Is Zero Waste Possible in an RV?

Is Zero Waste Possible in an RV?

Protecting the planet is a popular rallying cry and as the shut-down showed, the planet can recover when human lifestyle becomes curtailed. Those who appreciate the Great Outdoors often carry with them a belief to do what they can to preserve it. Long-time hikers and skilled outdoorsmen follow the edict to “Leave Nothing But Footprints Behind.”

One of the more extreme practices of environmentalists is the concept of zero waste. According to Mandy Leazenby, with TRA Certification Int'l, Inc., a firm that certifies RV manufacturers as eco-friendly, is a personal proponent of living a lifestyle as close to zero waste as possible. To her zero waste can be summed up as simply using and reusing products in place single-use items such as paper towels, zip-loc bags, etc.

“It means reusing, composting, recycling, everything that can be done instead of tossing something in the garbage,” Leazenby said.

The Elkhart Environmental Center Elkhart Environment Education Center in Elkhart, Indiana has a page on its website dedicated to helping people understand this environmental concept. Zero-Waste asks people to be as least wasteful as possible. The goal, according to the site, is to not send anything to the landfill.

When you consider that the RV lifestyle by its nature is not particularly environmentally conscious, it takes effort to try to incorporate a “zero waste” philosophy into family excursions. Depending on how an RV is used and the kind of lifestyle its owners want, raising environmental awareness can be easy to do.

For example, Leazenby uses reusable towels instead of paper towels. She replaced plastic wrap with resealable beeswax wraps. She takes reusable bags with her to bring home groceries and supplies restaurants with her own take home containers, eliminating the need to dispose of Styrofoam ones provided by restaurants.

But it is not just RV owners that need to make the change. Some RV manufacturers are already implementing procedures and packaging that are more environmentally friendly. In her business, these are some of the elements that Leazenby looks for in the Green Certification process.

Some manufacturers have opted to ship using reusable containers that can be returned once the product is offloaded. On the manufacturing line, large tubes of caulk and paste have replaced the individual tubes, a cost saving and waste reduction measure. It is also possible for RV design to encourage use of built-in storage areas that could be designated for green use, such as housing recycling or mini composting bins.

While some advocates of the zero-waste lifestyle are extreme in their suggestions, such as making your own soap, there are steps that anyone can take to reduce the amount of waste that makes it into landfills in communities across the nation. It is also a way to save money on the expense of keeping your RV stocked with paper products, disposable table ware and other one-use products.

One suggestion is to systematically assess the products you use in your home or RV. Determine if you need it, how often you use it and if there is a more environmentally friendly product or method that would work just as well.

Here are some other ways to move toward that zero-waste goal:

  • Laundry Soap/Detergent: Look for soaps/detergents that come in reusable or recyclable containers and are produced sustainably. Eco-friendly products that are biodegradable or made from natural products are the best option. Refilling smaller bottles meets the space limitations of the RV lifestyle and can save you money with larger quantities.
  • Bags: If you use plastic grocery bags, remember to recycle these at the next store you visit, if recycling is available. During the Corona Virus outbreak, most stores halted collection of the plastic bags. These bags cannot be recycled with other recyclables because the bags jam the machines and take extra time to sort out at the recycling plant.
  • Trash collection: Opt for a biodegradable option to ensure that the housing around your garbage will break down faster in the landfill. Large paper sacks or manufactured bags that meet these criteria are good choices.
  • Do away with what you don’t need: Refuse the straw at restaurants to eliminate the plastic straws from finding their way into the landfill. Carry out small purchases instead of using a bag. Find and purchase products that come with less packaging.
  • Repair rather than buying new: If an appliance breaks down but can be repaired, that saves money and protects the earth. Simple mending of torn clothes or holes in socks may evoke images of Great Grandma Sarah, the pioneer, but it makes a difference in reducing the amount of waste that Americans generate individually.

According to Jamison Czarnecki, director of the Elkhart Environmental Education Center, recycling is always encouraged but when your lifestyle is mobile, it can be difficult.

“The short answer is that it is really difficult to find what’s recyclable and where on the road, because every place has a different set of standards and system,” he said.

If recycling is something you can do, Czarnecki suggests focusing on the materials that are most widely accepted - cardboard, plastics 1-7, aluminum, and paper. Contact the solid waste management office or recycling office where you are to ask about access and regulations.

While all of these may not get you to that zero waste goal, it can make a difference in the amount of trash destined for this nation’s landfills. It means less trash that makes its way into creeks and rivers and finally into the ocean. It also means that the places we all like to go can be a little cleaner and the natural beauty will continue to shine.

Jul 14th 2020 Lois Tomaszewski

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