Saturday 17 September 2011

Can camping be no-impact?

Dolphins, dingoes and downpours. That’s how last week's camping trip started. But by Friday evening (we arrived Thursday) the skies had cleared and we surfed until sunset with a pod of dolphins.

Somewhere on the Australian coast
It was a much-needed time-out, four days off for no impact girl (and boy) at a spot on the NSW coast that shall remain nameless here because, well, it’s a favourite of mine. 

It never seems to change, has uncrowded waves and you can pitch your tent so close to the beach you can see the surf from your sleeping bag.

I love the simplicity of camping and surfing, how well they go together. They’re both minimalist at heart, involve connecting to the elements and slow life down from a rush to an amble. 

The only writing I did while away
It was great to go to bed early and wake up before sunrise. To see dingoes trotting through the campground and ospreys and eagles overhead. To time our surf sessions with the tides and swell, not our own schedules. To watch the moon rise and travel halfway across the sky while we cooked and ate our dinner. 

One night, toasting marshmallows over the campfire (surely one of the est things about camping), we got to talking about the eco-impact of camping. 

On the plus side: We weren’t using any electricity (except in the toilet block – and we could have used our head torches just as easily). There was no mobile reception, let alone wifi for the laptops we didn't have. We didn’t even wear watches. We used a Trangia stove that runs on methylated spirits, a renewable resource (it’s made from sugar cane). We didn’t have a generator or use any refrigeration (just an esky filled with ice-bricks from our freezer at home). We didn’t buy newspapers or even go into any shops – which were 20 minutes away by car. 

Hammock time
We used less water and fewer detergents than usual (we rinsed off under a cold outdoor shower after surfing, washed our dishes in cold water). Everything we did was essentially low-impact: surfing, walking, reading in hammocks, playing chess, yoga. One day we found plastic bottles, thongs and pieces of polystyrene amongst the driftwood on a beach, and spent a cheerful hour picking up as much as we could, filling two large sacks with rubbish.

Shells collected (and returned later)
There were impacts, of course. We had to drive to get there: 900km including side-trips on the way there and back (though I offset my car’s emissions with Greenfleet). We had a campfire every night which, of course, releases carbon dioxide into the air. We couldn’t compost food scraps as we do at home. The only recycling facilities available took glass and plastic but not paper or cardboard (we did bring some recycling home with us). We bought more food with packaging than usual, for convenience and because we couldn’t keep food as long without refrigeration (though we did use reusable clip-seal bags). 

As well as the Trangia stove, we had a gas stove that runs on non-recyclable butane cylinders. And we had to buy a 10L plastic container to BYO drinking water (a giant plastic water bottle!) – though on our last day we found we could boil water from the rainwater tank at the toilet block.

Natural beauty
See what having a no-impact project does to you? You see everything through a no-impact lens, think about things a bit too much, but hopefully become more conscious for it.

I’d like to do a real no-impact camping trip sometime, but until then I've decided the benefits of camping outweigh the (small) eco-costs, by reminding us to live with less stuff and more nature-time.

Do you have any low-impact camping tips?

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