Make it Biodegradable!

biodegradable sign
Lowering our impact by using biodegradable items at any site you camp in can only benefit the environment.

Biodegradable items are better for the environment. Even for stuff you intend to pack out, because if some item is accidentally left behind, better that it can quickly break down to become part of the soil rather than sitting on top of the ground as litter for others to come across.

Below are ten items that you really should be sure are biodegradable when you go camping and hiking. Take a particular look at #10, because they hype can be very misleading:

1. Toilet Paper.

Regular toilet paper does break down fairly quickly, but in areas where there are a lot of campers, toilet paper wad upon toilet paper wad does slow down the decaying process. Some toilet paper is treated, as well, and that can keep it from breaking down as fast.  Not only that, but treated toilet paper can release chemicals into the soil that shouldn’t be there. Fortunately, it’s easy to get biodegradable toilet paper now. All camping supply stores have it. They’re even in grocery stores, typically during the camping season.

2. Wet Wipes.

Wet wipes are such a handy item to have on hand, especially when your camping and hiking activities prevent you from temporarily having access to fresh water to wash with.  Unfortunately, wet wipes aren’t very good for the environment when left behind. Most contain plastic fibers that keep it from degrading; in fact, wet wipes are becoming an increasingly environmental menace, according to this article from Mail Online. Fortunately, in this case we can have our cake and eat it, too, as it were. Combat Wipes Active is one of the brands you can get; they’re 100% biodegradable. There are more brands out there, too; Canadian residents can get these ones. I understand Walmart carries a brand in some of their U.S. stores, as well. I haven’t seen them in Canadian stores, but they may carry them; it wouldn’t hurt to check. Biodegradable wet wipes are a great idea, even if you aren’t camping.

3.  Body wash/shampoo

The great thing about body wash/shampoo being biodegradable is that it’s also better for your skin. It doesn’t contain harsh chemicals to dry out, irritate or otherwise bother your skin and hair. The sheer popularity of these items make it easy to buy and even make (I make my own liquid shampoo which is great for everything you need to wash). For those of you who aren’t in a position to make your own, Joshua Tree Body Wash/Shampoo is a great option, because you don’t need to carry two separate bottles of cleaning product. And any way of cutting down on stuff to bring without sacrificing quality is a plus in my book!

4. dishes and utensils.

Ever thought of ditching the plastic ware for eating?  You can get bamboo meal sets, including utensils, now!  (Canadian residents can get bamboo mess kits here.) Spending money on paper plates and plastic cups is a thing of the past when you invest in a set. You also don’t have to worry about contributing to pollution because you’ve burned those cheap foam plates so conveniently for sale in the summer. You can even get disposable bamboo teaspoons. This is great news for us, because spoons are what we use the most of when camping. Not only are bamboo dishes and utensils long-lasting, but are a sustainable product as well. Win-win. A word of warning; bamboo mess kits are a bit pricey. Invest in them if you can, though; they’re a durable product that will save money and the environment in the long run.

5. Ice Packs.

Before doing the research for this article I hadn’t given a great deal of thought to the biodegradability of ice packs. We don’t use them in our coolers, preferring to use ice and frozen foods instead. But we do have ice packs in our first aid kit. And it’s great to have a couple along (pre-frozen in the cooler) to stuff in your backpack if you’re going hiking for the afternoon. I found these ice packs. I’m going to purchase some for our next camping trip. They’re made for lunch boxes and bento boxes, but I’m also getting them for the first aid kit. If they’re used and then somehow misplaced and left behind, I don’t have to worry about toxic, non-biodegradable consequences quite as much.

6. Mosquito repellent.

Many mosquito repellents are biodegradable and organic, but in the never-ending quest for multi-purpose camping items, I’ve found a mosquito repellent soap. This keeps you clean and repels those blasted creatures. It contains citronella essential oil and comes with a convenient carrying case so you don’t have to worry about packing it away wet among clothes or other items. This soap ships to Canada, too. Make sure you’re not sensitive to citronella before you purchase this soap, and don’t use on infants, for the same reason.

7. toilet treatment.

We usually camp in the bush. That means we know a thing or two about making toilets. One of the biggest problems is the smell of the toilet. When we go camping and make our toilet, one of the things we have and introduce regularly to the waste pit is toilet treatment. Normally, this product is made for septic tanks and RV’s, so not just any will do; several have chemicals and additives we just don’t want to introduce in to the environment. But one product we do like is Campco RV Toilet Treatment. It’s completely biodegradable; an enzyme/bacteria combination that digests waste, tissue, fats and proteins and only activates in the presence of material that requires digesting. Plus it comes in some pretty nice scents.

It’s also RV and septic tank safe. We’ve had people say our toilets smell better than the toilets at some full-service campsites.

8. Doggie-doo bags.

Responsible pet owners never leave their pet’s waste behind, even in areas where it seems “natural”. It goes without saying that dog poop is never fun to come across on hiking trails or near one’s camp site. And yes–in the woods, dog poop does attract bears, so there’s that. A problem, though, is that doggie doo bags are so easy to lose! They’re small and can fall out of a pocket at any time.  That means another piece of plastic littering an otherwise beautiful and natural environment. Mitigating this problem is as easy as investing in biodegradable doggie-poop bags. Made of plants themselves, compostable, biodegradable doggie doo bags won’t harm the environment if accidentally dropped or left behind.

9. Sun and water Tent and camping gear spray protectant.

This was another item that I never thought of as possibly being better for the environment, but you can get water and sun-proofing spray for your tent and camping gear that is biodegradable! One of the big benefits to something like this is that you’re not spraying fluorocarbons into the air as you make your tent and gear water-repellent. Use it at the camp site and at home guilt free.

the jury is out on this one, however.

One item that is becoming very popular with environment-conscious campers is those rayon towels. Most of them come in compressed tablets that you just need to wet to have it unfold to full size; others are simply towels that the company claims is 100% biodegradable because it’s made of rayon.

While it’s true that rayon is a cellulose material created from wood, the process by which it is created is one filled with harsh chemicals. Because it is considered a “regenerated” product, it doesn’t qualify for organic certification. If bamboo went through the same process, it wouldn’t either. But bamboo goes through a completely different process, one that makes it organic and biodegradable. And bamboo is sustainable, too. And they make towels! Plus paper towels! Pretty awesome.

So when you see those towels, or any other product made of rayon, it might be worth doing a little research. You’ll probably find that in most cases, the selling point is actually “This is made of rayon, and rayon comes from natural sources, so this is a natural product.” No mention is ever made of the chemical processes used to turn it from wood pulp to rayon.