Clean Camping - With little effort, you can be a low(er) impact camper
Reduce, reuse and recycle doesn't have to stop at home. You can
follow the principles of green living in the great outdoors, and stick to
low-impact camping techniques to do even more to keep our outdoor areas
pristine - it just takes a bit of planning and a few simple changes.
Start with examining how you pack for your outdoor trip. Many of us use
several zippered plastic bags to keep food and gear dry in the rain and on the water. When they're emptied, we stuff them in a garbage bag. Instead, find reusable plastic bags in grocery stores that can be washed after the trip and reused. Some outdoor companies that specialize in making waterproof bags for clothes also make zippered plastic bags designed for food. These bags are sturdy enough to ward off puncture holes.
Traditional techniques for food preservation can help you out, too. Ever
wonder why cheese used to be coated in wax? It's because wax is a good preservative. Waxed paper is a great alternative to plastic wrap. Or, try a "pantry" method: Instead of individually packaging for each meal, put all your staples into one bag and only take out enough ingredients for each meal.
Butane stoves are effective and easy to use, but those canisters have to go in the garbage after you use them. It's better to use white gas stoves with reusable containers or, even better, one of the newest stoves that use small pieces of wood and a battery-powered fan.
These simple changes can help you carry much less waste out of the wilderness and to the landfill. As an added benefit, you'll have a smaller, less smelly garbage bag.
Did you know that many of the lotions, insect repellents and sunscreens
we use can now be detected in surface waters? Even after they go through
wastewater treatment? Although these products have been tested for human
use, scientists are studying whether they may have an impact on the
DEET, our friend the mosquito repellent, has been found in surface
water throughout the world. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says
DEET may have slight toxicity for some smaller aquatic critters. With West Nile virus spreading, it's wise to keep mosquitoes from biting you. How about using an even better form of protection as your main defense - old-fashioned long-sleeved shirts, pants and head nets?
Clothes are also a good solution to using too much sunscreen, another
potential source of pollution in the outdoors.
Most of us know to use easily biodegradable soaps for hand and dishwashing, but did you know that a common ingredient in some antibacterial soaps can be harmful to the environment? The ingredient triclosan is being studied to determine its impact on aquatic organisms. Antibacterial items aren't really necessary, however. By simply making hand-washing with biodegradable soap and good sanitation a part of your camp setup and etiquette, you will prevent sickness.
Finally, spend some time researching the gear you're buying. The advantage of lightweight, high-tech gear is alluring, but its environmental impact can be high if it's made from petrochemicals, especially if manufactured in poorly regulated overseas plants.
Many outdoor companies, along with the Outdoor Industry Association,
are working hard to reduce those impacts. You can buy fleece clothes
made from recycled water bottles, for example, or look online to see if a
company has a program to reduce the environmental impact of its manufacturing and distribution.
You're venturing out for the pristine, healthy outdoors and taking these steps to keep it that way will give you a simpler, cleaner camping trip, too!
Craig Lincoln is an Environmental Program Coordinator for Western Lake
Superior Sanitary District.