Reducing waste in the outdoors begins before you step foot outside.
It begins with the clothing and gear you need, or maybe don’t need! Remember that the absolute best way to reduce waste is to buy less.
I don’t know about you but the second I enter an outdoor store of any kind (online or in person), I am like a kid in a candy store and immediately want to buy multiple things I didn’t know I “needed”. While I know that buying less is one of the best ways to reduce waste and my impact on the environment, I am still working on curbing my consumption habits.
The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard really helped me understand the bigger picture when it comes to waste. It wasn’t until I started paying more attention to the full life cycle of things that I really understood that before an item even gets into my hands, there has already been a huge environmental impact in each step along the production chain. Think about this: “For every one garbage can of waste you put out on the curb, 70 garbage cans of waste were made upstream just to make the junk in that one garbage can you put out on the curb.” – Annie Leonard
So before buying, consider some other options. Ask yourself, do I really need this? Is this a true need or just a want? Can I borrow this from a family member or friend? Can I rent this item? Can I repurpose something to meet this need?
How to buy less
1. Support the #SharingEconomy and borrow, rent and share gear!
Just think of all the upstream and downstream waste you can prevent from ending up in a landfill and the amount of resources you can conserve if, instead of buying/owning, you first try to…
- Borrow from a friend or family member.
- Rent from people in your community through a site like @Ruckify. You will be reducing your carbon footprint in more ways than one since Ruckify plants a tree for every rental transaction through their site.
- Lend! If you have gear that is sitting around in your house unused for a lot of the year, make it available to others so they don’t have to go out and buy something new for their (possibly one time) adventure.
2. Care for and maintain your gear!
“Just by extending the life of a garment for 9 months, you’re reducing it’s [environmental] impact by 30%” – Patagonia Video. The better you care for your gear, the longer it will last. You will save money, conserve the planet’s resources and less gear will go to landfill.
- #Repair and mend your gear! If you don’t have the skills, look for a repair cafe in your community where you can get your item repaired and learn how to do the repair yourself. You can also pay for a seamstress or a shoe repair service.
- Follow care instructions for the products you buy. Almost all brands have special and detailed care instructions on their website. Arc’teryx for example has great videos on how to care for their Gortex coats (what to wash them with, how to wash and dry them).
- Patagonia has a separate website called ifixit.com which provides very detailed step by step instructions and videos on how you can DIY repairs to your outdoor apparel.
Resist the urge to buy new! Instead, #BuildSkills #BuildCommunity!
How to buy better
When you do need to buy, be a conscious consumer!
1. Buy second hand if possible.
2. Do your research! Cheap gear is not designed to last. Buy quality gear from environmentally and socially conscious brands who put people and the planet first throughout their entire supply chain. Find out if a company is also taking responsibility for the end of life of the products they create (cradle to cradle, closed loop, circular economy).
3. Think about plastics. How many items in your list of camping gear can you name that aren’t made of or blended with synthetic (plastic) materials? Your tent, rain gear, hiking shoes, backpack… are all made of plastic. Synthetic materials are known for their lightweight, sweat wicking and quick drying properties. Be aware that they also contribute to global plastic pollution, specifically microplastic pollution (small pieces and particles of plastic that remain in the environment). This problem is already having serious impacts on water and food chains. So if you do buy synthetic items, buy quality made items that will last and not break down as quickly over time. Prolong their useful life to keep them out of the landfill for longer. And when possible, choose natural fibers such as wool.
Here’s a list of gear and clothing brands I think are worth supporting based on my research and experience (I am not sponsored or paid by any of these brands). Please let me know if you think differently or have other suggestions for sustainable brands. I also encourage you to do research of your own and not just take my word for it.
Osprey will repair any damage or defect for any reason free of charge, whether your bag was purchased yesterday or 30 years ago. If your bag does need repair or is defective, insist they fix the bag instead of just replacing it so those materials don’t go to waste. It may not look as pretty as a new bag but it will work! It will just have more character and bring up memories from your outdoor adventures.
The Patagonia Fact Sheet says it best: “Our goal is to repair and reuse as many products as possible and recycle 100% of everything else to avoid sending used products to the landfill or incineration as end-of-life solutions.”
Worn Wear! takes back and sells used Patagonia gear. They also do some of the coolest repairs and are even designing completely new apparel pieces from patches of other used clothing! Follow @wornwear on socials.
Their apparel is made of natural fibres from ethical and cruelty free sources with very high quality standards.Check out their Transparency Report where they highlight their plan to eliminate plastic packaging and all synthetic materials from their clothing lines. #MoveToNatural
The majority of the clothing we buy arrives at a retail store individually wrapped in plastic – another example of upstream waste that many of us never see or think about. Last summer I asked a staff member at a local eco-conscious store here in Ottawa and she said that out of all of the clothing brands they carry, Toad&Co is the only company that they receive clothing from that doesn’t come wrapped in plastic! Check out their #WearSustainable Cheat Sheet.
GuppyFriend washing bags trap microplastics.
How to dispose of gear responsibly
Once your gear is truly at the end of its useful life, dispose of it responsibly.
1. Read this blog post by the Sierra Club to see a list of ideas for what to do with your gear before resorting to throwing it in the garbage. Believe it or not, someone might want the gear that you no longer want.
2. If your tent or a piece of gear is torn and cannot be mended or donated, consider #Repurposing it! Fabrics from tents and other gear can be upcycled and made into reusable bags, purses, patches for other gear or whatever else you can think up!
3. Reach out on Freecycle pages to see if anyone in the neighborhood could use the materials or items (maybe someone else would love to repurpose your slashed up tent).
4. Send bike tubes to an organization like Green Guru (USA) who make cycling bags and accessories out of materials that cannot be recycled in our mainstream recycling systems. #ClosedLoop
#ZeroWaste camping and hiking starts at the planning stage. Remember that before your adventure has even begun, the choices you make will have a major impact on the waste you produce and your overall environmental footprint. In my next blog post, I will dive into other aspects of zero waste camping and hiking, such as food, packaging and #LeaveNoTrace practices. I hope you found useful tips and stay tuned for Part Two!