The Challenge to Camp and Make No Trash

I watched Andres pocket a granola bar wrapper as we drove along the highway recently. “You know we can’t have those on our quest, right?” I asked, feeling more skeptical than ever. We live in a culture of throw-away this, throw-away that, and our initiative to live nearly trash-free on this quest will be a huge challenge. Yes, that’s right. Trash-free.

An added layer of the journey is to live with less, including producing less waste. This came about after learning of Americans who live without producing physical garbage in their household (Trash is for Tossers and Zero Waste Home). Then we saw the Subaru video below outlining their efforts to help National Parks transition to zero-landfill parks. Trash in the parks has become a huge problem. Subaru is a premier partner of the Park Service and we felt inspired by their efforts to support the parks.

Subaru to Share Zero Landfill Expertise With National Park Service to Reduce Park Waste 3BL Media from 3BL Media on Vimeo.

Since we’re visiting all 59, we decided to take on the bold task of leaving nothing behind, only things that can compost 100% where appropriate or find a future in recycling.

So how are we doing this?

Through lots of research and creativity. With exactly two months to go until launch, see where we currently are in the planning with 5 ways we’re cutting out trash:

  1. Trash-Free Food 

    Buy in bulk from Whole Foods Market with cloth bags and glass containers.

The great thing about Whole Foods is the bulk food section and your ability to take it all away in your own cloth bags. You can even get their liquid-y foods requiring plastic containers using your own glass jar. Just have the customer service counter weigh the jars before you shop so you’re not charged extra for the weight.

Obviously the question is: What if there is no Whole Foods around? It’s not exactly McDonald’s. Yet we were pleasantly surprised by how many we found. There are 435 Whole Foods stores across the U.S. Canada and UK, with stores found in 42 states. Check out the map:


With careful planning ahead, we aim to live from Whole Foods to Whole Foods. In other states we can discover farmer markets and other stores that have a bulk food system. Worst case scenario we’ll have to purchase minimally packaged items.

What about when you backpack? Most of our camping is near the car, but we do plan on backcountry-ing throughout the journey. Here we might have to make some exceptions, but we’re determined to make this work with planning ahead – hard boiled eggs, dried food and jerky wrapped in cloth and small reusable bags, fruit and raw veggies.

Isn’t Whole Foods expensive? Some items definitely are, especially if you compare organic foods to organic at COSTCO. That said, we feel the significance of not purchasing packaging outweighs the financial cost, so it’s all about what you budget for and cutting corners elsewhere to make it happen. For example, we rarely eat out at restaurants and don’t purchase specialty items like expensive meats or alcohol. We’ve also saved by cutting processed foods and dairy from our diet. For additional tips, check out this post by Happy Strong Home on how to spend $125 for a family of four per week at Whole Foods (bulk purchases are key).

Bulk Foods with No Packaging:

  • Fruits, vegetables and roots, main staples of our diet
  • Grains, beans and legumes
  • Spices
  • Dry food like nuts, seeds, jerky and dried fruit (excellent for making trail mix and no-bake granola bars for snacks)
  • Nut butters and oils
  • Sweets like honey and chocolate
  • Water – You can fill up a huge jug at Whole Foods, we’ll definitely utilize the water service.

Based on a mostly plant-based and gluten free diet.

For more on shopping zero-waste, check out this helpful post called Zero Waste Grocery Shopping written by Bea Johnson, who has been living zero-waste lifestyle since 2008. She even explains how to label your containers and bags for check-out without using paper stickers.

  1. Trash-free Food Storage and Cooking

Storing Food

Once we’ve purchased food using our cloth bags and glass jars, we’ll transfer items to larger food storage containers in our Outback. One large YETI cooler and one or two reusable bins with smaller glass containers to keep purchases dry and cool. No plastic bags of ice, but jars with cold water from public facilities to maintain a lower temperature. Most of our food is dry and doesn’t require ice cold temps.

Yes, this requires a little more strategy, but it’s worth it for the outcome of less trash.



Ah, isn’t foil wrapped food from the grill so practical? Sigh, no aluminum foil for us. Most of our meals will be cooked in one pot or on one frying pan.

And what about roasting marshmallows?? On nights with campfires, we’ll surely miss those bags of marshmallows. Coming to the rescue is a recipe that we could maybe, just maybe use with items from the bulk food section and a regular fork for mixing. Check out these healthy homemade marshmallows from Wellness Mama.

Worth a try?

Reusable Dishes

The easiest no-garbage food task is actually eating it. We’ll bring along reusable dishes and cookware to prep and enjoy the meals. (More on cleaning dishes below). For napkins? You got it – cloth. We’ll just have to thrown these in with our weekly / bi-monthly laundry. Speaking of which…

  1. Trash-free Detergents

Laundry We could make our own laundry detergent…? Realistically I can’t imagine standing in a parking lot mixing laundry detergent. Instead we’re going for this Seventh Generation detergent which comes in recyclable boxes (from recycled material): Seventh Generation Concentrated 112 Ounce Package.

Dishes Baking soda is amazing. It’ll be our main cleaning ingredient for dishes and getting stains out of things. Unfortunately we can’t get baking soda in bulk, so there will be the cardboard packaging to deal with here. Check out tips we’re learning from this article: Go Greener: Clean Your House With Just Baking Soda, Vinegar and Lemons.

  1. Trash-free Hygienic Care

Soap / Shampoo

We recently received a bar of Dr. Bronner’s from a dear loved one (thanks Dee!) and it’ll be our go-to soap. Let’s see how long one bar lasts. Wrapped in just a bit of paper, it’s definitely eco-friendly compared to so many other products out there. It’s also a healthy option.

Shampoo is a littler trickier, although we could technically try with bar soap right? They also do hair care, but in plastic bottles. The goal is purchase a large bottle and make it last.


Sunscreen is a must, and here the health of our skin outweighs the trash factor.

As far as moisturizers, neither of us use lotions, but I do use a pretty specific facial oil. These come in small glass bottles and I’ll probably purchase 10 or so ahead of time to bring along. Once empty, the glass bottles can be reused for other things.

Floss / Toothpaste

Check out this awesome post on everything you need to know to make your own toothpaste: The Complete Guide to DIY Toothpaste. The plan here is to make it ahead of time. When we run out we’ll have to plan to remake some when visiting a friend or during the rare stay in an Airbnb.

Floss – Andres is a compulsive flosser, so no way around this one. Again, health is more important here. We’ll take advantage of some great advice in this article: Zero Waste Bathroom: Dental Floss.

Tooth Brushes – We use electric tooth brushes and will use our car to recharge them when they run low. Cool huh?

Female Hygiene

Let’s face it, ladies have a tougher task when it comes to caring for our bodies properly. For those gals out there wondering about this, there’s a great thing called the Diva Cup. No tampons, no pads, no bulky packaging. Just takes some getting used to, but it’s great!

Here are some Diva Cup info specifically for those of us traveling or doing extreme sports: Extreme Sports and Travel

  1. Trash-free Miscellaneous

Have you ever finished a long road-trip, looked inside your car and thought wow this thing is trashed.  It’s easy to accumulate receipts, toll tickets, plastic water bottles in those shit-there’s-no-public-water moments, free park brochures and who knows what else.

The idea is to be mindful along the way. 

  • Plan water appropriately so we only use our reusable bottles and water jugs.
  • Don’t accept receipts at stores.
  • Don’t pick up free maps and brochures unless it’s vital for our safety.
  • Collect any paper / plastic packaging for recycling. Use one cloth bag to collect this.
  • Use our bound sketchbooks for drawing and notes – no loose leaf paper. Pencils vs. pens.
  • Handkerchiefs instead of disposable tissues.

We hope these ideas may inspire you next time you go camping or travel around for a bit. It is more work, perhaps more costly, but think on this quote

Doing things the hard way can seem counterproductive at first glance, but if you look deeper, you’ll find that, when picking the right jobs to do the hard way, it really can give you a great sense of accomplishment and teach you a lot about navigating through life.

This is simply a start, and of course we’ll add, edit, and improvise along the way.

Have any ideas to help us? 

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