How To Start Recycling On The Road

Let's face it, recycling is a bit complicated when you're travelling and living in a van. It's not impossible, but it does take more time and effort than in a normal household. Due to the lack of space you might feel, that even though green values are important to you, sorting the trash is simply too overwhelming of a task. I agree, it's way easier having all the trash in the same bag and getting rid of them at once. You don't want to have six different bins taking up all the little storage space in your van and then drive around trying to find a collection point. It sort of undos the environmental benefits of recycling too. Recycling has some pros, though. Let me share some tips on how (and why) to start recycling in your van.

Seriously? Dumping the trash anywhere seems to be oddly common in Spain.

Stop buying trash

You've probably noticed, that the trash seem to build up super fast when you're living in a van. There just isn't a place where you can stash it all, like in a regular apartment. I used to have a bag for empty bottles, another one for magazines and a third one for cardboard. In addition to separate bins for plastic, metal and kitchen scraps. It goes without saying, that there's no room in a van to hoarde trash like that. That's why the first step is all about preventing the trash to end up in your van in the first place.

Easier said than done, huh? Yes, shopping package-free can be frustrating and time-consuming, but you can start small. Next time you go shopping for groceries, take some reusable bags with you to the store. Smaller ones for fruits and vegetables, and a couple of larger ones to carry all the groceries back to your van. If you tend to buy meat or cheese from bulk, bring a container for those as well. Some markets may not allow the use of customers' own containers, but you might as well ask. Remember to weight the container beforehand and write the weight on the side of it, so you don't end up paying for the container itself. Mind you, bringing a container of my own is something I haven't tried yet.

The aim is to try to find products with less or no packaging at all. 
Pay attention to the packaging material too. Avoid plastic and favor cardboard, paper, glass and other reusable materials. You probably own some bowls, mugs or the like, right? So instead of buying a six pack of yoghurt, try to find a single larger package of the same stuff. A six pack takes up more space in the trash (and in the fridge) than a 1 liter carton. Chances are, that the family size package is also cheaper. Thanks to the ridiculously common habit of packing products individually, package free shopping is equally hard no matter where you live. It really pays off if you live in a van and recycling takes some serious effort, though.

In case you ended up buying a ton of useless packaging anyway, the game isn't over yet. While stuffing the groceries to fridge, put aside the packaging you don't need. Some bigger markets have collection points, so there's a chance you may not have to hold on to the trash for more than a couple of minutes. If you don't spot a promising line of colourful bins anywhere, try googling. Some countries upkeep a list of collection points online. If you're lucky, there might be one near you or on your way out of the city.

A recycling point at a mall.

Sort the scraps

You open the van door and a foul odor puffs to your face. You've just spent a sweaty day climbing, cycling, hiking or whatever your thing is, and meanwhile the kitchen scraps in the trash have started to smell. Sound familiar? The issue exists in normal households as well, but the smell kinda tends to be much worse in a small space where the air stays pretty much still.

If you only have room for one extra bin, I suggest that you start sorting the kitchen scraps. It's probably the easiest way to start recycling in your van, since it's quite effortless to get rid of the scraps. Choose a small bucket with a handle and tight lid, so the bin doesn't take much space, is easy to carry around and all the odors stay inside. When you cook, you can have the bin on table and put all the veggie peels straight into it.

The perfect organics bin has a handle and a tight lid.

And how to get rid of the scraps? Bury them. 
Equip yourself with small (preferably metallic) shovel, take a hike, dig a hole and throw in the banana peels. 
Remember to dig a hole that's deep enough, so the trash won't be dug up by animals. You can also stash the scraps under a heavy stone. Burying isn't an option though, if you're in a more urban environment or the land is clearly owned by someone. Luckily, you can still get rid of kitchen scraps by dumping them into a shared compost. I just recently ran into a service called ShareWaste, which gives you the opportunity to take your scraps to somebody else's compost. You can look up the nearest composts on their site.


You can make all kind of useful stuff out of garbage. For an example, me and my partner consume a whole lot of nuts and usually buy them in HUGE packages. Some months ago we bought a 2 kilo bucket of them, and once the bucket was empty (it took 10 days), we made it our organics bin. We also like to eat pickles and beetroots on top of a slice of bread and thus ended up having a pile of empty jars. Instead of throwing them away, we decided to use them to make some more storage space. We screwed the lids under a shelf above the stove and now store pasta, soy crumble, rice, couscous and muesli in the jars.

Store your carbs in jars.

A paper organizer makes a great cutting board, since all the juices stay inside the edges.

You can find plenty more instructions on what to make out of empty jars or just about anything by googling. Do you have a legion of empty bottles rolling around?You can reuse them as shoe holders. Or a sponge holder. If you know that you're in a need of something that can perhaps be made using recycled materials, keep it in mind when you go shopping. Last time we were out of honey, I specifically looked for a jar, that could be reused to store some chalk. Cheap, but practical.

A screwable lid makes the reused chalk container safe to put in a bag. 

There. Now that the advice is out there, it's up to you wether you take it or not. I suggest that you try at least the first step, which I think is the most valuable one. Why? Because it doesn't cost anything, nor does it take any space. And because reducing the amount of trash (by shopping package-free) is the single most effective way to make recycling easier in your van. To find out more about totally trash-free living, check out the blog Trash Is For Tossers. I'm a huge fan of Lauren Singer, and some of the recycling ideas you just read are actually inspired by her. Lauren has produced so little trash in four years, that she can fit all of it in a single Mason jar. How cool is that! That's a goal you can set to yourself whether you live in a van or a house.


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