In Canada, summer is the season when most of us are spending more time outdoors and making the most of the stunning natural landscapes we have across the country. Although most of us who spend our leisure time in nature probably care about the planet, without planning and some additional consideration, we can easily have a negative impact on our surroundings.
Over the past few years, I've started going camping more often, and have learned a few easy ways to be more sustainable, without changing too much. Here are four ways that I make my camping trips more sustainable.
Leave no trace & don't disturb wildlife
These ones are obvious but need to be said. When we go into nature it is important that we don't leave behind anything or disturb wildlife. I do this by packing up everything I brought and any waste, recycling or compost we create. I always bring extra garbage bags to pack these up, then sort and dispose of them properly when we return home.
To avoid disturbing wildlife, and other campers, I try to not create excessive amounts of noise or light, especially after dark. Otherwise, and most importantly, I always stay on trail, and if I have my dog with me, keep him on leash. These last two tips are typically seen on signs throughout parks and are simple, but they ensure that we don't impede on wild species, whether animals or plants. It's especially important to stay on trails and keep dogs on leashes in the springtime and early summer, when many wild animals are having their young, and are especially protective.
Skip firestarters - bring your paper & cardboard recycling to burn
I learned this tip last summer while camping with friends. Now, I save my paper and cardboard recycling for a few weeks prior to camping trips to have lots of non-glossy, plastic-free materials to use to help us start, or maintain our fire. It means we don't need firestarters but also that we use slightly less wood, which is good for the planet but also our wallets.
Keep waterways safe - use biodegradable soaps & reef-safe sunscreen
The invisible impacts are the ones that are lesser-known and easier to avoid. When it comes to camping or outdoor activities, most of us aren't aware of the impact that the run-off of our dishwater from the campsite or our sunscreen from swimming will have on waterways or the animals, amphibians, birds and fish that call them home.
As a general rule, stay at least 200 feet from water sources when disposing of dishwater or brushing your teeth. To take a step further, use soaps that are biodegradable. If you can also find something that is non-toxic and organic, that is even better!
For sunscreen, looking for Reef-safe sunscreen is the gold standard. Reef-safe sunscreens should inherently be biodegradable and organic, so if you check the Reef-safe box, you'll check the other most important ones too. Here is a list of Reef-safe sunscreens. If you are located in Ottawa, nu grocery carries this Reef-safe sunscreen in a tin - so Reef-safe and low waste!
Equipment - Borrow, rent or buy secondhand
I always recommend looking for items secondhand before buying new, and with camping, I would suggest asking friends or family to borrow items before buying them yourself. This reduces cost of buying new, and makes more use of items we already have in our circles. Its also a great way to try out different kinds of equipment to see what works best for you before investing in your own.
For the past few years I've borrowed a cooler from my parents to go camping or to cottages, but this year, knowing we'd actually go camping a fair amount, decided to buy our own. We found ours pretty easily on Kijiji, but I'd also recommend looking on Facebook Marketplace in your area. For renting, MEC had a great program, although it is currently paused due to COVID-19 concerns. I suspect that it might return for next year's camping season.