Heading out into the great outdoors and reconnecting with nature is surely one of the most eco friendly things you can do. However, there are many hidden pitfalls that can mean that your eco-friendly camping holiday ends up actually impacting on the environment. Here are some ways that you can ensure that your camping holiday is an eco-friendly one.
Transport and those carbon emissions
If you are travelling a long way then your transport is producing carbon emissions and this will affect how green your holiday is. So one of the first tips we can give is that you should try and camp closer to home. Minimise your driving time. If however you have to travel far, consider doing something to offset your carbon emissions such as planting trees or giving to eco-friendly initiatives.
Before you go consider this: are you an avid camper? Does any of your extended family have camping gear that you can use? Before rushing out to buy some why not see if you can rent or borrow some camping equipment. If after a few camping trips you decide that this is something that your family really enjoys and will be doing regularly, then it will be time to invest in camping gear. For many the camping gear gets used once or twice and then gets mouldy in the cupboard or attic.
Once you get there
When choosing your campsite - if it is not designated for you, choose an area where the ground clear or flat already. You should not have to level out the ground. When you leave you want to leave the area looking like you have not already been there.
At night to protect yourself from mosquitoes and insects wear long sleeved shirts and trousers and use an eco-friendly cream or bug spray such as one based on Citronella.
The most eco-friendly way to cook is actually cooking over a wood fire. The best option is to take your firewood with you. Try to purchase wood from invasive species clearing, but make sure that the variety is safe for cooking over. If you need to collect fire wood when you arrive - pick up only fallen branches and dead wood. Do not cut down any wood.
If you are collecting wood near rivers in South Africa make sure that you are not collecting Tamboti wood (Spirostachys Africana), as the smoke that this wood produces is poisonous and any meat cooked over it will poison you!
If there is already a spot where someone has built a fire, please use that spot and not another. If there is no designated fire place choose a spot away from dry grass, bushes and anything flammable. Remember the wind can carry flames. Last thing at night make sure that the fire has completely burnt down and gone out before you go to sleep. Before you leave your campsite pour sand or water over the fireplace to ensure that the fire is completely out.
If you smoke, please do not throw your cigarette butts on the ground. Make sure that you put it completely out and put it in the rubbish you are taking away with you. Cigarettes have the potential to cause devastating fires and the butts hang around forever polluting the eco-system. On that note, do not burn your rubbish, this pollutes the atmosphere. Take your rubbish away with you and dispose of it properly - preferably by recycling it.
Disposal of waste
Never leave anything behind - food packaging, bottles, paper and even biodegradable stuff like vegetable peelings and orange peels should all be taken away. If the animals eat them and are not used to them it can make them very sick.
If the campsite has no toilet facilities you need to take a spade with you and dig a hole about 50 meters away from any water sources. The hole needs to be 30 cm deep and properly filled in and buried when you are done. Its better if each person digs their own hole as needed - less gross factor and better for the environment.
Use as little water as possible and throw dirty water away from the water source. If you are washing dishes try and use only hot water. If you need to use a detergent, take along a bio-degradable one. The harsh chemicals in ordinary washing up liquid can seriously damage sensitive eco-systems. Take along waterless cleaners as wipes.
Referring to the above, do not take along paper plates and Styrofoam cups. Rather take metal plates and mugs and wash them. The same rules apply to your personal washing - try not to use ordinary soap, but rather a bio-degradable one. There are even natural plants that you can use such as the Dune Soap-berry (deinbollia oblongifolia) which is found in Mozambique and parts of Mpumalanga.
Make sure that you leave nothing behind - take anything you brought with you away with you - all your rubbish can be packed into two separate bags for easy recycling when you get home.