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Going back to basics and being one with nature - that's what appeals to most of us and is the reason we get pretty excited by the prospect of spending a weekend in a tent under the stars. Most of us also like to think of ourselves as an ecological bunch - when you're obsessed with the natural world as much as most hikers and campers are, you try to do whatever you can to sustain it - Recycling & reusing plastics, opting for products carrying a smaller carbon footprint and driving eco-friendly cars.
That's how we see ourselves at least.
In reality, a camping trip often generates quite an impact on the environment around us. Some of which is obvious and most try to avoid, while other impacts are less obvious. Here at Active Elements, we're conscious of the world around us, so here are a few tips and tricks we've come across to reduce the negative impact you have on the planet.
Buying food to take away with you can lead to a lot of plastic wrapping and packaging that you're taking out into the wilderness. Thanks to the big supermarkets it's extremely hard to buy food without plastic wrapping, but if you shop smart you may be able to reduce it.
If you buy foods that do have plastic wrapping, prep the meals in advance so that you're not taking the plastic out with you. Prepping at home means that you can recycle the plastic easier, and are less likely to leave wrappers around the countryside!
That said, it's always easier to reduce the packaging if you're camping by yourself for a night or two (perhaps wild camping with nothing but your backpack) but if you're going away for a camping trip with the family and kids for a longer period of time, you'll be less able to prep all of your meals in advance. Here we recommend taking a recyclable bag to put your plastics into, so you can add it to your recycle waste when you get back home.
No good camping trip is complete without a campfire. Yes, there are many people that enjoy camping without the need for a campfire and some even prefer going without. But the majority of us long for that cliche moment of roasting marshmallows under the stars as someone plays a guitar.
Given the recent increase in forest fires though, it is harder than ever to find somewhere that fires are actually permitted. Always adhere to rules & regulations!
If you're lucky enough to find somewhere that permits a campfire though, be aware of how you go about lighting it. There are plenty of tricks for lighting a fire easily, such as using cotton wool and chemical fire lighters, but the trouble is they're not very sustainable. Cotton wool for example is often made up of synthetic fibres as well as cotton, and brings us back to the plastic issue. Even once it's burnt, plastic molecules are still in the air and are ingested by wildlife. Don't even get me started on the chemicals released into the air from fire lighters...
A more natural approach to starting a fire is by using natural resources. Whenever I light a fire I use either 100% natural fire starters (made of thin wood strands that catch easily) or dry leaves and grass nearby. Use these to help kindling catch and build your fire up from there. Everything you then burn is at least natural.
...and Fire awareness
Fire safety should be ingrained in us all. It's pretty obvious that you shouldn't play with fire and that alcohol and campfires aren't a good mix. Keep an eye on the local rules though, following the fires in the Yorkshire Moors earlier in 2019, local legislation around the country popped up to monitor campfires closer.
Simply put, if you don't need a fire - don't light one. Fire's should be used for warmth and cooking rather than to snap your next Instagram post. However, if you do light a fire, be sure that you keep it contained, isolated and be aware of what you're lighting it on top of. The number of site's (commercial and wild) I've been to and found scorched earth is frankly horrifying. Plus, grass burns quickly and can lead to a widespread forest fire if you're not careful.
Some campsites are proud to be sustainable, others not so much. It stands to reason that if you opt to stay on a sustainable campsite, your impact on the local surroundings will be lower.
So what do we mean by sustainable campsites? These are the sites that adhere to local legislation, offer locally grown produce in the shop, an adequate chemical waste disposal point (personally I try to avoid using chemical toilets all together) and the like.
Some sites that go more back to basics, simply offering a field to pitch up in can also be really sustainable if they only allow certain visitors. If a large RV camper was to pull up in a grass only site with no facilities, the chances are the contents of the chemical toilet will be emptied onto the local woodland, food and waste will simply be discarded and the emissions from the RV camper will pollute the greenery. Tent-only pitches are often more economical in the sense that normally a chemical toilet isn't carried, food and plastic waste is reduced as you can only pack so much into a back pack.
Reusable Dishes, Mugs etc
This is a fairly obvious one and most campers already do this, but purchasing a few reusable mugs, plates, spoons etc can really make a difference to the environment (and your wallet). If I'm honest, this wasn't going to be included until I witnessed a group of mates on a campsite eating off of paper plates, drinking from polystyrene cups and using single-use plastic spoons to make their coffee.
It does't take a genius to work out where that waste is going to end up - cluttering the local nature reserve. Buying some enamel mugs and washable pans, plates and cutlery can make a huge difference. Yes, it means you have some washing up to do, but it also means you're not buying
spoons and cups every time you go away.
It can be hard to realise just how much of an impact your trip can have on the environment. Flying to close European countries for example can leave a huge carbon impact on the world, for a 2 hour flight. We encourage you to, where possible, look for the more eco-friendly approach to travelling around the world (or even the country). If you're heading up north to Scotland and plan on wild camping from your backpack, why not take the train there rather than drive? You won't have a lot of luggage to carry with you anyway. If you're heading to Spain or France from the UK, look at taking the train, or even driving there can have a smaller impact than flying.
That said, I totally get that driving somewhere is the only practical approach to heading out. If I'm travelling anywhere with my scuba gear from example, I will need to drive there as its too much to pack onto a train. Driving will leave some negative impact on the environment, it's the nature of the beast. However, by driving sensibly (no heavy acceleration & braking, using eco-mode etc) you can reduce your impact. I opted to change my vehicle from a 2 litre turbo diesel to a 1.5 litre eco engine, allowing not only a higher mpg (saving money on fuel!) but reducing the emissions generated when I head out.
Have you got any other advice for more sustainable camping? We'd love to know your views! Let us know in the comments section below!
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