Editor’s note: Overlanding, a road trip on steroids, is growing in popularity. We asked overlanding enthusiast Evelin Weiss to explain how to reduce this vacation trip style’s impact on the environment.
When someone wants to go overlanding, they typically choose a large vehicle with a gas or diesel engine. These vehicles tend to have low fuel efficiency, which has a tremendous negative environmental impact. Cars and trucks account for nearly one-fifth of all U.S. emissions, containing carbon dioxide and other global warming gases. And unfortunately, the use of hybrids or electric vehicles is still out of reach for the average overlander.
However, members of the community can take other steps to decrease their impact on the environment and help preserve the environment for future generations of overlanders. In fact, there are already some great trends among overlanders, such as leaving a campground cleaner than it was when you arrived!
So, let’s see what we can do as campers, overlanders, nature enthusiasts, and eco-junkies for the environment. Keep these tips in mind on your next adventure.
Avoid Single-Use Products
Single-use products, like plastic utensils, water bottles, bags, and straws are some of the worst things for the environment. They are used once and then thrown away — most of them ending in landfills, oceans and waterways, and all over the landscape.
Reusable alternatives are easy to find, safer for the environment, and will often save you money in the long run.
Also, resist the temptation to bring along single-use products like non-rechargeable batteries, butane stove canisters, and those little plastic toothpicks.
1. No Plastic Bags Allowed
Plastic bags like the ones seen at supermarket checkout counters are one of the most common types of litter worldwide. They are made from non-renewable resources, require a lot of energy to manufacture, and take centuries to break down.
When you buy food, bring your own bags, use reusable mesh containers to carry fruits and vegetables, and try to avoid foods packaged in plastic — such as chips.
Focus on eating healthily and storing food in easier to recycle cardboard or your own reusable containers. Your responsible actions can help reduce tons of plastic from working its way into the ecosystem.
2. Say No to Pesky Plastic Straws
We use 500 million plastic straws every day in the U.S. alone. They can’t be recycled and end up in the landfills, as litter, and are clogging our oceans. When you purchase a beverage, ask them to skip the straw (or better yet, bring your own cup and skip the disposable cup as well). After all, straws are unnecessary for most people. But if you need a straw for a medical condition — or just really like using one — consider using reusable alternatives to throwaway plastic.
3. Skip the Disposable Coffee Cups
A lot of people like to drink their coffee out of Styrofoam, plastic, and other disposable cups. Disposable coffee cups are another single-use item it’s best to avoid. These containers wind up polluting the land and sea and can take centuries to degrade.
The simple solution is to carry your own reusable coffee mug. If you stop at chains that offer coffee in disposable cups, ask them to fill your mug instead. Or, you can brew your own coffee on the road using your own coffee maker.
Or, simply stop at a place where you can sit down and drink from an actual cup. And if you want to take some coffee on the road from a restaurant, just ask them to fill up your travel mug with some coffee to go!
4. Avoid Wet Wipes
A lot of people like wet wipes because these throwaway wipes clean up messes and are supposed to be biodegradable. However, most of them aren’t and will instead spend a century in the ocean. While there, they will release chemicals or be ingested by a poor critter looking for food. Either way, the impact isn’t worth it.
Use reusable cloths or eco-friendly toilet paper to take care of your needs instead.
Maintain Your Vehicle
5. Inspect Your Vehicle
A lot of overlanding pollutants come from vehicles that have leaks, especially from liquids like oil and coolant. Remember to thoroughly inspect your vehicle before going anywhere and to look for potential drips and leaks.
In case you need to stop to service your car, make sure you have protective supplies to ensure not a drop of oil gets on the ground. It’s highly toxic and can damage the ecosystem.
6. Slow Down and Maintain Your Tires
It’s crucial to find the best balance between speed and fuel consumption, especially since the amount of gas you use heavily affects your carbon footprint.
Try to keep your tires properly inflated and in great condition, and make sure your car has no leaks or other problems that will affect fuel efficiency.
7. Avoid Fuel Spills
Something many people don’t realize is that a lot of pumps around the world do not have an auto shut-off feature. Only fill your jerry cans and vehicle at genuine filling stations and always watch the amount in the container. Take steps to avoid spills and be prepared to shut off the system to stop the container from overflowing.
Use Water Responsibly
Fresh water is a limited resource, so be careful to avoid wasting it.
8. Turn Off the Tap
If you have access to running water, turn it off when brushing your teeth. When showering and waiting for the water to get warm, keep a bucket under the spigot or faucet so the unused cool water is collected for later. And limit the time you spend showering. Wash your dishes in tubs, rather than under running water. By being conscious of your water use, you’ll find it easier to waste less.
9. Avoid Plastic Water Bottles
Store your supply of fresh water in reusable containers and avoid purchasing bottled water. If you’re worried about running out of water, keep around a bucket or barrel to catch rain and use a solar-powered purifier.
10. Don’t Wash Your Car at Campgrounds
Don’t wash your car while you’re camping. It’s just going to get dirty again, and the detergent and oil will seep into the ecosystem, eventually polluting our waterways. Wait until you can go to a car wash. Newer automatic car wash technology not only saves water, but professional car washing businesses can dispose of hazardous materials that wash off with the dirt.
Reduce Food-Related Waste
A lot of overlanders bring prepackaged foods with them, but disposable packing can add up to a lot of unrecyclable waste.
11. Avoid Prepackaged Foods
Instead of bringing foods packaged in plastic, bring organic and fresh fruits and vegetables. By skipping the cookies, chips, and chocolate bars, you’ll be nicer to your body as well as your planet. If you want those products, store them in reusable containers to reduce your waste while you’re on the road.
12. Eat Like the Locals
Or, instead of bringing a lot of food, consider buying local produce or meats and eating the food of the country or area where you are traveling.
You can also save on fuel this way since you don’t have to worry as much about refrigeration or transporting large amounts of food.
Use Eco-Friendly Products
Biodegradable products are your best bet when you are overlanding so you can avoid chemicals seeping into the land and local waterways.
13. Choose Eco-Friendly Personal Care Products
You might be surprised by how many chemicals and other unfriendly substances are in common products like sunscreen. These ingredients are bad for the environment and for you, too. Avoid sunscreens that contain oxybenzone or octinoxate, which have recently been banned from places like Hawaii due to their effects on coral reefs. Instead, look for sunscreens that have the friendlier zinc oxide.
14. Try Natural Cleaning Products
For cleaning, consider using vinegar and bicarbonate of soda so you don’t use harsh products like bleach. These get rid of germs and bacteria just as well as most commercial cleaners. It’s easy to make your own natural cleaning products. Not only will you protect the environment, you’ll save money, as the ingredients cost a fraction of commercially produced cleaners.
Be a Savvy Camper
Savvy campers are considerate of their neighbors and set the standard for good campsite behavior. Little things like not running generators while people are trying to sleep, keeping your dog under your control, and walking rather than driving short distances between the campsite and bathrooms, administrative stations, or nearby convenience stores can make a big difference.
15. Be Careful With Campfires
The campfire is often an essential part of overlanding. It provides heat, smells good, and creates a relaxing atmosphere conducive to socializing. However, campfires are a source of air pollution. According to the EPA, wood smoke contains carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas; toxic air pollutants such as benzene and formaldehyde; and fine particulate matters that can trigger heart attacks, stroke, and other health issues. An ill tended campfire puts nature and humans at risk.
To enjoy your campfire safely, learn how to pick your campfire spot and other campfire safety tips.
16. Invest in Quality Camping Gear
Although it’s a steeper initial investment, good camping gear will save you money in the long run. Well-made gear will last longer and is less likely to break and wind up in a landfill somewhere. Look for brands that are environmentally motivated and use recycled materials. Also, avoid cheap plastics.
Recycle and Clean Up Your Own Mess
Humans create a lot of trash without even realizing the extent of their waste. Part of this has to do with the entirely disposable lifestyle humans now live. Dispose of your trash and recyclables in towns that have the proper facilities. Remember that you might need to carry three to four weeks’ worth of garbage, so plan accordingly. We recommend using a product like the Trasharoo spare wheel trash bag.
We know there isn’t always easy to access recycling bins while traveling, but this doesn’t mean you should throw your recyclables away. Learn which materials you can recycle in the country where you’re overlanding. In most parts of the U.S., you can recycle cans, paper and cardboard, glass, and certain types of plastics. If you have internet access, you can use Earth911’s Recycling Search to find a facility near you to recycle a variety of materials.
Lugging all of your recyclables around can take up space, so limit the number of disposables that you bring with you while overlanding. When you’re packing, swap out items that will take up a ton of space for more viable alternatives. For example, bring beer in crushable aluminum cans rather than glass bottles or store juice and water in refillable flasks rather than single-use plastic containers.
And be sure to keep a separate bin or container where you can store recyclables until you reach a town with proper recycling facilities.
18. Pick Up After Your Pet
Please be responsible about cleaning up after your pet. After you’ve picked up after Fido, discard the waste in an appropriate waste bin. Leaving the poop encased in a plastic bag just means it has no chance to biodegrade; it doesn’t solve the problem. Put that plastic bag in your Trasharoo and discard it responsibly when you have access to a waste bin.
19. Take Care of Human Waste
Everyone poops. When you have to go, it’s important to dispose of it properly. Dig a hole that is 8 inches deep and 200 feet away from any water sources. Remember to bury your waste and cover it with natural debris. If you bring toilet paper, keep it in a separate bag to burn later or buy eco-friendly toilet paper that can be buried.
Human waste carries nasty bacteria and can have a damaging effect on the environment as well as other people. Just remember that you wouldn’t want someone to poop in the sink at your home, so why would you do it where it can endanger others?
We Can All Be Stewards of the Land
Overlanding is an awesome activity, and so is camping. You can see more of the world and experience nature, but remember you need to care for that nature as well.
Do your absolute best to lower your environmental impact by investing in eco-friendly materials, eliminating your use of single-use plastics, recycling everything you can, and disposing of all waste responsibly.
If you feel like you waste a ton of fuel and material while overlanding, consider hiking or camping as alternatives that may require less gas consumption. The tips listed above are useful for these activities as well.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of great ways you can bring your overlanding into the next century by trying new green products, monitoring your waste carefully, and preserving the world for the next generation.
This article was originally published on Overland Site. It was adapted for publication on Earth911 with the author’s permission.
About the Author
Evelin Weiss is an experienced overlander who has completed major overland trips on three continents so far. Evelin and her partner, Ferenc, are both keen environmentalists, trying to spread information about how to protect the environment while traveling. Their travels are published on OverlandSite.com.