James and I have been RVing for about 12 years now. We’re outdoor lovers, and RVing has been the catalyst for getting us closer to nature anywhere we want to go — which, like most RVers, is everywhere. Being able to easily get to giant outdoor playgrounds around the country has been absolutely wonderful.
What’s even more wonderful is when we can do it responsibly. I’m by no means perfect, but I do recognize the importance of being mindful of the impact we’re having on nature when out RVing. Over the course of our 12 years, we’ve come a long way in our sustainable RVing practices.
But the unfortunate truth of it is, there’s going to be some impact. RVing requires driving, after all, and until all-electric RVs become the norm, there’s just no way around us creating greenhouse gas emissions. The good news though is that there are ways to mitigate that, as well as many other RV lifestyle practices that weigh heavy on our planet.
Here are some of the changes we’ve made to be better environmental stewards on our RV trips. Perhaps some of these can work for you, too.
Be More Fuel Efficient
According to Natural Resources Canada, efficient driving can lower your vehicle’s fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 25%. We all know the common sense ways to be more efficient — using cruise control when you can, keeping your speeds down, and avoiding idling. But did you know your vehicle’s air conditioning can increase your fuel consumption by as much as 20%? It’s good to get in the habit of using the A/C sparingly when you can.
Another area affecting your fuel efficiency is your tire pressure. Driving with your tires under-inflated not only wears them out quicker but also increases your fuel consumption. Make sure you’re checking your tire pressure frequently and keeping them topped off. Invest in a tire pressure monitoring system to make this task easy.
And finally, your RV’s weight affects your mileage, too. So do what you can to lighten the load. Dump your tanks before a long drive and wait to fill your fresh until you arrive. Pack smart and load your RV or trailer to balance the weight.
Spend Less Time on the Road
This has been a tough one for James and me. When we sit down to plan our trips, our instinct is to make it epic — go farther, move often, see and do all we can pack in. But sustainable RVing would encourage just the opposite. Instead of planning trips 20 hours away, where we’re moving often to a new destination, planning an eco-friendly trip would mean either looking a little closer to home or staying put for longer durations and avoiding frequent campground-hopping. Blame it on our wanderlust gene, but staying put is hard! We’re working on it, though.
Add More Solar
According to the EPA, electricity production is one of the primary sources of greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for an estimated 33% of the total annual discharge. Sure, our RVs are a tiny portion of that. But still, they’re a portion of that. One of the biggest benefits of using solar energy is that it’s the cleanest and most abundant renewable energy source available, so it’s not producing any carbon emissions.
Our Winnebago EKKO came with solar panels, but we’ve added even more. We’re now rolling with 700 watts of solar. That’s enough to keep our batteries charged indefinitely, as long as we’re not running the air conditioner. Given a choice of either burning fossil fuels to recharge our RV’s batteries or using clean free power from the sun — well, it’s really a no-brainer.
Use Bikes Instead of Tow Vehicles
We’re such a drive-everywhere culture. Even if we’re just going a mile or two down the road to pick up a loaf of bread, most of us would jump in our cars. It doesn’t really cross our minds to walk or bike. James and I don’t travel with a tow car, a dinghy, so when we don’t want to break camp, our only other option to get around is by foot or bike.
Taking away the option to drive has been great for us. Not only is biking greener, but it has also given us the opportunity to experience our surroundings and get to know an area in ways we can’t in a car. So, even if you do travel with a tow vehicle, consider leaving it parked and taking your bikes when you can. Healthy for you AND healthy for the planet.
Be Smart About Campfires
There’s no way around this: campfires are a source of pollution. But, for many RVers, they’re also one of the best parts of camping! As gratifying as campfires are, we’ve got to make sure we’re being responsible about them. The best campfires are kept small and are in established fire rings or elevated fire pans, which help protect any nearby ground vegetation. Always check with the campground whether campfires are allowed. In some dry parts of the country, campfires can be banned during parts of the year to mitigate the risk of wildfires.
It’s important to source your wood locally. Wood trucked in from other areas runs the risk of introducing non-native insects. And please, please, for the love of your campground neighbors (ahem, me) make sure you aren’t burning green wood (wood that has been recently cut and still holds some water). The excessive smoke created from green wood releases significantly more toxic air pollutants, fine particles, and VOCs, all of which can affect your health. They’re linked to cancer and other awful health conditions you do not want. Buy wood locally, like at the campground office or corner store. Don’t bring along your scrap wood you found or brought from your house as this could be treated wood, which is also harmful to burn.
And then finally, when you’re done with your fire, put it out. Completely out. If it’s smoldering, or if you cannot stick your hand in it to touch it, it’s not out. (Great. Now I’m craving some s’mores.)
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
I know you’ve heard it a million times, but I also know how things like paper plates and disposable cutlery can be so convenient when RVing. This was actually a hard transition for us years back when we gave them all up. Now that I’ve broken that habit, I’m much happier using regular dishes. If convenience is what you’re after, you can also find compostable disposable dishes and cutlery.
Recycling when RVing has its own challenges, too. Compact RVs have little space for storing recyclables, plus finding a place to leave your recyclables in unknown territory gets tricky. If a Google search doesn’t work, there are websites like Recycler Finder and I Want To Be Recycled that can help, too.
So, there you go! A few of the ways we’ve been working to make our RV trips more environmentally friendly. For far too long I sat idly by watching the news about climate change and not doing my part. I’ve slowly come around to realizing the time for change is now. We have no alternative home, after all. Let’s do what we can, however we can, and save this one.
How do you remain environmentally friendly when camping? Tell us in the comments below.