One of the most common sustainability goals I hear from friends is to create less waste. In particular, they want to use less plastic, which isn’t surprising. Plastic and our planet’s overflowing landfills are at the forefront of many conversations these days.
We see stories about plastic debris absolutely everywhere, littering RV parks and campgrounds, piling up in our oceans, and killing wildlife. It’s easy to vilify plastic, especially when you see the disturbing pictures of nature’s plastic victims — adorable seals tangled in plastic bags, birds with six-pack plastic rings on their necks. These environmental effects of plastic are heartbreaking and often point directly back to the use and improper disposal of single-use plastics. I’ll teach you some tips and habits to reduce your plastic pollution. Together, as mindful travelers, we can make healthy choices that benefit animals, the environment, and ourselves.
Is All Plastic Bad?
Plastic, in general, isn’t all bad news. We encounter hundreds of plastic things a day. Just look around. You’re surrounded by it, just like I am.
My computer is plastic. As I look forward, the RV cab’s dash is plastic, the laundry basket to my right is plastic, and even the many polyester-blend clothing items inside it, yep, those too are another form of plastic.
Plastic makes our lives easier and is a truly extraordinary material. So I try not to lump all plastic together in the “you’re-bad-and-I-must-avoid-you” category.
Instead, I focus my attention on single-use plastics.
As long-lived as plastic is, it doesn’t make sense to produce it for single-use materials. That’s why my main sustainability goal has been cutting back on single-use plastics, but I’m not stopping there. I’ve been working on eliminating anything in my life that creates unnecessary waste.
At first glance, it may appear that RVing is an eco-friendly activity, but seasoned RVers know the truth. You can create just as much, if not more, waste on an RV trip as you would at home if you’re not careful. Over the dozen or so years my husband James and I have been RVing in the great outdoors, we’ve slowly evolved into more sustainable RVers— though it hasn’t been easy.
How to Transition to Zero Waste RVing
We’ve come a long way since our days of buying Costco packs of plastic silverware and single-use water bottles, but it didn’t happen overnight. Looking back, we made one small change at a time, though there was never any master plan. Perhaps that’s human nature at play; the whole “change is hard” thing.
Even though James and I aren’t at the ‘zero waste’ level yet, I want to share some of the easier changes we’ve made to reduce the waste we create in our RV lifestyle. I wish someone would have presented me with a list of simple changes I could make a decade ago. Perhaps it wouldn’t have taken me so long to get to the less-waste place I’m at today.
So perhaps something on this list might inspire you to create some change in your own RV lifestyle. If you aren’t familiar with them already, you may also be interested in incorporating Leave No Trace principles on your RV and car camping adventures.
1. Filter your RV’s fresh water, so it’s safe to drink.
Drinking from our fresh tank means we aren’t dependent on single-use water bottles and jugs. Yes, it takes a little more work: regularly sanitizing your tank, using heavy-duty RV water filters, and being careful about where you fill up.
But once you make it a habit, it doesn’t feel like more work. It becomes a part of your normal prep. And as a bonus, we never have to buy water!
Read our comprehensive guide on How to Get Clean Drinking Water in Your RV.
2. Use real dishes and silverware.
I certainly remember how convenient disposable kitchenware was for RV trip meals. We were on vacation, after all. So it felt great taking a vacation from doing the dishes too! Being a steward of the environment isn’t about doing the convenient thing, though.
I like to think of it like most caretaking things in life—taking prescription meds to stay healthy, changing the oil to keep your vehicle running, doing laundry to avoid being the smelly folks in camp—there aren’t shortcuts to these things just because you’re on vacation.
So once I changed my mindset on that, I stopped playing the “vacation excuse card” and went all in with using real RV dishes and silverware 100% of the time. I haven’t even thought about the need to avoid buying disposables in years until, well, writing this!
3. Ditch single-use sandwich baggies and plastic wrap.
These days, there are many eco-friendly companies making reusable food storage bags and wraps. It has made ditching old-school, single-use baggies easy.
One of the brands I use is Bees Wrap, a company out of Vermont that makes a variety of reusable food storage solutions. Their wrap is made with organic cotton, beeswax, and tree resin, giving it an almost-tacky feel and allowing it to easily conform and close around whatever you’re wrapping.
4. Swap supplies you use daily for zero-waste products.
One example: James and I buy our dish soap, hand soap, and laundry detergent from Dropps. Dropps is one of the many companies out there making all-natural plant-based refillable cleaners and shipping them in plastic-free containers—even down to the packaging tape and adhesive (also plastic-free).
We even purchased glass jars for our Dropps soaps. So when it’s time to refill our hand soap, for example, we simply drop in a pod, add water, and we’re good to go.
5. If you go out to eat, do two things: Avoid fast food and eat in.
COVID made take-out a “new normal,” but the problem with take-out is all the single-use containers required. That’s a challenge with fast-food restaurants too. Most fast-food joints serve food in single-use containers even when dining in.
To avoid this, you must embrace a different approach: choosing restaurants based on whether or not they use real dishes. It might sound limiting, but it certainly hasn’t made our trips any less fun. Besides, dining in is a great way to get to know an area. So, if you’re not cooking in your RV, break out of the take-out habit and enjoy the restaurant experience!
6. BYOB (Bring Your Own Bags) when shopping.
While bringing your own shopping bags is becoming a requirement in many areas, you can take this a step further by bringing your own reusable produce bags too. You can also bring reusable bags for bulk items—rice, dried beans, nuts, etc.
I know how easy it is to walk by the bulk bins in favor of pre-packaged grains and nuts. But buying food from the bulk section and using your own bags cuts down on a surprising amount of single-use packaging.
There you have it! Six small but doable ways to incorporate sustainability into your RV lifestyle. I know firsthand that achieving a zero-waste camping trip is no easy feat, but it also doesn’t have to happen overnight.
Working to create a little less waste today—perhaps using some of these suggestions—is a small step in the right direction. It will take all of us working together to get to a place where there’s harmony between humans and nature. But I’m hopeful we will get there. Our future generations depend on us.
How do you reduce waste and limit the use of single-use packaging when RVing? Share your eco-friendly RV tips in the comments below!