Going Plastic-free in the Outdoors:
Is it possible?
As adventurers and explorers, we love our land and have a basic understanding that plastic isn't good for it. If you're a hiker or paddler, you've probably seen some of the negative effects that plastic has on our environment. As a writer and environmental travel blogger at Just Leaving Footprints, I'm going to share some ways you can use less plastic while exploring the outdoors. As a bonus, I've added some budget-friendly options, because who doesn't like to save money while helping the planet?
From the snacks you pack for a hike to your water bottle and even your clothing, plastic is hard to avoid. However, there are still ways to reduce your plastic use while enjoying nature. Here are my best plastic-avoiding tips for your next adventure:
Snacks in Nature:
How to Get Good Food Plastic-Free
If you’re embarking on a hike, heading out in your canoe, starting a backpacking trip or going camping, you'll need to bring food. Depending on the length of journey you’re going on and how much food you’re hoping to bring with you, there are different ways to reduce packaging and plastic.
Before hitting the grocery store to grab food supplies, bring along a reusable grocery bag, glass jars and reusable produce bags. Yes, that’s right, you can actually buy reusable cotton produce bags!
Fill the jars and bags with an assortment of fruits and veggies, trail mix and nuts. Many local bulk stores are starting to develop reusable container programs where you simply go to the cashier, get the weight of your jar noted, fill up the jar with bulk food, return and pay. You can even give your glass jars or other reusable containers to people at the deli, who will fill them up for you with meat and other deli items.
If your grocery store doesn’t have a reusable container program, you can still fill up your reusable produce bags with nuts, fruits, trail mixes, chocolates, veggies, grains and almost anything else you can think of. This way you won’t get charged extra money for the weight of a glass jar.
Most of junk food is packaged in plastic, so while grocery shopping plastic-free, you'll end up choosing between healthier options. However, if you still want to satisfy your sweet tooth, the bulk section often has chocolates and other sweet treats available, too.
Snacks in Nature:
How to Pack Your Food Plastic-Free
For a shorter trip, packing your food can be as simple as carefully placing your glass jars and cotton bags inside your backpack. However, if you’re planning a multi-day trip, you'll need to preserve your food.
My favorite option for keeping food fresh and not weighing down your pack is reusable beeswax food wraps. They're made of lightweight organic cotton fabric and infused with jojoba oil, beeswax, and sometimes pine resin. You can make them yourself by sprinkling beeswax, jojoba oil and pine resin on a piece of organic cotton fabric, covering it in parchment paper and ironing it so the mixture melts into the fabric. You can also rub beeswax between your hands to get it warm and malleable and then wrap it around a sandwich or snack. Beeswax has tons of antibacterial properties so it will keep your food fresh for longer and you can reuse the wraps! Just hand-wash them in cold water with soap. If you don't want to make your own beeswax wraps, you can also buy some.
Beeswax might not work best for you. If you're going on a canoe trip and need to keep food dry, you could opt for a reusable silicone bag. If you can reuse it on all your trips, you'll be cutting back on unnecessary plastic waste.
Finding a Good Reusable Water Bottle
Most people already know the importance of having a good reusable water bottle. However, some reusable bottles are even better for the environment then others.
Although it's a great start to reuse bottles rather than buy single-use plastic bottles, not all water bottles are made the same. Micro-plastics have been found in bottled and tap water and I recommend avoiding bottles made of plastic altogether.
My favorite kind of reusable water bottles are those that are made of stainless steel. Not only is stainless steel one of the most sustainable materials on the planet, but it also is great for enjoying the outdoors. If you choose a double-walled stainless-steel water bottle, your hot drinks, like tea and coffee, will stay hot, even in cold weather, and your cold drinks, like water and juices, will stay cold even in hot weather. My two favorite stainless steel water bottles on the market right now are S’well and Wellness Bottles.
Portable Water Filters
For a day hike, packing a reusable water bottle should be enough. However, if you’re going for a longer adventure, you’ll likely need a portable water filter. This will allow you to safely filter and drink water from natural sources. One of the best portable water filters on the market right now is the Steel LifeStraw!
How to Choose Plastic-Free Apparel for Your Trip
It still comes as a shock to people that clothing is often made of plastic. The main two guilty fabrics in outdoors clothing are polyester and nylon. When you wash these items, they release micro-plastics into the ocean.
But don't fret, stylish explorers. There are gorgeous items made from sustainable fabrics in the market, such as wool and bamboo textiles. If you need your polyester, opt for recycled polyester, second-hand outdoors clothes at thrift shops, or wear your adventure clothing as long as possible (and then donate it!).
Plastic-Free Hygiene for Multi-Day Excursions
Have you ever been on a multi-day hike or canoe trip and been the victim of a shampoo explosion in your favorite backpack? Well, not only can you ditch possible explosions, but you can save a ton of plastic with reusable shampoo and conditioner bars.
There are many reusable shampoo and conditioner bars available for different types of hair. Plus, they are less likely to contain carcinogenic chemicals that are often found in mainstream hair care products. Shampoo and conditioner bars also last much longer than regular bottles of shampoo. Because these bars are natural, you probably won't have the same lathering foam, but they work just as well as regular shampoo. Three brands that are famous for their shampoo and conditioner bars are Lush, Meow Meow Tweet and Ethique. Lush also sells tins that you can store your shampoo and conditioner bars in.
I don’t know about you, but I also like to keep my teeth clean while I’m on a multi-day hike. I use a bamboo toothbrush and natural toothpaste packaged in glass jars or metal tubes. If you like the idea of natural toothpaste packed in a glass jar, check out Uncle Harry’s, and if you prefer a metal tube that’s easy to recycle, check out David's.
The third plastic-free hygiene item I love to have on multi-day excursions is natural deodorant. If you’re not a total hippie like me and don’t want to make your own natural deodorant and keep it in a glass jar, that’s okay. You can still find plastic-free, natural deodorants to buy. Meow Meow Tweet sells natural deodorant creams packaged in glass jars as well as natural deodorant sticks that are packaged in cardboard. An extra benefit of choosing natural deodorant is that it usually contains no toxic chemicals or antiperspirants.
Plastic-Free Sunscreen for Summer Adventures
I am one of the pastiest people out there, so I need to use sunscreen. Unfortunately, most mainstream sunscreens contain oxybenzone, which is a chemical known to bleach coral and harm wildlife.
I’m quite sure you’ve heard of how The Great Barrier Reef is dying at alarming rates, but were you aware that this is in part due to the sunscreens we use? Even if you’re not swimming or near the ocean, your sunscreen will still likely end up in the ocean when you shower.
Thankfully, there are lots of amazing plastic-free sunscreens out there that are also reef-safe. One of the best ones on the market is by EiR NYC, which comes in tins and cardboard.
Plastic-Free Feminine Care for the Trail
If you’re a woman heading out for a multi-day hike, you might have to deal with your menstrual cycle. Luckily, there's a product that can save tons of plastic, keep you clean and hygienic, and save you money.
That’s right, I’m talking about investing in a menstrual cup. Menstrual cups usually cost around $40 but can last up to three years! They’re made of silicone which is nicer on your body than a bleached and fragranced tampon.
They are also so easy to clean and deal with! You can even buy little pouches to keep your menstrual cup in, so they stay clean in your pack. Although menstrual cups can take a little time to get used to, they’re so worth the investment. One of the best cups on the market is the Diva Cup.
Adventures with Dogs:
How to Feed and Clean Up After Fido with Less Plastic
Did you know that Bulk Barn has a huge section of dog food and treats? Bring your reusable bags and load up!
I get it: no one wants to clean up after their dog with a paper bag. So, while the best thing out there to clean up after your dog is currently plastic, just repurpose plastic you already have instead. Do you really need a pink bag with paw prints on it to pick up feces? Probably not.
Instead, go through your kitchen and find old bread, bagel or chip bags and use that. Again, it’s not the best solution as it’s still plastic, but you’ll avoid buying unnecessary extra plastics. If you’re in the backcountry, you may be able to use a small shovel to bury your dog’s poop, but check trail guidelines first.
Leave the Trail better than You Found It
Now that you're prepared for a mostly plastic-free trip, help clean up the trail! Don’t just pack out what you packed in. Pack out what other people packed in too. Most avid hikers and nature lovers have seen plastic and other garbage strewn across trails or floating through rivers and one of the best things we can do is collect it, recycle what’s recyclable and then throw the rest away.
Remember that when you throw something away, there really is no 'away.' Whatever you toss is going to end up in a landfill and potentially in a water system. Leave ‘throwing things away’ as a last resort.
One of the most environmentally friendly things we can do is just take photos and just leave footprints.
How do you help the environment on your outdoor adventures?