Zero Waste Backpacking

Love nature,
by reducing your waste.

Introduction

When I began to plan my first thru-hike, I wanted to be as low waste as possible. As someone who practices a zero-waste lifestyle at home, I wanted to now extend the practice into my outdoor endeavors. When it came time to do the research, I realized there were very few blogs or articles that covered the topic of low waste hiking. In fact, many backpackers and hikers seem so obsessed with being “light weight” that the environmental side of their food and gear choices were totally overlooked. 

Because many backpackers and hikers (my previous self, included) are low waste in their every-day life, they can often view their use of plastic while hiking as “the exception, not the rule.” Afterall, plastic is lightweight, flexible, and waterproof, a backpackers’s dream. However, I want to advocate for a shift, away from this thinking. We should all try to minimise plastic from ALL parts of our life.

It seems almost ironic, that backpackers and hikers are environmentally conscious, and practice zero waste everywhere except the outdoors. If we are going to be sharing photos of ourselves in the outdoors, shouldn’t it include non-plastic products, since after all, we are literally standing in the very environment we are trying to protect? 

With this in mind, I have outlined various techniques and products that I used to achieve a “low waste hike.” I was by no means perfect, but next time I will get a little better, and this will hopefully lead to further plastic avoidance in the future. While being low waste and using reusable products did add some weight to my pack, I would argue that it was not enough to be significant. In most instances, it was a matter of a few ounces or grams here and there. The “lightweight mentality” doesn’t have to be thrown out the window, it just needs to include more reusable items. 

While I will be advocating for plastic reduction and zero waste hiking, it is worth keeping in mind that “zero waste” is a practice, not a real achievable goal. Plastic is pervasive in modern life, and in some instances it will be unavoidable. For example, medication, sunscreen, and medical gloves are all essential plastic products that I would deem unavoidable. Sometimes, we may even need to “cave” and buy a treat in plastic, for our mental health. These failures are okay. Allowing space in your life for plastic is healthy. In fact, it is sustainable. If we go to the extreme of banning it from our life, we may put our physical or mental health at risk, which will eventually cause us to “go-off” our zero-waste lifestyle. Thus, I encourage a healthy relationship with plastic. Cut it out as much and as often as you can, but don’t go to the extremes. 

If we take on the “plastic avoidance” mindset, we will find new ways of doing things. Only once we become conscious of an issue, can we change it. The food I couldn’t avoid, like pasta, I now know where I can buy it in bulk. Those sour creams, that come in plastic, the ones I didn’t want to give up, I now know how to make homemade sour cream without plastic waste. Once we pick up the zero waste mentality and practice it, we begin to learn and open our minds. Once we have new methods down pat, it doesn’t feel so hard, it just feels normal. Backpacking can be this way too. We can reduce our waste if only we begin to think about it. I hope this article helps you to start somewhere. 


Water Bottles and Filters

Anytime we are going to eat or drink, avoiding plastic is the ideal choice. Certain plastics are known for leaching harsh chemicals and microplastics into our food and water. I will always promote this as the number one option. For example, I would recommend a stainless-steel water bottle over a plastic Nalgene, not only for human health, but at end of product life, stainless steel can be endlessly recycled while plastic cannot.  However, if you choose plastic over non-plastic items, I have outlined some important factors worth considering. 


Reusing Smart Water Bottles, a Single- Use Plastic

 Bottled water like, Dasani, Smart Water, Poland Springs, Fiji Water, and others, are often made of polyethylene terephthalate, or PET for short, but can also be identified by the number ‘one’ on the recycle symbol. This type of plastic is designed for single use. A lot of backpackers use Smart water bottles due to the amount of water they can hold and the mouth’s compatibility with the light-weight Sawyer Water Filter. This means people are reusing a plastic that was designed to be single-use. Re-using bottles that were meant to be single-use, can be harmful to humans, as they can leach chemicals or bacteria into our water. 

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approves the “re-use” of single use bottles. However, they also recommend the bottles get washed between uses, due to the likelihood of bacteria growth in the bottle (a symptom of number one plastic). I suppose if you are using the filter system atop the bottle, this may not be a huge issue to you. It is worth noting that the plastic, over time, or when exposed to heat (like a hot car) is more likely to leach chemicals into the water. You should check if your filter can sort out the chemicals that come from this leaching. Studies have shown that small amounts of exposure to these chemicals seems harmless, but if you are drinking from the bottle constantly, or are exposed to lots of other plastics, its worth considering giving it the boot.

Most hikers will discard their Smart Water bottle after their hike. Although it may be recycled, it also may not be. Just because something goes into the recycle bin, does not guarantee that it will be recycled. For this reason, I recommend using a more sustainable, long-term bottle, to lower your impact on the environment, and likely your health. Additionally, Smart Water is owned by Coca-Cola who are notoriously the bad guys who do not take responsibility for the plastic and waste they produce.  By avoiding Coke’s products, you are decreasing the demand for their product, therefore decreasing supply.  


Water Bottles and Reservoirs to Consider Buying

If you are willing to ditch the plastic options, opting for a stainless-steel bottle of Food Grade steel (18/8) is the way to go. Stainless steel famously doesn’t leach and is durable, so it won’t break in your pack. 

If you are opting for a plastic bottle or for a bladder reservoir, then try to buy ones that are free from BPA, BPS, BPF, and Phthalates, which are all harmful chemicals to humans.

Made up of Stainless Steel (18/8_ which means food grade). If you are looking for more suggestions for other brands of stainless-steel bottles, visit the “Reusable Water Bottle” article I wrote. 

Nalgene

I believe the bottles are made up of a number five plastic and are BPA, BPS, and BPF free (although they weren’t in the past). To be honest, I am having a hard time confirming this due to their website being difficult to navigate, but if memory serves, the bottle is made up of PP, number five plastic. PP number five plastic is generally considered a safe plastic and is also recyclable. 

Platypus Bladder

Based on weight, I think this one would win. It is made of polyethylene and polyurethane. The polyurethane is what makes it “stretchy” or “flexible.” However, this also means it is non-recyclable. The bladders are said (by the company) to be free of BPA, BPS, and phthalates. 

CamelBak or Osprey Bladder

While CamelBak confirms its product is made from polyurethane, Osprey does not. Both claim they are free from BPA, BPS, and BPF. Osprey takes it one step further to say it is free of lead and that, “All materials are certified food safe according to FDA and EU regulations.” I personally use a CamelBak because its easy access keeps me drinking water regularly. I find that when using my stainless-steel bottle, I drink significantly less water. This is the sustainable choice for me. I take care of the Camelbak so that hopefully I will never have to replace it and send it to landfill. 

Smart Water Bottle

As mentioned, Smart Water bottles are made of number one plastic, PET. This type of plastic is meant for single-use but has been approved by the FDA to be reused (up to a limit). This plastic has been known to leach chemicals, and bacteria can grow in the bottle if it is not washed between uses. It is recyclable at end of life, but as most plastics are, it will be downgraded which eventually makes it non-recyclable. Meaning eventually, it will enter the landfill or the environment. This option is not recommended.


Water Bottles by Weight (When Empty)

EcoTanka  (2 liters) = 10.2 ounces (300 grams)

Nalegene  (1 liter) = 6.2 ounces (176 grams)

Platypus Bladder  (2 liters) = 1.3 ounces (37 grams)

Camelpak (3 liters) = 8 ounces (227 grams)

Smart water (1 liter) = 1.2 ounces (34 grams)


Learn more about water bottles and BPA on my Website


Water Filters to Consider Buying

Life Straw– Stainless Steel



Life Straw now has a stainless-steel option. I got a Life Straw back when it was made of plastic and I understood less about the world. However, now they have this new version, without plastic! Yay! 

Honestly, I found the plastic version difficult to use. It does take a bit of effort to ‘suck’ the water through, which is something I hate when I am tired and thirsty. When using it, you either have to lean down to the water source and drink it as such, or you can fill up a water bottle and use it like a straw. The water bottle/straw combo has the downside that untreated water is now in your bottle, so when you get to town or even find a reliable mountain spring, you cannot simply scoop your water, since your bottle needs to be decontaminated. A pain in the butt. However, the LifeStraw it is a solid ‘backup’ to bring on a hike and I love that they have a non-plastic option.

Steri-Pen Recharable USB

I regret that I did not get this “filter” for my backpacking trip. It is not only good for a re-usable option, but it works QUICK. At the push of a button, it takes only ninety seconds to purify your water. If you know you will be dealing with water that has sendiment in it, take this filter off the table. This system uses UV light to filter out bacteria, protozoa, and viruses but will do nothing for gritty dirt. 

The Steri-Pen is rechargeable via a USB connection which limits battery waste. Its weight is one hundred and forty grams, making it a fairly light- weight filter. It is small and can pack away easily. 

*I also believe the Steri-Pen would be a great option to use while traveling to countries where water cleanliness is questionable. 

Sawyer Filter

Just to be clear, I do not recommend this filter. However, since it is the most popular filter amongst backpackers, due to its lightweight charm, its ability to fit on a Smart Water bottle, and forty-dollar price tag, it seems worth addressing how bad it is. 

I used the Sawyer Filter on my twenty-day hike and I used the bladder that comes with the filter. The bladder leaked on the first day, on the first use, then the filter itself began leaking later on in the hike. When you hold the filter in your hands, you can tell it is flimsy. Several other people I spoke with had the same issues. Later, upon reading more reviews, many seem to have the same concerns. Despite it having all of these issues, backpackers seem willing to take the risk, but I cannot emphasize enough, that being in the woods with an unreliable filter is not worth the headache.

I insist on buying QUALITY products, since they end up being not only being more sustainable for the environment (less breakage, thus less waste) but are sustainable for your wallet (have to buy a new one less often) as well. 


Food and How to Store it

Trying to be low waste when it came to food was undeniably the most complex part of my zero-waste mission. However, I managed to cut my waste IN HALF with the following techniques. 


Dehydrating My Own Food

It very quickly came to light, that if I wanted to reduce my waste, yet still eat hot food, I would have to skip the store-bought dehydrated meals and make my own. 

I borrowed a dehydrator from a friend, read up a bit, and watched some YouTube videos before giving it a crack. It turns out it takes ages to dehydrate food, which is why I was only able to prepare half of my meals this way. 

Dehydrators are relatively cheap and last for years if you take care of them. Once food is dehydrated, it can be stored in the freezer and it will also last for years, which means you could have meals ready to grab and go, when you feel inspired for a hike. 

Dehydrating my own meals and snacks was immensely cheaper than buying individual store-bought meals. Plus, I was able to buy the ingredients for the meals I would be cooking and then dehydrating with zero-waste in mind, therefore reducing even more waste overall. As I said, it took a lot of time and effort to cook and dehydrate the meals, so it’s not all sunshine and happiness. You certainly loose the convenience of grabbing and going


Silicon Resealable Bags

The decision to use silicon bags to hold my home-made dehydrated meals, came after a lot of research. As a backpacker I wanted light, flexible, and durable. As a zero-waster I wanted reusable, non-leaching, and quality for long term use. Silicon bags seemed to tick all of these boxes. 

Once my food was dehydrated, I portioned it out and placed it in the silicon resealable bags, which I would later eat out of on the trail. I placed about 170-200 grams of dehydrated food into each bag and this amount was perfect for one meal. On the trail, I was able to add boiling water directly to the silicon bag and eat my meal out of there. It takes about 15- 20 minutes to rehydrate food. 

Since I was preparing my meals ahead of time, it meant I had to snail mail my food to myself so that I could later pick it up along the trail. This “mailing-method” is actually a fairly common practice with thru-hikers. It took a bit of organizing, in terms of finding the right post offices in the towns I wanted to stop in, but once I was on the trail, the pick-ups worked perfectly. In fact, it was like opening Christmas presents along the way. 


Why Choose Silicon?

Silicon, unlike its plastic counterparts, is a non-porous material meaning it won’t leach chemicals and microplastics into our food. Although, some researchers say more studies are needed to rule out leaching under certain conditions, like an extended exposure to fatty foods. However, the studies so far have deemed silicon safe. 

Silicon is an extremely durable material. It is free of nasty chemicals like BPA, BPF, BPS, and phthalates. It can withstand extreme heat, which is crucial for rehydrating food while backpacking, since it requires pouring boiling water directly into it. If you buy the right bag, you can reseal it with no fear of it leaking, as these seals are reliable. I have even used them to store curry leftovers in my pack. Silicon can withstand extreme temperatures, meaning not only is it safe for boiling water, but also for the dishwasher and freezer. It can, however, puncture like plastic if stuck with something sharp. 

One thing to make abundantly clear, is that silicon bags are good for being reusable, but their inability to break down in the environment makes them similar to choosing a plastic reusable water bottle over an endlessly recyclable stainless steel one. Silicon is also similar to plastic, in the sense that it is difficult to recycle. In fact, you probably have to send it back to the supplier or call around to find a place that can recycle it, at the end of the product’s usable life. When silicon does get recycled, it gets downgraded, and eventually cannot be reused, ending its life in a landfill, just like plastic. It is also a persistent product like plastic, meaning it will take hundreds of years to break down in the environment. So, while silicon is a good option for being reusable and for reducing the amount of single-use packages sent to landfill, it is not perfect. Taking care of your silicon bag will greatly reduce the need to replace it, thus slowing its rate of production.


Is Silicon Worth the Weight?

Since weight is an important factor for backpacking, I compared the weight of a silicon bag containing 200 grams of my homemade dehydrated food with a store-bought dehydrated meal also containing 200 grams of dehydrated food. The difference between the two was 100 grams, or 3.5 ounces, in favor of the store-bought meal. The store-bought meals come in a plastic/aluminum pouch making them quite light. Yet, mine were totally reusable, while the packaging of the store-bought meals were single use and non-recyclable. 

Ultralight backpacking is very hot right now, to the point where some are competitive in how ‘low’ they can get their pack weight. I would like to challenge this concept and ask about the sustainability of such practices. Is it healthy for you to use and expose yourself to all that plastic? Is it healthy for the planet? Is it worth the slightly less pack weight?

Personally, I am willing to make the sacrifice of a few extra ounces here and there if it means I am leaving behind a better world. I have decided that it is my moral responsibility to care for more, than just myself, when backpacking. For me, this means thinking of not only the environment, but other humans. Animals are not the only ones who are harmed by our plastic consumption. Plastic is harmful in every stage of its life. 

When plastic is produced, it begins with mining for oil, a process that exudes harmful gasses into the air, often affecting poor communities nearby. When plastic is used, it can harm our health, by leaching harmful chemicals into our bodies. When it gets dumped into landfill, plastic can end up around the world. Ocean currents can carry plastic far and wide and deposit it onto pristine islands. Suddenly that island has a “plastic problem,” despite it being our plastic. 

Therefore, weight is no longer the driving force in my decision-making process. I am not perfect at cutting out waste, far from it. In fact, using a little bit of plastic here and there is sustainable for my time, health, and ease of getting outdoors. Using some plastic takes the pressure off of trying to be perfect while I am still learning. And, each time I go out backpacking, I get better and better at reducing my waste. If I have to carry a little bit of extra weight for now, while companies learn how to improve the weight of reusable products and while I learn more about zero waste methods, I will only become stronger.


Choosing Sustainable, Store-bought Dehydrated Meals

Once I realized that half of my dinners were going to be made up of store-bought dehydrated meals, I began looking for the “best” option. Although the meals would be coming in a single-use package, I could at least tick off some of the following environmentally friendly boxes:

  • Vegan: Eating a vegan meal has a significantly smaller carbon footprint than meals containing meat or dairy. The amount of land and resources it takes to raise meat is significant. In fact, a large study, spanning 119 countries, revealed that eating a plant-based or vegan diet is the number one way to reduce an individual’s carbon footprint, more than cutting out travel or buying an electric car. The study and materials can be found here.
  • Local: Purchasing a dehydrated meal that is either made with local food or is packaged locally is always a good way to reduce your carbon footprint.  It greatly cuts down on carbon released from transport and if the food is local from a farmer’s market, it can even support small businesses. 
  • Plant-Based: A plant-based meal focuses on whole foods while limiting items like processed food, added sugar, and meat. Being labeled “vegan” does not implicate health or less processing. A plant-based diet has been shown to be the healthiest diet we can have as humans. It can prevent, and in some cases reverse, a number of the prominent killers, like: heart disease, obesity, and cancers. In a way, we are having a lower impact on the economy by staying healthier and reducing hospital visits and medication needs, making this a sustainable option. Read more about plant-based diets here.

Dehydrated Store-bought Meals to Buy

United States:

 “Good-to-Go” meals check all of the above boxes. The chef locally sources most of the ingredients from Maine’s farmers market. The ingredients list is readable and understandable, indicating a lack of processed food. They offer meat and vegan options too. Plus, they were incredibly tasty! I recommend eating the double portion if you are exerting a lot of energy on your hikes. 

New Zealand

“Local Dehy”  is produced in Wanaka and all their meals are 100% vegan. They also offer the option to buy their dehydrated food in bulk!! AND, they just began selling their product in compostable packaging! So, ideally you could fill up your silicon reusable bags and hit the hills quicker and more sustainably!

Absolute Wilderness  is a Nelson-based product that offers both meat and vegan options. They cook with real ingredients, making them desirable over processed counterparts. 

Search Locally for You:

If you happen to be outside of the U.S or New Zealand, then I encourage you to shop for your own local options that tick some environmentally friendly boxes.  


Zero Waste Food Storage Techniques


Cloth Produce Bags

This option, again, will be slightly heavier than its plastic counterpart, but only by a few grams. Using cloth bags over the plastic-produce-bags or Ziplock bags to hold my oats, nuts, dehydrated fruit, bulk-bought pasta, bulk-bought trail mix, greatly minimised my waste on the trail. Snacks, including chocolate and sour patch kids come in bulk now too (Whole Foods has an amazing bulk section), so these cloth bags are a great reusable alternative. You can throw them in with your washing and keep them for life. 


Paper Bags

Occasionally, I use paper bags to store food. This is often the case when I run out of cloth bags while at the store. If paper bags are not already located in the “bulk” section of stores, I can often find them elsewhere in the store. They can usually be found near the mushrooms, the café or bakery section, or sometimes I just ask a clerk. A paper bag literally saved my butt one day when I ran out of toilet paper!


Re-used Plastic Containers

Although I try to avoid using plastic to hold my food, due to the fear of chemical and microplastic leachates, the temptation to repurpose plastic containers cannot always be avoided. In this instance, I reused a plastic Talenti ice cream container from my Dad’s house and filled it up with “grind your own peanut butter” at a Whole Foods before I left for the trail. To my surprise, I was able to refill it later down the trail in an organic shop that also had “grind your own peanut butter.” Many may be tempted to carry sachets of peanut butter that perfectly portion out the amount you need, but these plastic devils are more likely to blow away from landfill and end up in the environment. 

If you are going to reuse a plastic container, try and use ones that are not considered “single-use”, as these plastics are more prone to leaching. Number ‘one’ plastics are known to be single use, but number ‘five’ plastics are considered safe. 


Bare All Fruits and Vegetables

I know a lot of people probably avoid fresh fruit and veggies on their hike, because well, water weight is heavy. However, I find them to be such a delightful treat, that I like to have at least one or two pieces of something fresh on my hikes. Two easy ways to avoid plastic, is to choose fruits and veggies that do not come pre-packaged in plastic and of course avoid using produce bags. 

I frequently place my fruit and veg in the cart, without any bag at all, just loose. Many people fear germs from the grocery cart or checkout belt. But honestly, our fruit and veg has a long journey from being pulled out of the ground, to its transport to the store, and its placement on the shelf, before it reaches our mouths. A journey that allows many opportunities for germs to grace our produce’s presence. This is why we wash them in the first place. Placing fruit and veg in a bag, for the on-average, twelve minutes it takes to pick it up and take it home, lends no added germ-protection. So, let them loose! Read more here.


Beeswax Wraps

I love to use beeswax wraps in my everyday life, but I do not find them as useful while backpacking. On a single day hike, I may use them to wrap up a burrito or left-overs. But, on a multi-day hike, I struggle to find multiple uses for them after I have eaten the food they were holding. So, while I think they are amazing and great, I personally do not love them for thru-hiking. But do not let this dissuade you from giving them a try. Remember to wash them in cold soapy water, to make them last longer. Hot water melts the wax.


Reusable Non-Food Storage Options


Re-used Ziplock Bag

I happily re-use Ziplock bags (again, from my Dad’s house) to hold and waterproof my valuables like, my journal, credit card, I.D., earplugs, and a few other items. This plastic bag did break one point, which did not deter me. My generation often seems to be against fixing things, since ‘new’ has always been at our fingertips. However, a slice of duct tape patched the hole just fine and I still have that plastic bag 8 months later, with plans to use it until it is truly totally unusable (hopefully years from now). 


Re-used Plastic Shopping Bag

Any time you can give a product a second life before it gets discarded, do it. I used some old shopping bags (again, thanks Dad!) for holding and waterproofing my toilet paper. Many people tend to bring a shopping bag specifically to hold their trash, which is smart, but I encourage re-using bags from the trash you already have on your hike. For example, I caved and bought CheeZits during my hike, but then I was able to reuse the empty bag to hold any rubbish I was creating.


Plastic Containers

Again, usually I am against buying plastic all together, since everything has an “end-of-life,” whether we lose it or break it, we will at some point “throw it away.” This is why I prefer to use products that can be endlessly recycled like steel, tin, or glass. However, I was not able to locate small containers made of tin or steel (glass was too heavy) at the time, for items like lotion, toothpaste, and sunscreen. I needed to store a small amount of each in small container (since taking a whole tube of toothpaste seemed excessive). Instead, I opted for small, plastic Nalgene containers.  I plan on taking good care of the containers and will use them for as long as possible, decades hopefully!

However, if you can find containers made of steel or tin for these small storage purposes, I encourage you to use those instead. Maybe even get creative, and recycle an old steel lip-balm container!


Other Low-Waste Hiking Options


Menstrual Cup

There are literally a TON of these on the market of all different shapes, colors, and sizes. Finding the right one for you has never been easier. Tampons and pads are terrible for the environment and long- term, are more expensive. A simple purchase of a silicon menstrual cup can last you up to ten years or more! Menstrual cups can keep up to 7,000 tampons from entering the landfill in an individual’s lifetime. 

Menstrual cups should be cleaned properly if you want them to last as long as ten years, but seriously they are low maintenance. They can be boiled and/or washed with a non-scente, natural soap. They are a bit odd to get used to, especially for Americans who are accustomed to tampons that have plastic applicators (so you never have to touch yourself, although note that much of the world has tampons without applicators!), but once you familiarise yourself with the process, they just become a normal part of your life!

These zero waste wonderfuls also cut down on pack-weight since you no longer need to carry tampons “just in case” on long hikes. PLUS, you never have to worry that you forgot to bring enough tampons again. With the menstrual cup, you just dump, rinse, and pop it back in. These not only hold more blood than a superjumbo tampon, but you can wear these for up to 12 hours, unlike their 4-hour tampon counterparts. PLUS, they don’t have any harmful chemicals. That’s right, tampons are often made with harmful chemicals!! Need I say more about these awesome ninjas? I think not. 


Comb or Deodorant

For me, these things don’t even make it into my backpack since I consider them excess weight. But if it’s your thing, there are zero waste options available. You can purchase yourself a bamboo comb over a plastic one. Bamboo is light and can be composted at its end-of-life. 

Deodorant can either be made by you, or you can purchase deodorant that comes in a cardboard container. Don’t worry, it still shifts up and down like a lipstick, so you aren’t doing some weird hippy stuff and massaging it into your armpit yourself. In my “at-home life,” I use Silver Falls Sustainability Co.’s Natural Deodorant. It has no nasty chemicals, like many other deodorants, that could be absorbed through your skin.  


Matches Over a Lighter

Lighters often end up in the environment, especially on beaches and in the ocean. These are the perfect size for birds, like albatrosses, to mistake for their own food, especially red lighters. Matches on the other hand are wooden and come in a cardboard box, both of which can break down in a compost bin or can easily be burnt to ash. Matches should be put in a waterproof bag, for obvious reasons. 


Soap Over Sanitizer

Opt for bar soap! This way, all plastic is avoided, and you can choose soap that is not harmful to your skin or the environment. I cut my bar of soap into a size that I thought would last me the whole trip. I stored my soap in a reused plastic bag for the hike. 


Toothbrush

Go Bamboo! Bamboo is light and you can cut the handle off, just below the head if you are counting the ounces. With the exception of its bristles, you will be able to compost the bamboo handle. I have to mention that while bamboo is a better option than plastic, it is not perfect. The world-wide use of bamboo is exploiting a single resource, which can lead to monocropping, soil degradation, and deforestation. However, bamboo can be harvested in a safe way to minimize those effects and it is a WAY better option than plastic. So, just check the ethos of the company you are buying your toothbrush from, to make sure they are harvesting their bamboo in a renewable way. 


Toothpaste—Make Your Own

Of course, do this after quite a bit of research, and after consulting with your dentist (you can just call them!) But DIY toothpaste is totally a thing and you can often source the ingredients in a zero waste way. Youtube is a good place to start for inspiration. But don’t let that be your only resource, round it out with some research on what is healthiest for you, it is your smile after all! Then you can store your creation in whatever reusable container you want. 


Spork

You can get yourself a stainless steel or titanium spork no problem. I feel like this is an item people often lose or misplace, so I feel it is important to invest in a non-plastic version. 


Rechargeable Batteries

Opting for batteries that you can recharge is always a good choice. If I am being honest, sometimes they aren’t most powerful, so you’ll have to do some research to find what works best with your head lamp. Recharging batteries reduces the waste of throwing batteries away. Dead non-rechargeable batteries should be recycled, but I fear that this is not the case for many people. When batteries go un-recycled, they can have very harmful leaching affects for soil and water (think: drinking water). 


Shovel

Choosing an aluminum shovel or another non plastic option is a good idea, for end-of-life reasons. I do recommend aluminum though because it is a super light material. Or maybe just use a rock! Wherever you can cut plastic, do. 


Plate/Bowl/Cup

I have an amazing foldable plastic plate/bowl/cup called the ‘Orikaso Bowl’. I borrowed it from my partner. It is made of plastic, but I am often up for borrowing products. However, if I was ever in the position of needing to buy my own, I would probably opt for a silicon or stainless-steel option. The steel option being preferred. 


Stove Fuel

It is possible to just eat cold food and have cold coffee on a hike, which I often do for short, one day hikes. But warm food and warm coffee is such an important morale boost, that I can’t give it up. While the fuel coming out of the stove may be damaging the environment, the least we can do is recycle it the canister properly once it is empty. Along the trail, outdoor shops were happy to take the canister and recycle it for me. However, when I got home, things got tricky. 

The MSR website has a lot of helpful hints of how to safely recycle their canisters, but I will just quickly outline the steps. First, make sure there is truly no more gas in the canister. This can be tested by opening the canister with your stove as if to cook, and pass a match over it, if it does not light, it is empty. Once it’s totally empty, you must puncture a hole in the canister. This can be done with a range of items, but I used a nail and hammer. Then, with a permanent marker, clearly mark the punctured hole and write ‘EMPTY’ on the canister. Many places (like your curbside recycling) won’t recycle these canisters due to fear of it holding gas and exploding (fair point). 

Call your local council and ask if the local recycle station can take the canisters. Recycling can vary town to town. If they cannot take it curbside, ask where else you could recycle it. Also, call any local outdoor shops and see if they will take your canister, because they might recycle it for you! Even scrap yards may take your canister. 


Conclusion

Once you begin to notice plastic, you’ll notice it everywhere. It can cause you to feel like you should “throw away” all the plastic products and gear you own, and replace them with eco-friendly products.  I encourage you not to do this. Allowing the products that we already own to see out a full life, keeps them out of landfill and the environment as long as possible. Who knows, by the time you are ready to “throw it away”, maybe we will have developed a better system for our waste. 

By not rushing our products to the trash can, it allows us to buy new eco-friendly products as-needed. This method will give us the time and space to do research between purchases. It will let you deep dive the topic of buying a sustainable water bottle or non-synthetic clothing. This “as-needed” approach allows you to avoid the urges of consumerism and the “need-it-now” feeling. After you do the research, and buy the quality, eco-friendly product you want, you will feel proud and passionate about your purchase. This is a far more sustainable way to live, for our mental health and the health of the environment.

Sharing your zero waste success, especially in the outdoors is an important way to spread awareness. Without awareness and consciousness, there is no change. Remember, zero waste is a practice, so be kind to yourself. Also, remember that everyone is at a different stage in their understanding and knowledge, so be kind to others. Spread awareness and be open to growth and criticism. 

Happy Hiking!

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