I have to admit, until recently I never really gave much thought to how camping can affect the natural environment, but after doing some research I’d love to share what I discovered with you here.
To minimise your impact on the environment when you go camping, you’ll need to ensure that you don’t disturb wildlife, you clean up and take rubbish home with you, and you’re a courteous neighbour to both your fellow campers and the natural world.
Minimising your environmental impact can come in many different forms. and we may not always be doing the best we can do, even if we’re trying really hard. With a few simple swaps and a bit of forward-planning, however, being a more environmentally conscious camper is really easy and will eventually come second nature to you!
Four Environmental Areas For Low Impact Camping
When deciding to be more eco-aware as a camper it can seem like everything you do is terrible and changing your habits or your gear will take a long time and cost a small fortune, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
To minimise your camping environmental impact you’ll need to make sure you cover these main areas:
- Waste disposal – this covers your rubbish (trash) as well as human or pet waste.
- Chemical usage – soaps and cleaning products, fuel use age and greywater
- Wildlife and livestock – being respectful of the other animals you are sharing the space with
- Natural Environment – aim to “take only pictures, leave only footprints”
Eco-Friendly Camping Waste Disposal
Waste disposal when camping is a huge topic, and covers every area from human and pet waste (faeces and urine) to your rubbish (trash) and what to do with waste such as your grey water (washing up water, hygiene water, etc).
When it comes to human and pet waste, most campsites will have this covered. In most of the UK, wild camping is illegal, forcing campers onto designated licensed campsites. To obtain a license for camping, all campsites must provide at minimum toilet facilities and a freshwater source (usually known as a standpipe). Campsites that welcome caravans need to also provide a chemical toilet empty point.
Whilst most campsites provide regular household style toilet facilities (affectionately called ‘flushies’), some will have composting toilets. In this style of toilet, you won’t ‘flush’ but are usually provided with sawdust or another similar material to use after you’ve ‘been’.
If you find yourself desperate in the middle of the night or on a mountain top, our best advice is to bag it or bottle it and dispose of it correctly when you’re next in a toilet facility. In the UK there really is no real need to go digging holes and pooping in the woods, this is where your forward planning should kick in!
The same goes for pets, bag it and bin it, don’t be a poo-ligan!
Camping Greywater Disposal
Disposing of your greywater is a hotly debated topic in the camping community. All too often we’ve seen people throw their water in a hedge without care for the consequences and this just isn’t on.
Over the last few years, it’s become more popular for campsites to provide washing up facilities for tents, and caravans always have a grey water tank either inside or as a container on the outside of the van, so there is always a drainage point on site.
If your site doesn’t have washing-up facilities, there will usually be a drain near the standpipe or water point, if not ask the owner.
If you use eco-friendly washing-up and soap products, there is an argument to say that your water will be fine if left to drain on the grass or in a hedge, but it’s always better to dispose of your greywater correctly where you’re told to by the site owner.
Dealing With Your Refuse On A Campsite
The last aspect of waste disposal is dealing with the waste you create. You should look at this as a two-pronged attack -minimise and remove!
Always opt for reusable and preferably multi-use products over single-use, avoid paper plates and disposable barbecues in favour of lightweight camping crockery and a decent stove or barbecue. Investing in good gear you can reuse is the best thing for both your money and the planet.
Single-use plastics are a hot topic too. In general, we try to avoid them, but when we do have bottled drinks for example, we’ll try to reuse the bottle or container or at the very least recycle it. Plastic pop bottles make really good rice holders!
If you have other rubbish such as packaging, it goes without saying that this shouldn’t be left When you leave. Bag all of your refuse up and take it home, or recycle it if that is a service your site provides.
Low Impact Chemical Usage
Do you know how many chemicals you use on a daily basis? It’s in the thousands! Whilst not all chemicals are ‘bad’, there is definitely room for discussion when it comes to the chemicals we use when camping and reducing our environmental impact.
The biggest concern with campers is the use of soaps.
Camping is almost by its very nature a dirty hobby, but our normal shampoos and washing liquids aren’t good for the environment, especially when we’re so close to it for the weekend.
Eco-Friendly Soaps and Detergents for Camping
Here are some of our favourite environmentally friendly soap products you can use to minimise your impact on aquatic life:
- Lifeventure All Purpose Soap
- Ecover Washing Up Liquid
- Ecover Laundry Liquid
- Faith In Nature Shampoo Bar
- Georganics Mouthwash Tablets
- Alter/Native Conditioner Bar
- Shades natural sun cream
- Friendly Hair And Body Travel Soap
- Bio D washing up liquid
- Method Multi-Purpose Surface Spray
- Ecover Multi-Action Spray
- Safe To Flush Moist Toilet Tissue (not suitable for septic tanks)
You may notice that we advocate for bar soap over liquid soap, and bar shampoo and conditioner too. Not only are these products usually a more planet-friendly option, but they are a great plastic-free alternative to the use of plastic bottles that could leak or end up in a landfill.
Switching to bar-soap means you’ll avoid opening your pack to find your shampoo has exploded all over your food for the weekend. It’s a win/win situation!
Greener Portable Toilet Chemicals
Some of the harshest chemicals campers will use are the chemicals needed for a portable toilet. If you’re caravanning and you have a chemical toilet, or even if you are in a tent and prefer your own portable loo, there are specific chemicals that need to be used.
These used to be known as the ‘blue’ chemicals, and most companies still make their toilet chemicals blue, but there are some ‘green’ alternatives, and they’re even green in colour too!
Aqua Kem Green is probably the most well-known option for environmentally conscious toilet chemicals, and it comes in liquid or bagged crystals options.
Always ensure you empty your chemical toilet in the correct disposal point, this is always available for campsites that host caravans, it may also be called the ‘elsan disposal point’.
Looking After Wildlife And Livestock When Camping
Most of us go camping to get closer to nature for the weekend, but we really need to remember that we share nature with a huge array of wildlife and livestock who depend on the natural environment for their survival.
To minimise your impact on wildlife and livestock in the natural environment, here are some do’s and don’t’s to observe whilst you’re camping:
- DO leave gates as you find them, or as the sign on it asks if there is one.
- DON’T disturb nests or habitats unless there is a real danger -in this case, call an expert for advice.
- DO ensure your rubbish is secure, not left for animals to rummage through.
- DON’T harass wildlife or livestock, even for a selfie. If you can’t get the shot without disrupting them then don’t, and avoid flash photography.
- DO keep all dogs on leads around livestock, even the ‘usually so well behaved’ ones.
- DON’T cut down trees or bushes to create a trail, stick to those already made
- DO learn the difference between a hatchling, a nestling and a fledgeling bird, so you’ll know when to leave it alone or when to get help.
Caring for Your Natural Environment
In order for us to have the smallest impact we can on the natural world, we must be mindful of how we approach our part in it. There is an old saying, “take only pictures, leave only footprints” and this really should be your mantra when camping in a low impact way.
Be a courteous neighbour to both your fellow campmates as well as the wildlife around you, keep noise and light to a minimum after dark and don’t play loud amplified music.
Campsite Fire Safety
If you’re at a campsite that allows fires, make sure you stick to the designated fire spots, you only burn wood or charcoal (no plastics or other rubbish) and that it’s fully out when you’re done.
Unattended fires, or fires that are poorly attended, can cause serious damage to both the environment and to lives if they spread.
Another note for fires that is really important: always ensure your fire, fire pit, gas stove, or even barbecue is situated in a sensible place, at least 3M away from tents, caravans, awnings, gazebos, or vehicles.
When using a gas stove, ensure that it is placed on a solid surface away from open flames or sparks.
Fire pits and barbecues should always be a minimum of 10 inches off the ground so as not to cause damage to the earth below. Remember that fire is just as hot above the ground as it is below the ground.
How can I make sure I don’t disturb wildlife when I camp?
To ensure you don’t disturb wildlife when you camp do a survey of the area before you pitch your tent. Look for nests in trees or hedges, any flattened ground, and be mindful of leaf piles that may be home to hedgehogs.
Is wild camping more environmentally friendly?
Wild camping may seem more environmentally friendly, but with more campsites aiming to be greener and providing recycling facilities and proper toilet facilities, wild camping may actually be more harmful. All campers should aim to be as low-impact as possible.