Expert Advice

Conservation at the Campground

Girl Camper, Janine Pettit, shares how she makes more eco-friendly decisions at the campground and how to start making them yourself.

There is so much awareness today of the toll that our ‘disposable’ world has taken on the environment, and I am glad to see the tide turning. I must admit that I was pretty hooked on convenience items and never gave much thought to their impact. A few years ago, I made a concerted effort to at least lessen the impact I was making, and I started by getting a handle on single use plastics. No more cases of water bottles. I have so many containers for drinking water that it was absurd that I would buy cases of plastic water bottles to begin with. I stashed a one-gallon water jug in the backseat of my truck, and I fill my water vessel when it runs out. I refill the same one-gallon jug over and over. Not only does that make environmental sense, but it also makes economic sense. 

The other guilty indulgence of mine was plastic storage containers. I had cabinets full of them and frequently replaced them when they got separated from their proper lid or started to look too dingey. I made up my mind to not buy any new ones. Instead, I transitioned to stainless steel containers and glass bowls for leftovers. In the camper, I use the stainless as well as a few silicone storage containers that are less harsh on the environment. Before the advent of Tupperware there was something called ‘refrigerator glass’. Our grandmothers stored leftovers in these glass jars with lids. Today there are lots of jars with lids at thrift stores and they make great storage for leftovers.

Plastic cutlery also went out the door with the containers and I keep bamboo forks for a crowd because bamboo is easily replaced, but mainly rely on good old stainless-steel silverware. In the plastic family, I also had to weed out plastic wrap for sandwiches and leftovers. I took an online tutorial on making beeswax wraps and now use them all the time. They are made from light cotton fabric, beeswax, and jojoba oil. You can buy them online in lots of sizes and they last about a year. They clean up by rinsing under warm water and letting them air dry in the drainboard.

The next thing I tackled was my use of paper. While on some level I know that tree pulp is dark brown, I never considered what the process of turning it into shiny coated stark white paper plates was doing to the environment. I did a little research and decided that I didn’t want to eat off plates that had been so highly manufactured, so I made the decision to stick with thrifted melamine dinnerware and old-fashioned enamelware. They are sturdier than paper plates, reusable, and won’t break.

While cleaning up my use of paper plates, I also broke up with paper napkins and paper towels. I use thrifted cotton napkins and Etsy sourced ‘unpaper towels’ which are homemade cloths with snaps that you can wrap around your paper towel dispenser and use over and over. I gave up on keeping them on the paper towel holder quickly, but it’s great to grab one from the drawer and clean up a mess.

Another change I made was in my choice of soaps and cleaners. There are several companies that make products that are all-in-ones. Rosebud company makes a bar soap for the shower that is a body wash, shampoo, shaving cream and conditioner all in one bar. It comes in a cardboard box, so no plastic there, and it’s made from biodegradable materials. Dr. Bonners also makes great soaps that are earth-friendly, and you can toss your dish pan water from a camp kitchen without feeling bad.

I believe in the principle that every little bit helps, and while we have a long way to go, making small changes will alter your personal impact on nature, your pocketbook, and your attitude.

Other ideas

  1. Buy used when possible. There are so many camping items available on online markets. Check them out and save some money.
  2. Repair things that have broken. I almost tossed my gas grill but instead ordered a ten-dollar part and am still using it today.
  3. Use cardboard shipping boxes to organize the back of your tow vehicle, under bed storage, or in your cargo hold to contain small things.
Janine Pettit

Girl Camper

Janine Pettit is a lifelong lover of camping who took a 25 year sabbatical when she married a “resort” type guy! She discovered that camping was still in the cards for her when she stumbled onto an article about a women’s outdoor adventure group that travels around the country in RVs, meeting new friends, checking off bucket list adventures and doing things she had only dreamed of. Janine has become an Ambassador for the Girl Camping movement and encourages women to go places and do things in her blog and podcast.