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How to Compost ‘On The Go’

Having a compost bin (or worm farm) at home is great, and I’d thoroughly recommend it as a place to put all your food scraps, peels, bad bits and other things you might like to compost rather than put in the general waste bin. But we tend to eat food when we’re out and about too, and we all go on day trips and holidays… so what do we do about food waste then?

Whilst it isn’t as easy as stepping outside the back door and opening up a compost bin, there are still things we can do to ensure we’re still composting whilst on the move.

How to Compost on Day Trips

I always carry my reusable coffee cup in my handbag: it is most used not for takeaway coffee but for food waste scraps. Apple cores, pips and peels, the occasional teabag, a dirty napkin or anything else I might be left with when out gets stashed in here until I get home.

I’d recommend a glass, ceramic or metal coffee cup (or other container) for this. Plastic tends to absorb the flavours of whatever it’s holding, and coffee that’s flavoured with yesterday’s banana peel isn’t great. If you do use plastic, wash throroughly and leave overnight filled with water and a spoonful of sodium bicarbonate to try to lift any stufbborn smells.

If I ever wrote a ‘ten things I use my KeepCup for’ post, carrying around bits of compost would be number 1 (leftovers would be number 2, and actually, takeaway coffee would probably be number 10).

If I take snacks from home, I’m always conscious of any ‘waste’ they might create. Take a banana, I’ll be left with the peel; take an apple and there will be a (smaller) core; take grapes and I’ll be left with a couple of pips. I think about where I’m going and if I want to be carrying around these things before choosing.

If I go on a picnic, It’s pretty easy because I take my food in reusable containers, so I can simply use my containers for scraps.

How to Compost on Longer Trips and Holidays

If I’m going somewhere far from home, the absolute first thing I do is check ShareWaste, the free compost networking service. It’s one of my favourite resources. I see if anyone has a compost bin in the areas I’m travelling to.

I’ll also do an online search for local community gardens, as these often have compost bins.

Sometimes it’s a yes, but often it’s a no. In which case, these are my options.

In an ideal world, I’ll take my food scraps home with me. If I’m away for several days they will start to get a bit stinky, so I either store in the freezer (if there is a freezer) or fridge, which helps slow down any decomposition.

Ideally I’d have a cool box (Esky) for the trip home. Failing that, any container that can seal tightly will work. You won’t want to be spending time in a car with decomposing food waste smells, promise.

If you don’t have the luxury of a car, you’re camping or for other reasons can’t refrigerate or transport food scraps home, your options are more limited.

Does the local council have a food scraps collection service?

Councils are increasingly offering doorstop food waste collection services, and compost those scraps. It’s worth checking if this service is offered where you’re staying.

Could you bury the food scraps?

Ideally, food scraps need to be buried 25cm (10 inches) deep and covered with soil to deter pests. Burying is more practical in the countryside or bush than in the city. If there are signs specifically telling you not to do it, then don’t do it.

What about local parks?

Parks are not there to accommodate our personal food waste, although burying a single apple core deep in a planter box is a little different to dumping a week’s worth of trash on the lawn in Central Park. It’s not ideal, and it’s not really recommended.

As tempting as it is to take food waste to public places, remember that if everyone did this, it would turn into a garbage heap pretty quickly. Food will attract wildlife, and even if you bury it, you might be inadvertently adding pests or invasive species to the area (those fruit pips might sprout trees that are not welcome).

When you’re out of options…

Try to reduce food waste wherever we can. I try to make choices to reduce food scraps. If I need to cook, I’ll often choose vegetables like broccoli and mushrooms, where the whole thing can be eaten, and be less likely to choose foods like mango and pineapple that have huge amounts of skin and or a big stone to deal with, just to keep my waste to a minimum.

I don’t want to put my food scraps in the general waste bin, but if I really don’t have any other options, that’s what I do. I remind myself that it’s not my fault: governments, councils and businesses need to recognise food scraps both for the resource they are (nutrients) and the burden they are if not composted properly (methane emissions).

They need to make it easier for people to do the right thing.

When I say easier, I’m not meaning that we should appease people’s ‘apparent laziness’. I mean this: when I visited Exmouth in 2017, some of my food scraps travelled 1,248km home with me because there was no composting anywhere on the route. Sharewaste now has a few additions on their map, and it’s currently a ‘mere’ 835km from Exmouth to the closest compost bin.

Most people aren’t going to do this.

So whilst I encourage you to set up a compost bin at home, try to plan ahead, bring a container, think about the waste you might create it and attempt to avoid it, and look for local services that might be able to help, I also want to remind you that sometimes, trying to do what’s right feels like (or is) an uphill battle.

It isn’t always accessible or practical. That’s not our fault. Do what you can, celebrate your successes, don’t feel bad if you can’t make it work, and resolve to keep on trying.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How do you reduce food waste? Any tips to add? Any situations you particularly struggle with? Any questions about composting? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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My (Not So) Zero Waste Camino

Back in April, I headed off to Europe to walk across Spain along the Camino Frances, from St Jean Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in the north-west corner of Spain. Over 35 days I walked 800km. I talked about what I packed before I left; now I’m back and the memory of those sore, sore feet is a little more distant, I thought I’d tell you how it went.

There’s so much I could say about the meaning of the experience, the people I met along the way and the community we grew, and my inner reflections… but this space is about zero waste and plastic-free living, minimalism and treading lightly.

Whilst my experience was a lot greater than learning about different recycling systems and wrestling in Spanish about not wanting a plastic straw, this is where I’m going to keep the focus. Plus, surely you all want to see some holiday recycling bin snapshots?!

Minimalism on the Camino

Packing light is something I’ve got pretty good at over the years, and all up my pack and everything I took (including the clothes I wore, but not my hiking boots) weighed less than 6kg.

Many of the people I met packed more than they needed, and ending up posting stuff ahead to collect later – or got their bags sent ahead as the weight was too much. I wanted to be able to carry my own bag.

I had intended to post ahead anything I didn’t need, but in the end, there wasn’t anything.

That’s not to say my packing was perfect. I definitely did not realise it was going to be so cold! There was snow on the second day, and I only had one long-sleeved top as well as my jacket. Not only that but when I hit sunnier climes, I wanted to wear long sleeves in the sun to stop my arms burning. Black wasn’t ideal for the hot sun.

After wearing said top for 8 hours, it needed washing (clearly). I could make it last a couple of days, but eventually it had to come off!

On day 3 I found an abandoned scarf (yes, it was abandoned, I promise) which probably saved me from freezing to death. Around day 20 I went and purchased some cycling sleeves (literally arm covers) – they can be worn with t-shirts to protect against the sun and are white, not black.

Did I pack anything I didn’t need? I could have got away with one pair of shorts, rather than two. I didn’t wear my vest top much. But these things were so light that it wasn’t the end of the world carrying them.

Plastic-Free on the Camino

I’m sure you know that I don’t buy things packaged in plastic. But when these things are offered to me, it turns out that the Camino had some different rules to everyday life.

I don’t believe in changing rules when you go on holiday. For me it is important to do what I can all the time. But there’s something different about being kilometres from the nearest town, exhausted and hungry, with sore shoulders and aching feet and the beginnings of blisters, and someone offering up chocolate packaged in plastic.

It should be noted that chocolate is my go-to comfort food. I ate that chocolate. Oh yes.

The other thing that I used was those individual plastic jam portions. Those ones I cringe about. In Spain, most places open fairly late in the morning, and there might only be one place open early in the morning to cater for peregrinos (people walking the camino). These places, almost without exception, offered dry (stale?) bread, or occasionally toast, and jam portions.

I don’t even like jam very much. But when this is the only opportunity for breakfast, stale bread alone just won’t cut it, and the next town is 8km away, you suck it up and use the damn jam portions.

Okay, maybe you don’t. But I did.

A couple of times there actually wasn’t anywhere open for breakfast, and I did have to walk 8km to find somewhere. Walking that far on an empty stomach (when you walked 20km the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that) isn’t much fun.

Sometimes it’s not obvious that nowhere will be open until that morning, so there’s no chance to buy snacks in advance. One thing you learn on the Camino, is that when there’s the opportunity to eat (and likewise, use the bathroom) take it because you don’t always know when the next opportunity will come.

In hindsight, what I’d do next time to avoid the jam is buy avocados along the way. They aren’t available in every town, but frequent enough, I think. I did this sometimes (and you have no idea how much avocado envy I’d get from fellow peregrinos when I whipped out my fresh avocado) but if I went back, I’d ensure I was always carrying one. (I’d use half, then carry the other half and use it the next day. They lasted fine.)

One other plastic-packaged thing I bought: medical supplies. Blister plasters (oh Compeed, thank you for everything you did for me) and ibuprofen, specifically. It was a matter of purchasing them and finishing the walk, or not purchasing them and not.

Zero Waste on the Camino

I took my reusables (water bottle, cup, container and spork, and an Onya bag) and all of them were very useful. The container was great for bulk snacks, leftovers, and water on the really hot days (it’s leakproof). The Onya bag was brilliant for buying snacks – fruit, nuts, potato chips (Spain sells bulk potato chips! Heaven!).

There wasn’t much food waste because cooking options are limited and it is easier (and fairly cheap) to eat the peregrino menus. Food waste was limited to peels, skins and rinds.

Composting was next to impossible. Going from place to place meant there was no time to figure out if there were composting options. The odd banana peel or piece avocado skin could be thrown into the undergrowth well off the path, but if there was no undergrowth, just dumping on the path wasn’t an option. As much as it pains me to put anything in the bin, it happened.

Recycling was fairly easy, and even the small villages had central recycling banks for paper, plastic and metal. Sometimes I’d have to carry things for a day or two, but eventually I’d find somewhere.

Plant-Based Eating on the Camino

If you want to walk the Camino as a vegan, it requires some serious forward planning, the commitment to cooking most of your own food – and bringing your own utensils – and (I’d guess) the ability to speak a little Spanish.

Even as a vegetarian, it is tricky. And you have to LOVE eggs.

I’d already decided that I was happy to eat eggs on the Camino before I left (tortilla de patatas, a potato omelette, is pretty much a Spanish staple) but by day 3 I’d decided to eat fish if there were no vegetarian options. When you’re walking that many kilometres every single day, asking the waiter to remove the tuna and egg from a salad and being left with only the lettuce, tomato and raw onion just isn’t going to cut it.

If you’re prepared you can cook beans and lentils and these are fairly easy to find dry in bulk. I wasn’t prepared. Lots of vegans take huge amounts of pre-packaged vegan food with them – and that wasn’t an option for me, either. Nut/soy milk is virtually non-existent.

Saying that, there are vegetarian and vegan options, particularly in the bigger cities. The Vegetarian Way has some details of vegetarian options, but some listings were permanently closed or only offered dinner for residents (not so helpful at lunchtime). I became a little obsessed with hunting down falafels (!) and found a caravan selling the best vegan burgers in the middle of a woodland, so there were definitely some highlights.

My (Not So) Zero Waste Camino: Lessons Learned

I don’t know really these are lessons learned, or whether they are simply things I already knew that were reinforced.

1. Zero waste and plastic-free living takes prior planning.

At home, we develop habits and incorporate this way of living into our daily routine. When we are away, there is no daily routine and so we have to research and plan ahead. Sure, I could have taken the time before I left to research composting options, or look up much more thoroughly the plant-based meal options.

In the end, I ran out of time, and I did the best I could. That’s not to say it isn’t possible, but it wasn’t possible for me, this time.

2. Everyone has limits to their time and energy.

I’ve talked about limits to time and energy before, but nothing drains you like walking 20km a day for 14 days in a row without stopping (it was 2 weeks before I took my first rest day). By the end of the day, climbing the stairs to get to my bed was hard enough (why oh why do they give the ground floor rooms to people who arrive first? They are fitter – make them climb the stairs!!!).

I know at the start of the trip I wouldn’t have been able to stand and cook a meal, let alone go to the shops and buy all the things I needed first. We can only do the best we can, and nothing tested my limits and showed me the absolute truth in this more than this walk.

3. Doing what we can is better than doing nothing.

I may have used plastic jam portions more than I care to remember, but I also refused plastic bags and straws, and purchased most of my snacks in bulk (except chocolate, but I made sure that was plastic-free).

I may have eaten fish and eggs, but I also tried to support every vegan/vegetarian cafe that I came across – and told my various vegetarian friends I met along the way about them, too.

To the purists, that may not be enough. But I’m not a purist. As much as I’d like to be perfect, I’m imperfect. I’m passionate about two many things to single-mindedly pursue the perfection of one. I do the best I can. I may have let a few things slide on the trip, but I didn’t let everything slide. It was a great learning experience, and I’m willing to admit my faults.

If I ever do a trip like this again, I promise I’ll come up with a plan to avoid those damn individual jam portions.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any questions about how I dealt with certain scenarios? Do you have insights from your own experience with a similar trip? Do you have any comments, ideas or anything else about any aspect of the trip? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please share below!

Zero Waste Travel: Tips for a Zero Waste Road Trip

Having a zero waste and plastic-free routine at home is one thing, but making it work whilst on holidays (and away from home) is quite another. There’s dealing with new places and situations; having limited options to buy anything in bulk or recycle; and being without many of the tools that make zero waste living possible at home – and they all create challenges for keeping waste down.

Having been on plenty of road trips and holidays since I started my zero waste journey (goodness, don’t I sound well travelled?! It’s more that I’ve been living this way for 5 years rather than that I go on holidays all the time!) I’ve learned plenty of tricks along the way to help reduce my waste.

If you’re planning a road trip or holiday/vacation and you want to keep the waste down (which of course you do!), this one is for you.

Reducing Waste on Holiday: Before You Leave

As with anything and everything zero waste, planning is important. Waste tends to happen when things are unplanned, and convenience suddenly steps in. That doesn’t mean spreadsheets or anything complex. Just thinking about where you’re going, what you’ll be doing and likely scenarios, and google the options.

Check Out What Facilities Exist Where You’re Heading.

There are three types of facilities I check out before we go somewhere:

1. Shops, cafes, restaurants.

Knowing what kinds of shops exist and the kinds of food they sell is a good place to start. (For example, is there a supermarket, a service station, a bulk store, a Farmers Market?)

Considering what cafes and restaurants exist and the kinds of foods they sell is also useful (especially if you are vegan/vegetarian, gluten-free or have other dietary requirements). Opening hours are worth looking into too.

Looking at the reviews on Tripadvisor is helpful as a starting point, and we’ve used the website Happy Cow several times to find out vegetarian and vegan options in unknown places. If your friends or family that have been to the destination before, ask them to share their experiences.

2. Recycling Facilities.

In WA, not much is recycled north of Perth. Many of the places we stayed on this trip only recycle aluminium cans. My husband and dad both enjoy a beer, so whilst we were away they opted for beer in cans which we could recycle along the way, rather than glass bottles, which aren’t recycled.

(Whilst we always take home anything that cannot be recycled, glass is not truly recycled in Perth but crushed into road base, so choosing cans is a better option. There was a small amount of glass too, and that came home with us.)

3. Composting Options.

It is my dream that one day everyone with a composting bin will register their bin on the ShareWaste website. It’s a free service which connects home composters with people with excess food scraps.

I always check this service before I travel. I also search for community gardens in the ares that might have compost bins.

Sadly, rural WA is very lacking in bins on the map yet, so I knew that whatever food waste we took with us we would have to bury, or bring home.

Go Food Shopping Before You Leave

Depending on how much you intend to eat out whilst away, and the access you will have to refrigeration and cooking facilities, you might not want to take heaps of groceries with you, but it’s worth considering the basics: tea, coffee and snacks ;)

There are no bulk stores in WA further north than Perth, so we did a big bulk shop at The Source Bulk Foods (I’ve never bought so many nuts!) and bought fruit and vegetables from the local fruit and veg store to last us the first few days.

I made a big Ottolenghi-inspired salad to take with us, and also a big batch of sugar-free muesli. As well as fresh produce, I also took big jars of rice, quinoa and lentils so I could make meals at home.

Pack Reusables and Other Tools

Packing a water bottle, reusable cutlery set and reusable coffee cup goes without saying – these things practically live in my handbag anyway.

I also take a number of cloth produce bags, and either Pyrex containers, my stainless steel tiffin, or both. I have a set of round Pyrex containers that fit one inside the other so don’t take up too much space.

We take an esky with us to keep things cool in between destinations.

As well as the more obvious reusables, there are a few things I always pack for road trips. I always take a sharp knife (it makes all the difference when you’re trying to cook from scratch), our salt and pepper grinder and our coffee press. This time I took a tea strainer also.

This one might be a bit out there, but I also take our food processor with us.

I once met a lady who took her food processor with her when she went overseas. I’m not that extreme, but it is the most useful tool in my kitchen, it doesn’t take up much space, and it does so many things that now I always pack it. It’s great for making nut milk along the way, but we often use it for many other things (it has a heating function).

Dealing With Compost

If you don’t want to throw food scraps into landfill (and I definitely don’t), there are a few options: finding a composting facility locally, burying food scraps along the way, or taking them home with you.

Burying food scraps isn’t ideal, because it means using a rental home back yard without their knowledge, other private land without the owners’ knowledge, or public land. There’s the chance it could attract pests, or be dug up by dogs. A few veggie scraps from one person is one thing, but if everyone started doing this, it could be a big problem.

As I can’t bring myself to throw food scraps away, and we were away for two weeks, I did bury some of my waste.

I store food scraps in the freezer (in a Pyrex container) until I’m ready to bury it. I also blended some of it in the food processor to break it into smaller pieces, to help it compost more quickly. I tend to dig a few holes rather than one big one, as deep as I can, and ensure the waste is well covered with soil.

I do feel a little guilty, but I figure it is the lesser of two evils.

Once we hit the half way mark of the trip, I decided that we’d take what we created back to Perth with us. There was more room in the esky for food scraps, which were kept frozen.

Avoiding Single Use and Travel Items

Because we bring our own tea and coffee making facilities, we never use the single-serve tea and coffee. If any other single-use items are provided, like biscuits or breakfast cereal or UHT carton milk, we leave it in situ.

We always bring all of our own toiletries too, to avoid using individually wrapped soap or mini bottles of shower gel. There was a time when I’d clear out the place we were staying of anything miniature, but those days are long gone. They stay where they are.

I’ve also learned to bring our own dishwashing liquid, dish brush and cleaning cloth with us. The cloths provided are always plastic, and will be thrown away as soon as we leave, even if it’s one night. Should we need to use them, we take them with us so we ensure they are used until they wear out.

Our holiday packing isn’t the most minimal, but because we never take much clothing or footwear, there is always room to include reusables. I know I’ll have a much more relaxing holiday if I’m not creating waste. Funny that these days my priority is packing Pyrex rather than extra pairs of shoes!

Remembering reusables is something that just takes practice. The hardest thing is dealing with food scraps. If you have a compost bin at home, please consider registering it on the ShareWaste site. It’s free to use, and even if you don’t think you live in a touristy area, you never know who might be passing through.

I’m looking forward to the day when I can go on a road trip and there’s more compost bins to stop at along the way than service stations ;)

Now I’d love to hear from you! What tips for zero waste road trips do you have? What challenges have you faced whilst you’ve been away from home or on the road? Which tips can you see yourself adopting – or not?! Anything else to add? Please leave a comment below!