Some people wonder if they can enjoy RVing while also respecting the environment. If you’re a conservationist, minimalist, or wildlife lover, it’s important to you to be able to RV while also protecting the beautiful planet that you want to explore. Luckily, there is such a thing as environmentally friendly RV travel.
We’ve found many simple and easy ways to help our environment as we travel and live in our RV (many of these tips also apply to a traditional home). By reducing garbage, recycling, conserving water, lowering power consumption and more, you can feel good about doing your part to protect our planet, while still having fun with friends and family on your next trip.
Less Garbage In, Less Garbage Out
I’m always amazed at how quickly our trash fills up as we travel in our RV. If you’re the one dumping the garbage, doesn’t it feel like an endless exercise in futility?
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), each American generates over four pounds of garbage per day — that’s over 1,600 pounds per person per year. And U.S. residents are only 4% of the world’s nearly 7.5 billion population. Yikes!
It makes me wonder if there are more garbage dumps than campgrounds on our planet.
Reducing your garbage output not only helps our planet, but reduces the number of trips you’ll make to those often overflowing campground trash dumpsters.
Here are some smart ways to reduce garbage and protect yourself from unhealthy products:
- Separate materials that can be recycled (bottles, cans, plastic containers, cardboard, etc). If your campground doesn’t have recycling, drop them at the nearest recycling location. You’ll feel much better about protecting the environment.
- Use reusable dishware, cups and utensils.
- Use other reusable products such as durable grocery bags (instead of plastic bags) and microfiber kitchen towels (instead of paper towels).
- Buy items with minimal packaging and/or packaged using recycled materials.
- Consume natural, organic, and locally made products.
- Use non-toxic or natural products such as sunscreens and insect repellants.
One unique way my wife, Camille, adheres to environmentally friendly RV travel, is to collect roadside trash that she transforms into found object art pieces. Check out the article 6 Ways I’ve Made Money Since Leaving Corporate America to see more of her art.
Water, Water Not Everywhere
Another way we protect the environment is by conserving water and keeping water sources clean. It’s important and easier than you think.
U.S. government agencies estimate that each American personally uses 80 – 100 gallons of water per day. While conservation has improved, population growth and persistent droughts are putting a strain on supplies. The EPA estimates that by 2024 at least 40 states will face water shortages.
Conserving water is a necessity for us when we’re boondocking, and a good habit even when we have a campground water hookup. Here are some best practices to help you conserve and protect this precious resource:
- Wash dishes by filling the sink or a bin with water and washing all dishes rather than letting the faucet run. Rinse using a low flow of water.
- Turn off the water when brushing teeth, washing hands and shaving.
- Turn off the water during a shower when washing your hair and body. You can even use a bin to catch the water and use that later for washing dishes or rinsing things.
- Ensure your water hose connections don’t leak and faucets don’t drip.
- Do not wash dishes, hands, etc. directly in rivers and lakes. It may harm aquatic life, and you if there’s bacteria present.
- Only dump your black water tank into sewer lines. Grey water dumping rules are varied and evolving. The best practice is to dump it into sewer lines whenever possible.
Check out A Beginner’s Guide To RV Holding Tanks for more information.
Go Camping And Save The Earth
Environmentally friendly RV travel can be fun, too! Camping in the outdoors with family and friends can provide memories for a lifetime. By following just a few easy practices around camp, you can also help our Earth. Consider the following:
- Leave the car at the campsite and walk or ride your bike on short errands.
- Buy firewood locally to prevent the spread of destructive pests.
- Use a gas grill instead of charcoal to preserve air quality (fire restrictions may prohibit use of open flame grills).
- Don’t leave campfires unattended.
- If you’re tent camping, keep your food in bear cans or hung in a sack from a tree limb using the counterbalance method so animals don’t get to it. Squirrels should eat nuts, but not candied almonds.
As an avid backpacker for many years, I subscribe to the Leave No Trace outdoor ethic, which includes the practice of packing out what you pack in. I take things a step further by always leaving campsites and trails cleaner than I found them. It makes me feel good to leave nature in better shape for the next person to enjoy. You can turn picking up trash into a fun activity with your kids, while teaching them a valuable lesson.
Recently, we were at a beautiful state park in Texas where a nearby group left their campsite filled with empty beer cans and other trash. We saw park rangers cleaning up and taking photographs as evidence for an expensive fine that would soon be coming.
While this was an extreme case, please be considerate of other campers. Some people mistakenly believe that it’s okay to leave biodegradable items on the ground such as orange peels, nutshells and apple cores. But it is not a good practice, and in many cases is considered litter. Please put all items you’re disposing of in trash or recycling containers.
It Doesn’t Have To Be A Power Struggle
Another way to help the environment is by reducing your power consumption. Not only can it reduce your costs, but also reduce the need for power production.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, only 11% of energy produced in the United States in 2017 was from renewable sources. And even renewable energy sources have impacts on the environment.
Here are some easy ideas to consider for your next RV camping trip to help reduce energy consumption:
- Enjoy more of the outdoors and less of your electronic devices. Unplug them when not in use.
- Turn off lights when not in use.
- During temperature extremes, pull your window shades down to keep heat out or in to reduce use of your air conditioning or heaters.
- Own or rent an RV with solar panels to reduce the need to run the generator or use more shore power than necessary.
- For activities away from your RV, use portable solar chargers to charge your gadgets.
Getting There and Back
Fuel mileage for RVs and vehicles towing trailers is not as good as passenger vehicles, and can be one of the larger costs of a camping trip. Here are some helpful tips to conserve fuel, reduce costs, and travel more safely on your next trip:
- Ensure tires are properly inflated for optimal fuel efficiency and safety. The U.S. Department of Energy reports a loss of 0.4% fuel efficiency for every 1 psi tires are underinflated.
- Drive at or slightly below the speed limit to improve fuel mileage.
- Do not travel with full holding tanks, if possible, to reduce vehicle weight and improve fuel mileage.
Conclusion – Environmentally Friendly RV Travel Is Possible
As you can see, there are many ways to help our environment while RVing and enjoying the outdoors. A little bit of planning for your trash, water, and power can go a long way to protect the precious resources that we all want to enjoy for many years into the future. These tips can also help you save money, and make your next RV trip more satisfying and enjoyable.
If you’re looking to transition to RV living or extended RV travel, be sure to check out our Wanderlust Transition Plan, a 10-category plan to help you leap into a life of travel.
Note: cover photo Gunnison National Forest near Crested Butte, Colorado.