Sustainable Travel: Zero Waste Van Life
Sustainable Travel: Zero Waste Vanlife
Since I live in a van, reducing my waste and my carbon footprint has become one of the most important topics in my life. In such a small space, everything is reduced to the minimum, and making the switch to zero waste products makes sense on many levels. I have been traveling with packaging-free products since I started, but a new aspect that I didn`t have to consider while backpacking came up: The kitchen!
Once again, I worked with my all-time favorite shop for packaging-free cosmetics and bathroom products LUSH. For years now they are improving their products to make them vegan and remove any unnecessary packaging but keeping up with their signature smells.
I´m also very happy to offer you a discount code for The Sage, a swiss vegan zero waste online shop, where you can get all the kitchen products and bathroom utensils you need! With `Goldbears` you get 10% off your order until 31.12.2020. If you click on the product name, it will take you directly to the shop.
Food packaging is the number one waste producer, same goes with plastic wraps and take away dishes. While these days most of those are available in a recycled version, it still means that we produce waste that is unnecessary and can be avoided very easily. In the van everything has to be secured, so mason jars and glass containers have to be enjoyed with caution. But despite that, you may ask around if someone has some spare ones as most people got too many they never use, and reuse is always better than buying new! While Tupperware or bigger containers need a lot of space and are pretty unhandy to have with you at all time, wax wraps melt when it’s too hot and are hard to clean. Fortunately, there is a silicone-free alternative: The Stasher. It fits into every bag, can be used to store food, utensils and can even be frozen, put into the microwave or an oven. The company is women-owned, and the Stasher is available in multiple sizes.
If you are living in a van and plan to stay self-sufficient for a longer period of time, there is no way around making your greywater as environmentally safe as possible. You should always get rid of it at a service station, but if there is none around and you have to use a manhole, it’s crucial to use products that are sustainable. Dishwashing soap mostly comes in bottles and you use a lot of product, which leads to a new bottle every few weeks. Did you know that there are solid dishwashing soaps? I have been using mine for over 6 months every day and it just finished. This one from HelloSimple is packaging-free, vegan and only has nature-safe ingredients. I store it in a little drain in my sink so it can dry and is stored safely during driving.
Most brushes are made out of plastic, but why not go for the wooden version? This one has vegan bristles and fits perfectly on the dishwashing soap and you can reach into every container with it. After using one of those cheap little two-sided ones for the past few months, this is such a game-changer!
Paper cloths and towels produce a lot of unnecessary waste, so why not switch to reusable ones? All you need to do is rinse them after use. They come in several very cute designs and need a lot less space than towel rolls.
Unlike other sponges, this one is made out of plants and can be composted. You can use them like any other sponge with water or soap, just make sure to let it dry in between usage.
No matter if it’s for fruit/vegetables or your weekly grocery shopping: plastic bags break easily or are made for single use. Always keep a big, stable bag in the van that you can use for groceries and a fruit net to put them in while shopping. If the labels aren`t holding, try to stick them on another item and inform the cashier, or use your phone case to do so.
Several brands now offer shampoo and conditioner in a solid form without any packaging, but Lush has always been my favorite. If you try out different ones, make sure to learn the difference between hair soap and solid shampoo as it`s not the same! Lush got one for every hair type, but also special season ones like this Snow Fairy one I`m using at the moment. This one is my all-time favorite smell but sadly only a Christmas special that comes back every year. Prior to this, I already tried Jumping Juniper (Lavender!) and Jason and the Argan Oil. I never had any issue with either of them, but with Snow Fairy my hair seems to be a bit drier. One bar of shampoo lasts me around three months, while the conditioner for over a year which is absolutely crazy. I started to cut it in half and only take a part of it with me for 4-6-month journeys. At first, I had American Dream while now I’m using Big. I would highly suggest storing them in either a soap bag or a can, as they have to dry after usage, but do so pretty fast. My choice depends on how fast I am moving and what temperatures my surroundings have: in the van, I actually prefer bags while backpacking I always go for containers.
Bamboo and wooden toothbrushes are now available at every bigger supermarket, but if you`re on the road having a matching case is a must-have. Hydrophil offers both, it’s also easy to clean but make sure to cut off the bristles before throwing them away so it can be recycled separately.
While eco toothpaste is already a lot better than the ones with plastic pieces inside, they still bring a lot of packaging with them. Toothpaste tablets are a real fun alternative, you can just chew them and instantly got toothpaste! While the Lush Toothy Tabs cannot be refilled, the packaging is completely recycled and can also be given back in-store. Dirty is more of a classic toothpaste taste, while Bubble Gum is an experience in itself but if you like cotton candy, it`s worth a try. They also come as mouthwash: Creme de Menthe was a bit too spicy for me but again, there are countless different flavors to choose from and they work in the same way as the toothpaste ones. Specialized Zero Waste stores often offer these tablets open for a refill, so it`s worth popping by if you pass a bigger city and see if they got any.
Solid Face Oil
Facial creams mostly come in tubes or glass jars, which either means a lot of waste, as those never last long, or the chance for a possible break as the glass can easily break if not secured safely. Those naked face oils melt directly on your skin and again, come in different versions for all kinds of skin types, so make sure to ask the shop assistant if you need help to find the right one for you. This one is Argan, but I already tried Banana Skin and Amazon Primer which both fit my skin very well. Make sure to store those in a jar or can, as with hot temperatures they easily melt. One lasts me for about two months.
The Lush body lotion comes in two versions: either in-shower or solid. While I loved the in-shower ones when I still lived in a flat, it’s just not convenient if you can only shower for a short time and often outdoors. They come shaped like a pot and again, last for a very long time as I used mine for around 6 months before I had to get a new one. This one is called Once Upon A Time and smells like lime and lemon. Depending on the country and season there are many different formulas available so just check with your local store. Again, I highly recommend storing this one in a jar or can, not in a soap bag, as with hot temperatures they melt away very fast (yes I learned the hard way and it's a mess to clean up!).
I know I said it a thousand times, those products last a lot longer than the regular version, but the solid shower gels are a different level. They are shaped like bottles, solid but creamy with a wax `lid`. Due to the consistency, I always push mine into a container and carry it like this; if it`s empty I just clean it and press a new one in. A whole bottle fits into one of those boxes that are also available at Lush, and I`m not joking if I say that the last one lasted me for over a year! I even shared it with others, but it just lasted forever. So this is actually last year’s Christmas special and I still got American Dream stored away. But if it goes like this, I won`t see it until next fall.
I think we all know solid, naked soap as it is what people have been using for centuries. I never understood why to choose a liquid one that is wrapped in even more plastic, that’s why I have been using the Lush ones since basically forever. There are so many different ones; I store it with my dishwashing soap in a special container in my sink so that it can dry up without getting bad. This one is Sleepy and smells like Lavender, absolute heaven! Usually, they last about 3-6 months for me, also depends on where I am. And now with Covid of course I need a bit more than before the pandemic.
Solid Face Cleaner
For years, I used those make up remover towels and pads, but they are so much waste that I desperately needed another solution. Lush has both, pads that completely dissolve, and solid face cleaners. I always put them in a can so I can just take some product out with a reusable pad and it dries up easily. This one is called Sleepy Face, I absolutely love the design and it doesn`t only clean but nourishes the skin at the same time.
There is one thing that always confuses me, and that's when people who usually preach sustainability advertise companies that produce plastic or single-use razors. How often do you have to buy a new one, they break or need a new head every few weeks? It's both expensive and creates a lot of waste, while the solution has been around for longer than we all can think, and going back to the roots can be a good thing after all. Safety razors are made out of metal, work with normal razor blades that you can literally get everywhere in the world for just a few cents and are more precise than every fancy one ever will be. Yes, you need to use a different technique but that's very easy to learn and one can last you forever if you don`t lose it like I did. This one is from Parker Razors and comes in many different colors, but how pretty is this rose gold please?
I have been looking for an alternative to cotton sticks for a long time until I found these silicone ones from Re.Use.Me. They can be cleaned with warm water and reused. I have now been using them for over 6 months and they still look like new. One package comes with an ear stick and a make up one with a pointy end.
If you got any questions regarding zero waste vanlife, please let me know in the comment!