I didn’t grow up backpacking or even camping as a kid. I was always on the soccer field and weekend camp trips just weren’t something our family did.
Now in less than three weeks, I am about to undertake an adventure more extreme than I have ever done, by a long shot! So this whole journey will really be pushing my own personal boundaries and will be a big learning curve for me.
90 days, walking across one of the most extreme environments in the world the Australian Outback, hauling most of what we need to survive, all with our one year old in tow! It will be unlike anything I have done to date that’s for sure.
Although we haven’t taken our first steps out in the desert yet, we already have taken a million steps in preparation and planning..
One of the things that has surprised me most is the amount of waste, specifically single use plastic that is the norm in adventuring. Driven by the need for portability, non perishability and convenience its seems everything in targeted towards backpacking is wrapped in plastic.
When Justin was down in Antarctia for three months, he lived off meals like these…for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
These meals were awesome as they were light weight, non perishable and convenient. What isn’t awesome is that the packaging is single use plastic that cannot be recycled.
What’s also not super cool is that they only come in single serving sizes. The big brands don’t seem to offer these types of meals in bulk, family or even hungry size quantities. And after a big day of playing outdoors a double serve (2 packs!) let alone a single serve is often not enough. Oh and did I mention, they are expensive. All this adds up to a lot of waste!
I guess I just always assumed that the adventure community would have been one of the most sustainable communities around. Given its founded on the love of nature and playing amongst it, I believed that their impacts on nature would have been better considered and mitigated.
In the industry (yes Adventure is an industry), and lets face it, society in general, light weight, durability and convenience are the norm.
Plastic seems to be the drug of choice even though its side effects can be toxic not just to the planet but to our bodies as well.
I have worked in the sustainability field now for over 10 years and one thing I have learned is that you have to live your values. So for Justin and I, we both love and value nature so we both want to find ways to impact it less and on this expedition is no exception.
That’s why we have decided to start a journey towards Zero Waste Expeditioning.
For us, Zero Waste Expeditioning is taking the concept of ‘pack it in, pack it out’ one step further. Its reminding ourselves that we only have one planet and we should all be conscious about what we ‘pack in’ as there is no ‘away’ to throw it to.
For our trip, we have constantly been looking for ways to minimize and preferably eliminate waste.
According to a totally awesome chick and a bit of a girl crush of mine, Lauren Singer who lives a Zero Waste life in NYC, there are just two steps to living a zero waste lifestyle. Two steps, even being a busy mom I can get behind that!
- Evaluate: the first step is to take a look at your daily life and ask yourself the following questions:
- How much garbage am I currently producing and what types?
- Why am I even interested in decreasing my impact
- What do I actually use/really need on a daily basis?
- What products do I use that I can get more sustainable alternatives to?
- How much and what do I really need to be happy?
- Transition: start to downsize and properly dispose of the unnecessary things:
- Bring a reusable bag and water bottle with you everywhere!
- Get rid of the plastic.
- Replace these products with sustainable, long-lasting alternatives.
- Be creative. Figure out what you can use in different ways.
- Think Organic, think Local, think Sustainable and BUY IN BULK.
So armed with this inspiration, Justin and I decided to do a little experiment and evaluate & transition our own lives. On one of our weekend prep camp trips, Justin was supposed to pack and plan as he normally would and I would do a little audit of our waste at the end.
The Jonesys Evaluate:
This was our waste, for three of us, after 3 days, 2 nights out in the bush.
What is most obvious is our food waste, followed up closely by Morgan’s diaper (nappy) waste. Most of our waste is the ‘bad kind’ – single use or what they define as soft or crumply plastic, the kind that is often most difficult for waste facilities to recycle and upwards of 90% of it goes to landfill.
What isn’t pictured here is our toiletries – which didn’t add to our waste over one weekend as they aren’t single use but do typically come in plastic packaging and will definitely need to be considered for our longer expeditioning and in our lives in general.
The Jonesys Transition
This expedition for us is an experiment to living better. A big part of that is to live more consciously, minimizing our negative impacts and spreading more positive ones.
Plastic is bad. It’s toxic, not only for the environment but also for us. Most of it either ends up in landfill or worse, in our natural ecosystems. According to the journal Science, up to 12.7 million tones of plastic waste is washed into the ocean each year. The most shocking thing is that plastic has only been around for the last 50 years but its takes between 500 – 1000 years to break down. In addition to this, plastic consumption has been doubling every several years since its inception. That means the plastic water bottle that we used once today will be still be around after our children’s, children’s, children’s, children’s, children are gone. That’s just crazy.
Expeditioning is a great opportunity to see this more clearly as its relatively closed loop.
In a normal city most of our modern day impacts are brushed under the rug or unseen, like when our garbage gets picked up weekly and goes ‘away’ (out of sight, out of mind) or when a package shows up at your door almost magically from the delivery fairy and we have no idea how its made or where its come from.
In contrast, out on expedition, our impacts on nature and our waste generate are clearly seen. For our expedition, with the intention to move towards zero waste, we have been doing the following:
Just saying no to single use plastic
Select products that are sustainable, long-lasting and repurposed.
Buying in bulk
We need high nutrition, lightweight, non-perishable food and although this is what backpacking meal companies advertise – for some reason none of the big brands offer meals in bulk. This is disappointing, super wasteful, expensive and eating alone out of a bag takes away a lot of the fun and social aspect of sharing a meal around a campfire.
Finding alternatives to plastic packaging and products
We have been selecting clothing, packaging and products made out of organic cotton and wool, stainless steel, wood, silicone, glass (not super ideal in expeditioning because its heavy and breakable) and made from natural or re-purposed agricultural waste like corn, wheat & rice husks, bamboo fibre and fallen palm leaves before we ever think of buying plastic. This has been a tough one – we’re still taking reusable plastic packaging when no alternative or lightweight solutions exist. Also it’s a bit of a killjoy when mission critical bits of kit come wrapped in plastic…Suppliers can you hear us!!! Just say no to wrapping your products in plastic before you ship them!!!
Partnering with suppliers
Often it takes a little more research, innovation and partnership to find more functional alternatives to their easily accessible plastic counterparts.
For us a big challenge is that Morgan isn’t potty trained yet and still needs diapers. In the Outback, cloth diapers aren’t an option as our water consumption will be significantly limited and currently there are NO disposable diapers on the market that are fully compostable and go back to nature. That’s why we are trialing the first fully compostable, disposable diaper with a super awesome company called G Diaper – more info on that to come!
Our other big challenge is that we can’t take fresh fruit and veggies with us as we will be out in the bush of long periods of time, so we need to find light weight, dehydrated or freeze dried options – ideally in bulk.
As we are new parents, we don’t have time to do this ourselves in the quantities we will be needing for three months and whatever we do end up taking needs to be super nutritious for us and more importantly, for Morgan.
Thankfully we are partnering with another awesome company called Campers Pantry who have kindly supported our crazy bulk requests, working directly with their suppliers, along with a very inspiring ‘Extreme Gourmet’ who has been helping us design really healthy, homemade and unprocessed adventure meal options. Will share more info and recipes soon. Super awesome!
As we will be carrying all of our suppliers (and our waste! – remember it doesn’t just go ‘away’) with us for 1,800kms, we naturally want to keep our gear as minimal and light as possible. As its not easy to replace things while Outback, it’s equally important for us to only select quality products that are multipurpose and will last.
This also included our toiletries. We will have to find or make super smart, natural products that can not only wash us, our clothes and our pots and pans but are made from only natural ingredients that can go back to nature too.
AIRING OUR DIRTY LAUNDRY
Originally I wasn’t sure I was going to write about our personal mission to move towards zero waste expeditioning. Why? To be honest, I think for this expedition we will fail.
But the more I thought about it, the more I believe this journey is an important one to share.
I believe that anytime we ask different questions, think about better solutions, decrease our consumption and buy better and more natural products that are better for us and the planet, that’s a big win, for everyone.
So I say this, for the purpose of this blog, we are on a journey. We are human and we are not perfect but we will consider our impacts more and keep learning until we get closer and closer to our goal.
We will take you on that journey, so you can learn along with us, through our ups and downs and we would love to hear about yours too.
Admittedly this process has been a bit more difficult than if we turned a blind eye but once you realize how bad the problem is, it’s hard to ignore, and hopefully you like us will be inspired to do something about it, however big or small that might be.
******* Want To Know More******
If you don’t mind a few (ok a lot) of swear words but love some no BS, good living tips, check out the straight talking and the very practical everyday advice from the unfuckers. They give us a lot of inspo on how to change little things to make a big difference.