on the road unless padded by something

  • I can limit but not eliminate my generator use (can’t afford to go solar at the moment)

  • I have to run the air conditioner on hot days, or my dog will die inside the metal cab.

Here are changes I’ve committed to that I can take with me into full-time camper life:

  • BPA free plastic dishware to avoid single-use plastics, like plastic (or paper) plates.

  • Reusable bags (although I only use them at the grocery store now).

  • Making my own coffee so I’m not throwing away coffee cups, their plastic lids, and their cardboard sleeves. I’ve used a stove top espresso maker for a while now so it’s not a change, but these coffee makers don’t need filters—one less waste item.

  • Donating used clothes and limiting shopping (not a huge problem for me—I still wear t-shirts from college, which probably explains why older people still ask me what I’m majoring in).

  • Cooking more often so I’m not collecting takeout trays or letting food go to waste.

  • Starting a composting bin. This one is an experiment. Made out of an empty cat litter box, I’m not sure the bin is large enough to hold a month’s worth of food waste and I’m not sure how practical it will be on the road, but my plan is to perfect my composting technique now and then carry the litter box around in the back of my truck. We’ll see.

  • Chemical free cleaning products.

  • Properly disposing of the materials I removed from the camper during the rebuild—even the 165 pound old air condition unit—not easy.

Thanks to resources like trashisfortossers, I found other easy changes to invest in and went on a no-waste shopping spree (another obvious contradiction). I didn’t order any of these products online and I didn’t buy them at a fancy store—I bought them at Target.

Safety razor: Normally, I would buy a cheap pack of these pink plastic razors and toss them after a couple of uses. Now, I’m using one razor with replaceable blades, cutting down on my plastic waste.

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Bamboo toothbrush: Normal toothbrush—pure plastic. This eight dollar toothbrush—nylon 2 recyclable bristles and compostable handle. Note that I’m not changing my toothpaste, although it would be the most environmentally conscience action. My gums are really sensitive to toothpastes, this brand works well. One day, I might look to change but not right now.

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Dishcloths: This change is really about pure laziness. I can avoid the endless use of paper towels with one 99 cent dishcloth as long as I wash the dishcloth.

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Reusable sandwich bags: Like the dishcloths vs paper towels, the change from disposable sandwich bags to reusable is just about the effort to clean the reusable. I can do that for my planet.

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Organic Tampons: This one is tricky. Tampons are wasteful products. Using reusable pads or a menstrual cup would be better for the Earth, but I’m not ready to make that change. So, I’m switching my brand to Cora. The company uses organic cotton, unlike most tampon companies which spew pesticides and insecticides onto their cotton, Cora uses all organic material. They also donate period products to women in need across the world, including right here in the United States (pads and tampons are not covered under food stamps). Not the perfect option but better for the earth, empowering women, and better for my body.

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These changes are small and probably won’t offset the gas I’ll buy or fumes I’ll distribute over the course of this journey, but I can’t get mad at other people for not caring about the environment if I’m not taking responsibility for my own actions. I can do better, so I’m going to try.