“By the second half of my trip, I had finely tuned my routine and diet, I was no longer purchasing anything that needed to be recycled”
I feel like I’ve taken my zero waste backpacking mission to a whole new level as I’ve just completed my first zero waste road trip. If I had to sum up the trip in a few words, I would say ‘trial and error’. But in a good way. I definitely had ups and downs, I had to improvise for a few situations and by the end of the trip, I felt like I had made a real accomplishment as I managed to keep my waste to the bare minimum.
My plan was to visit the ‘Big 5’ National Parks in Southern Utah, then make my way to Antelope Canyon and Grand Canyon in Northern Arizona. I started in Las Vegas as it was the perfect place to hire a car and make the loop. I also decided to sleep in my car as accommodation in and around these parks were way out of my frugal backpacker budget. Plus it just added to the adventure! However, this also added some degree of difficulty to the entire trip but I wasn’t going to let it get in my way.
I’ve been lucky enough to see some incredible natural wonders on my travels but I’m still struggling to find the words to describe the beauty I witnessed at all of these amazing parks. The rock formations were so massive it was overwhelming. But in a good way. The canyons were so impressive, all I could do was stand and stare. I found hiking to be the best way for me to connect with my surroundings so I hiked during the day and gazed up at the skies at night where I have never seen so many stars in my life.
My Zero Waste Road Trip Plan:
I guess, to be honest I really had no plan as to how I was going to tackle the zero waste portion of my trip. I’d never done a road trip like this before – living out of my car and by myself. I just didn’t know what to expect so my strategy was just to ‘take it as it comes’.
This worked out well for the most part. I quickly found out though, that since I was sleeping in my car, I wouldn’t have access to easy waste disposal all of the time. Especially a way to dispose of my green waste or food scraps. I also wouldn’t have access to a shower!
I also quickly realised that I wouldn’t have anywhere to store perishable foods so I would have to buy food that I could keep in the car and that wouldn’t go bad quickly.
This meant that I ate a lot of tomato/cucumber/avocado sandwiches, carrots, nuts and fruit. I also purchased a tub of peanut butter for some variety and pickles in a glass jar (with no plastic seal). In preparation for the trip, I found a bulk food store in Las Vegas and stocked up. I was also lucky enough to find a large reusable container in cardboard packaging. I decided to use this to collect my food scraps.
Throughout the trip, I always looked for bakeries as I knew I would be able to buy loose bread from them and I never had any problems buying fruit and veggies loose. I purchased so many cashews and walnuts from the bulk food store in Vegas that I still had some left over when I finished the trip (phew!)
Luckily every park (except one) provided drinking water 24 hours a day so I had no problems filling my reusable (Water-to-go) water bottles. I would have been happy to use the filters that actually come with my water bottles if I’d needed to though.
Waste disposal whilst on the road…
I spent a couple of days in each park with my first stop being Zion National Park. The first thing I noticed about their rubbish bins was that they provided a regular trash bin and a plastic recycling bin. No metal, paper or glass recycling bins and certainly no compost bins (I actually didn’t epect there to be any compost bins at any parks on account of wildlife in the area).
This worried me slightly as I had already purchased a glass jar full of pickles and was planning to recycle the jar. The only thing I could do was to hold onto the jar until I found a suitable rubbish bin. In fact that’s what I did with all the rubbish I couldn’t dispose of properly. This consisted of glass, paper/cardboard and my food waste.
The food waste was what I worried about most as I was almost certain I wouldn’t find a compost bin and I didn’t think burying it would be a good idea as I was staying within the National Parks and did not have correct digging tools so wildlife would have been able to easily dig it up.
My next stop was Bryce Canyon National Park and thankfully they had more disposal options, including recycling bins for glass, metal, paper and plastic. Still no compost though. My food waste was starting to mount up.
It is important to note though that not all the parks had lots of disposal options. Most of them only had a regular rubbish bin and a plastics bin. I found it a little strange that sometimes I would come across a random metal recycling bin at one of the trailheads but not at the main entrance or visitor centre.
I know I definitely made the trip more difficult by choosing to live out of my car. However, I believe it also made me more resourceful and better at improvising. I’m still happy with my decision and as mum and dad would say, “it’s character building!”.
Zero Waste in Moab, Utah
Moab is the perfect town to stay in if you’re visiting Arches NP and/or Canyonlands NP and there just so happens to be a very affordable hostel there. So after a week on the road, I thought I would take advantage of an actual shower, a bed and the chance to cook a hot meal.
As I was keeping all of the waste I created during the trip, by the time I stopped in Moab I had a nice pile I really needed to dispose of. Luckily my food waste was not smelling as I kept it in an airtight container.
To my delight, the hostel I stayed at (Lazy Lizard Hostel) had a compost bin and recycling bins so all of my waste woes were immediately put to bed.
I decided to stay for a couple of days. So as with any new place I visit, I researched bulk food options. To be honest I didn’t really expect a desert town to have too many options but I was pleasantly surprised to find ‘Moonflower Food Co-op’. Moonflower is a fantastic supermarket with a great variety including oils, seeds and clays in their bulk food section, and a huge loose tea section (my favourite!). I was able to buy oats, pasta, tea, organic fruit and vegies and a new tea infusor (with cardboard packaging) as I had sadly left mine in Oregon.
My stop off in Moab definitely made my zero waste road trip a lot easier!
Continuing the road trip…
After being spoilt in Moab with rubbish bins and bulk foods, I spent the second half of my road trip with a little less enthusiasm. My zero waste mission was still as strong as ever but I was not as keen to keep so much food in my car with me at all times. In other words, I wasn’t keen on carrying around all my food waste with me. This meant more eating out in cafes and restaurants.
After leaving Moab, I made my way to Arizona to visit Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. For these natural wonders, I based myself in the town of Page. Sadly, Page does not have any bulk food options in any of their supermarkets and I struggled to find bread without packaging. This just encouraged me even more to eat at cafes and restaurants. I continued to live out of my car but purchased most of my food made-to-order. More expensive but also much more convenient.
I almost had a couple of slip ups as some of the cafes sold their drinks in plastic cups (single-use), I luckily realised just in time so was able to put a stop to my orders. I was also able to use my own handkerchiefs instead of serviettes without any problems.
By the second half of my trip, I had finely tuned my routine and diet, I was no longer purchasing anything that needed to be recycled. Although Page does have good recycling program in place. I was however, still buying fruit and being left with mostly apple cores.
Full disclosure: I threw my apple cores into bushes. I’m not entirely proud of it but without a compost option and no proper digging tools, I thought this was still a better option than throwing them in the regular trash can. This way they would still avoid landfill. I also, never threw them into residential homes. I didn’t really feel like being yelled at.
The pros and cons of my zero waste road trip
For me, it was mostly pros and even the cons were not negative in any way.
Would I do it all again? Absolutely!!
Pros: I really enjoyed the absolute freedom I had living out of that car. No check in or check out times. I could come and go as I pleased. I was actually more comfortable sleeping in the car than I thought I would be. I never had any problems finding bathrooms and keeping clean and I was able to sleep under a blanket of stars every night. I also never had any problems finding drinking water which made the whole trip a lot smoother. I found myself to be more inventive and my decisions became sharp. Infact, overall my self confidence improved immensly.
Cons: I never went hungry, although I will admit I got a bit bored of tomato and cucumber sandwiches. But I realised that I could still have variety by eating out, so it’s really not a negative.
This road trip was something I’ve always wanted to do but also scared me a little. After completing it all limbs intact and with my waste kept within my zero waste limits, I now know it’s totally possible and recommend it to everyone. Or at least find something to get you out of your comfort zone and go a little crazy. Actually, the crazier the better!
Love Kat xx