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Tips on reducing plastic use when living in a van

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Vanlife Eatshttps://vanlifeeats.com
Two passionate Vanlife cooks and the creators of Vanlife Eats.

As the days of Plastic Free July are fading, we are going to share some tips on reducing plastic use when living in a van.

Sustainable vanlife is definitely the way forward and reducing plastic use while living in a van is part of that. While living a plastic free life can seem unattainable and unrealistic, reducing plastic use is something we can all do and work towards even when living in a van.

Don’t think you use that much plastic? Head to the Greenpeace calculator to see how much plastic you get through in a year. Scary stuff!

Not so Fantastic Plastic

As well as you we have seen the harrowing figures regarding the amount of plastic produced and disregarded. We have seen sea animal lives invaded by a ‘sea’ of plastic, beaches covered with plastic debris, and woodland areas with bins overflowing. We are all well aware of those images but here are some facts taken from www.nationalgeographic.com just to really make the point clear and show why we all need to try to reduce our plastic use.

1. In 2015 there was 406 Million tonnes of plastic produced worldwide.

2. As of 2015 6.3 BILLION tonnes of plastic waste had been generated, of this only 9% was recycled the majority of the rest of it went to landfill or our beautiful environment.

3. There are more than 5 TRILLION pieces of plastic floating around in our oceans

4. The length of plastic endurance ranges from 450 years to FOREVER

Why not a Plastic Free Van Life?

With those figures in mind you would expect the next section to be all about living a plastic free lifestyle.

We would all love to live in a world where this wasn’t happening and ideally we would all have zero plastic use. In reality this is difficult, living in a van, perhaps even more so!

One of the main problems is that plastic free items are not always readily available. Combine this with living in a van and the reality of living plastic free seems even more daunting. Therefore, reducing plastic use in your van seems more achievable.

Most large stores and supermarkets still use way too much plastic packaging on their products, and we all gotta eat and get our food from somewhere. These stores need to look at their plastic usage and ways of reducing it to help with this issue.

When travelling in a van, motorhome, bus, RV whatever it may be we all know popping to the shop isn’t so simple when you need to take your home with you. So shopping around for more sustainable stores isn’t always an option. Parking restrictions can also mean your only option is to park in a large supermarket car park.

One of the perks of living or travelling in a van is the option to go off-grid or venture to new exciting places. Popping to the nearest store that offers refillable products may not be an option, and so there are limited options to purchase plastic free items.

That is why we are going to talk you through reducing your plastic use when living in a van rather than the unrealistic target of living plastic free.

Reducing, Reusing, Recycling

From childhood the majority of us were raised with the habit of recycling, it makes us feel better that all this waste is going to good use. Unfortunately this notion is incorrect and a lot of ‘recycling’ ends up in landfill. Recycling is only part of the solution to the problem the world is facing with plastic.

Firstly we need to focus on reducing our plastic use, by buying less in the first place.

Secondly we need to reuse the plastic we can not avoid buying.

Thirdly if we are unable to reduce or reuse, then we recycle.

Reducing plastic use in the van

The easiest way to reduce plastic waste is to use less of it in the first place.

Try to remember shopping bags when heading to the store, this is one of the most simple ways to reduce plastic use. If you do forget, just pack your shopping straight from the trolley into your van kitchen. One definite advantage of taking your home to the shops with you, we have done this quite recently!

As well as bags for shopping remember to take produce bags for your fruit and vegetables. Try to buy loose if possible and avoid buying items with plastic packaging. This will also help reduce food waste as you are more likely to buy only what you need rather than packs for convenience.

Take re-useable cups with you when getting take-out drinks, you will help reduce plastic waste and may also save yourself some pennies too.

We all know washing up in a van kitchen can be a nightmare but don’t be tempted to use disposable cutlery and crockery. Eco-friendly options are available at reasonable prices these days. If you wash up soon after eating the dishes will be easier to clean, meaning less scrubbing and less water use!

We have recipes on our website for butter and cashew milk so no need to buy these items in plastic packaging. While we’re at it consider making your own protein balls, snack bars etc

Not only will they be healthier but there will be less packaging. If you have any more recipes like this share them with the rest of us vanlifers right here on this website 🙂

Consider getting some beeswax wraps for when you take lunch or snacks on a walk, hike or climb, rather than using plastic bags.

Some tea bags contain polypropylen which is a type of plastic, try using brands that don’t contain these to help reduce your plastic waste, or alternatively try loose leaf teas.

Similarly try using a stovetop espresso coffee pot rather than a coffee machine with the pods to help reduce your plastic use.

Rather than buying bread in plastic packaging, make your own! If not, buy bread that you can put in your own bag or a paper bag.

With the current situation of the world we feel it is important to mention the use of face coverings. In most countries the advice is for face coverings not surgical style masks, which contain plastic. Please buy some face coverings rather than using disposable masks, if possible make your own or support someone local and buy from them.

We are already seeing disregarded masks left in streets and washing up on beaches so we all need to do our best to minimise this. Also, plastic gloves are no substitute for washing your hands, if unable to wash your hands use a sanitizer. There are recipes online to make your own to save buying numerous bottles of it.

One of the main advantages of reducing plastic use when living in a van is that there is less waste to get rid of. So it’s in your best interests as well as for the environment.

Reusing plastic in the van

Sometimes it will be necessary to buy plastic items, it is hard to avoid it all together. If that’s the case, try to reuse the items if possible. Single use plastics are the main products causing problems in terms of plastic pollution due to the pure volume of them.

Here’s some tips for re-using plastic items when in living in a van.

Keep bottles from cleaning products and make your own cleaning sprays. In our article on eliminating cooking smells in the campervan there are some ideas for natural fragrance combinations.

Rather than buying drinking water in bottles, use a reusable one. This will reduce your plastic use, as well as meaning you have less waste to get rid of from your tiny kitchen.

If you have empty containers can you use them for anything else? Keep plastic tubs for storing leftovers, or if you pass a store that offers refills for pasta, rice etc these will come in handy for that.

We have seen some great ideas of people filling containers with a mix of dried lentils, beans etc in the right quantities for a meal they want to make. Get all the measuring done in one go and have the ingredients ready to hand when you need them.

Look online to see if there are any farmer markets or pick your own farms nearby to you. You can save packaging from fruit you have purchased previously and take them with you to refill.

We do appreciate that space can be limited when living in a van and so it may not be possible to save lots of plastic items to re-use. Every little helps, even if you only manage to re-use some of it.

Recycling plastic in the van

If you have been unable to reuse any plastic you have then recycling is the third option on our list. It is the last option as we mentioned previously that not all recycling ends up going to be recycled. However, we should totally try to facilitate that where possible.

Living life on the road means there is a need to be careful with waste and to ensure it is disposed of responsibly. It’s not like living in a house where a truck pulls up outside every week. A little more thought needs to go into it.

Look online to find nearby recycling facilities and save your recycling til you get there (we appreciate this isn’t always easy in the confined space of a van!) – hopefully you will have been able to reduce your plastic use so there will be less to get rid of anyway.

What to recycle?

From a recent personal experience whilst stood in IKEA at the weekend looking at plastic tubs, we noticed a recycling logo. Did it mean the tub was recyclable? Was the outer packaging recycled? Had it been made from recycled materials?

There are so many different logos relating to recycling it can be confusing and sometimes misleading. One of the most common symbols used in Europe and the UK simply means the producer has provided a financial contribution towards the recycling and recovery of plastic packaging and bears no relation to the product at all. If you want to get up to speed on logos and what they mean head to 


Other plastic reducing tips when living in a van

Buy a razor where you can change the blade when needed rather than using disposable ones.

Ladies – periods can be bad enough in a van and monthly sanitary products contain plastic so look at using reusable products such as moon cups or washable pads instead.

Buy clothing that’s made of natural fibres, reducing the use of synthetic materials can help reduce micro plastic pollution. While you’re at it, rummage in the charity shops, thrift stores etc and get some second hand clothes instead. A whole new meaning to recycling!

We found some awesome tips on reducing plastic use at https://myplasticfreelife.com/plasticfreeguide/

We have listed some of the tips we thought might be useful for reducing plastic use when living in a van. Check it out for more and some tips for the home if you don’t travel in your van full time.

  • A lot of chewing gum contains plastic in the gum and the packaging, try looking for plastic free alternatives
  • Wash up using a bar or your own made concoction to save buying plastic bottles of washing up liquid 
  • Use natural sponges for cleaning
  • Baking soda mixed with some tea tree oil makes great natural deodorant!
  • Those of you that love your cast iron skillets may know non-stick pans coated in teflon release toxic perfluorochemicals when heated and so should be avoided. Stick with your skillet!
  • Consider making your own pet food – (keep your eyes peeled for an article regarding this in the future!)
  • Choose plastic free camping equipment if using a tent etc
  • Try alternative remedies e.g. herbs to promote sleep, or accupressure for headaches (if safe to do so and this should not be in replacement of medical help if needed)

Why not reduce plastic use when living in a van?

So there’s always two sides to every story and just to repeat what was said at the beginning of this article, plastic free living isn’t for everyone. It takes a lot of time, preparation and research and we applaud anyone that can live a plastic free lifestyle.

When living or travelling in a van and living life on the road it isn’t always possible to shop as sustainably as we might like to. There are limits on what shops are available and when. Plastic packaged goods may be the only option at that time.

Secondly, we don’t know if you’d noticed but not all van dwellers are living the high life with a six figure bank account, funds can be limited.

Living plastic free can be an expensive option, particularly when starting out with it all and having to buy lots of new items. Of course in the long term most of them will prove to be beneficial cost wise but if you’re having to buy lots of new items it soon mounts up.

With all that said and done it doesn’t have to cost a lot to reduce plastic use while living in a van, and reduce really is the key word. Even if you can only do small things differently, little changes from one person, and another person, and another person all come together to make big changes.

Lessons learnt about reducing plastic use when living in a van

The main thing learnt is that plastic free van life is not possible for all and personally it is not attainable for us. We feel that we can make some small and easy changes which will help reduce our plastic use. This in turn will lead to less plastic waste, and we feel we can all contribute towards this no matter how big or small.

Let’s all work together to keep our planet beautiful for many generations to come including the wonderful animals who deserve a clean place to live. If we all make small changes we can make a big difference.

These are the key tips we have learnt for reducing plastic use while living in a van.

  • Don’t have unrealistic expectations, plastic free isn’t always possible
  • Do your best, that’s all you can do
  • Small changes can add up to big changes
  • Be kind – don’t judge others. There are many reasons people may not be able to or may not want to live a certain way, and they should not be judged for that.

That’s all folks!

We hope you have enjoyed reading this article. Let us know in the comments below if you have been able to reduce your plastic use or achieved the highly sought plastic free July! If you have any tips then let everyone know below.


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