Minimise your impact while camping

By: Ali Millar, Photography by: Glenn Wardle


An appreciation of nature goes hand-in-hand with the camping lifestyle, so how can we ensure we ‘leave no trace’ as we tour around the country?

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By nature, campers are, well, nature lovers! So doing our bit to look after the environment and protect the Aussie bush for future visitors and generations to come is something that’s already top of mind.

An awareness of how your actions impact our environment and how you can minimise some of these impacts is a good place to start and there’s plenty of simple things you can do to live more sustainably. It could be making little changes to your setup to increase energy efficiency, being more mindful of your resource use, or limiting your waste at camp. When it comes to living more sustainably, small changes can make a big difference in the long term.

Here’s a few ideas for reducing your environmental footprint on the road and when you're at camp.

ENCOURAGE BEST PRACTICE

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Environmental sustainability starts well before you drive your camper trailer out of the dealership. The manufacturing process has far reaching environmental impacts and supporting organisations that are doing their bit for the environment can encourage other businesses to follow suit.

Put your money where your mouth is and ask manufacturers and dealers what practices they’ve put in place in regards to sustainability, and use this to help inform your purchasing decision. It might be the use of more eco-friendly materials, a conscious reduction of waste in the manufacturing process, the fitting of more sustainable fixtures, or even minimising energy use in the factory.

BE ENERGY SMART

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Speaking of energy, consider the ongoing requirements to run your camper’s appliances. Minimising power draw means your battery will last longer, so you can limit your reliance on the external power grid and reduce your carbon footprint, as well as extend your time out bush.

Check the energy ratings on fridges and stoves, and reconsider the need for heavy-draw appliances like air-conditioners and microwaves. Most rigs are now fitted with energy-efficient LED lighting, but if you’re purchasing secondhand or have an older model, it’s time to upgrade any halogen lighting.

Good insulation and adequate ventilation go a long way in maintaining an optimal climate inside, meaning less energy expenditure on heating and cooling – something to consider if you’re purchasing a new camper trailer.

When choosing a campsite, seek shade in the heat, or when you're in colder climates, park in the sun or where you’re best protected from the wind. Awnings are not only great for providing a shady spot to sit, they also keeps things cooler inside. In hot weather fridges and freezers use more energy to stay cool, so shading your rig helps take the pressure off batteries.

Set yourself up with adequate solar to power your batteries rather than carrying a generator. Aside from the obvious environmental benefits of clean power, you won’t have to carry extra fuel (more space and weight for other things), plus your neighbours will thank you for the peace and quiet.

PROTECT FRAGILE ENVIRONMENTS

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Minimise contamination of waterways by covering up rather than putting on sunscreen before swimming. Chemicals in sunscreens can be damaging to the environment and, in fact, recent studies indicate that oxybenzone, a common chemical in sunscreen, is contributing to coral bleaching.

Our food can be dangerous to birds and animals so protect wildlife by cleaning up your camp and not leaving out dirty dishes, rubbish bags, or food scraps.  

Help stop the spread of invasive species by following quarantine guidelines and restrictions. They’re sometimes inconvenient but they’re there for a reason.

Be careful when tying ropes around trees and use a rag for padding to avoid ring barking or damage.

Leave behind what you find – don’t pick flowers, collect shells, rocks, seeds, fossils, etc.

MAXIMISE YOUR FUEL EFFICIENCY

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Until the day we’re all driving around in electric vehicles, we’re reliant on combustion engines to get us from A to B, wherever that may be. Fuel-efficient vehicles achieve better fuel economy, which means less fuel is used when we're on the road, resulting in less damaging carbon emissions escaping into our atmosphere.

To improve the fuel efficiency of your tow tug, stay on top of regular servicing and maintenance – keep the engine tuned, use the correct engine oil and run tyres at the pressures recommended by the manufacturer.

Your rig’s aerodynamics can also affect fuel efficiency – the camper’s height and shape, as well as any external fittings, such as air-conditioners, awnings, and roof racks. Weight can also play a role so minimising your towing weight should be a top priority when packing for a trip.

GET WATER WISE

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Only a very small percentage of the earth’s water is fresh, so clean water is a limited resource that must be preserved. Most campers are pretty water savvy – there’s nothing like having limited water storage capacity and knowing there’s not a tap for hundreds of kays to keep water conservation top of mind!

It’s amazing how little water you actually need to rinse your vegies (use a bowl rather than running water), shower (turn off the water while soaping up), brush your teeth (don’t leave water running), or clean your dishes (only half fill the sink). To help conserve your water further, ensure your rig has water-efficient, low flow fittings on the showerhead and taps.

If you’re plugged into mains water, be frugal and continue using water as you would if you were reliant solely on your tanks. This is particularly important in drought-affected regions that are already struggling.

REDUCE YOUR WASTE

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Anyone who saw ABC’s War on Waste will know what we’re talking about here. Dealing with the huge amount of waste we produce is a massive environmental issue, so minimising your waste is one of the most important lifestyle changes you can make.

While it’s very difficult to avoid food packaging completely, try to cut down wherever you can: keep fruit and vegies loose rather than using separate plastic bags, avoid pre-packaged fresh produce, carry reusable shopping bags, purchase a reusable coffee cup, and use beeswax wraps instead of cling wrap.

Invest in a good reusable drink bottle rather than buying single use plastic bottles of water. Alongside the waste produced from throwing out empty bottles, consider the fossil fuels that are burned to refrigerate and transport them, and the water systems placed under pressure to fill them. If you’re concerned about water quality, invest in a water filter and carry a separate water tank especially for drinking water.

Minimise wastage by not overbuying food, especially perishable items that’ll end up a mouldy mess in the bottom of your camp fridge. A Department of the Environment and Energy report estimates that Australians generate a massive 361kg of food waste per person each year. Approximately 6.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide were released the same year as a result of sending organic waste to landfill. Now there’s some food for thought…

Inconsistencies in waste disposal across Australia, particularly a lack of recycling facilities in remote areas, can make it difficult for campers. Make sure you have somewhere to store your waste, preferably outside your rig, so you don’t have to worry when there isn’t a disposal facility for miles. Wheel bags are great – buy them purpose-made or recycle an old backpack – just ensure it’s a tough fabric that animals can’t get into.

CLEAN YOUR GREY WATER

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Food scraps, detergents and chemicals in grey water can be damaging to wildlife and sensitive ecosystems. If your rig is fitted with a grey water holding tank then it’s just a matter of finding an appropriate dump point, but for many campers, this won’t be the case.

To protect waterways and vegetation, limit the use of soaps and detergents and always use biodegradable and eco-friendly products for cleaning. Capture grey water in a bucket rather than letting it run straight onto the ground, and remove food scraps using a fine mesh sieve before disposing of it well away from waterways. Scatter water rather than letting it pool in one spot, so it better filters through the soil.

Check out the full feature in issue #120 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.