Ask Eartha: Learn to camp sustainably

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If space allows, bringing containers to collect leftover food and one-flow recycling is a great way to reduce environmental impacts while camping.
Photo of High Country Conservation Center

Dear Eartha, I camp a lot, and I could definitely be better at what’s going on with my trash. Do you have any suggestions to make my camping trips more environmentally friendly?

Scattered camping is free and popular in Summit County. Due to our rich mining history, the dozens of dirt roads that run through the local hinterland also make scattered camping easily accessible. However, scattered campsites do not offer amenities such as toilets, fireplaces or household garbage service.

After COVID-19, it looks like everyone is eager to spend more quality time outdoors. How do you make sure that more time outdoors doesn’t mean more waste? Here are some tips for sustainable camping adventures.



Leave no trace

A general rule of thumb is to always leave your campsite better than you find it. Following the No Trace Principles will help you do that!

  1. Plan Ahead and Be Prepared – Check the guidelines for scattered camping depending on where you’re heading.
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces – Only use locations that you have obviously camped on.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly – Pack and Pack. In a growing number of high-traffic hinterland areas, this means eliminating human waste in the form of a portable toilet system.
  4. Leave what you find – Leave your campsite as you found it, with all natural materials in place as if you never made it there.
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts – Do not make multiple rings of fire and follow fire restriction guidelines. Summit County now under Stage 2 fire restrictions, which means no open fires or campfires in landscaped and undeveloped recreation sites, no smoking near flammable materials, no wood or charcoal grills and no fireworks. Considering that 2020 saw the three biggest wildfires in Colorado history, this principle is especially important.
  6. Respect Wildlife – If you are collecting food scraps to compost, make sure they are locked away where wildlife cannot reach them. Feeding wild animals is detrimental to their health and your safety.
  7. Be Mindful of Others – Loud music and unruly animals may not disturb your party, but you can affect how someone else enjoys the outdoors. Everyone deserves to enjoy their getaways.

Reduce, reuse, replace!

Camping can be a lot of work, so it’s no surprise that some campers opt for paper plates, individually wrapped snacks, and single-use plastics. By planning ahead, it’s easy to bring zero waste habits with you on your wilderness trips. Here are some of my favorite tips for reducing waste while camping:



  • Replace disposable utensils, plates and bowls with a set of reusable camping tableware.
  • Forget about paper napkins and cloth napkins. Just throw them away with your dirty laundry when you get home.
  • Instead of plastic water bottles, buy a large water carafe to fill individual (and durable) water bottles.
  • Tired of picking up those empty, green propane cans? Upgrade to a larger, refillable tank.
  • Drink a lot of adult drinks? Institute a “candidate” or promise that you and your camping friends will only drink cans. Aluminum is infinitely recyclable and unlike glass, it can be thrown in your single stream recycling bin at home.

Additional credit

Recycle and compost while camping? You bet! When space allows, bring a bucket to collect food scraps and a container to collect single-flow recycling. Clearly label your recycling, compost and waste containers to avoid confusion among your campers. Need a bucket for leftover food? Head to the High Country Conservation Center in Frisco to pick one up.

Human waste is also a concern when it comes to scattered camping. Depending on where you are camping, catholes can be an acceptable way to dispose of human waste. If Catholes are not accepted where you are camping, bring an appropriate toilet system that can be used by your group. You can usually find information on acceptable disposal of human waste by location on BLM.gov and Rec.gov.

The bottom line is that Summit County attracts more residents and visitors each year, increasing the human impacts on our open spaces. No matter where you camp, whether it’s here or your favorite getaway under the stars, we’ll all be better campers by adding these practices to our routines. Imagine what our open spaces would look like if everyone took this approach!

Allie flynn



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