Adventuring with less plastic

By Cal Major

As adventurers, we are in a privileged position of being able to act as stewards of our environment. We see first hand the problems the natural world faces, and can do something to help protect it.

But first and foremost, our responsibility is in not adding to the destruction of the environments we love.

During my Land’s End to John O’Groat expedition, while looking at the incredible, dedicated individuals and communities the length of the UK tackling plastic pollution at source, I attempted to complete my expedition using as little plastic as possible too. I felt particularly passionate about this when paddling through waterways choked with single use plastic wrappers. Spending time in these places and seeing how affected they are really does make you want to change your ways!

Plastic bottles collected from a canal in Wigan

However, in an industry geared towards lightweight equipment, speed and ease of food preparation and preserving rations, plastic is inevitably a very useful, and widely used, material.
It wasn’t always easy, and there were still some things I couldn’t seem to find without plastic, but there are lots of things that were really quite easy to do.

So how can we use less single-use plastic when on expedition?

  • Snacks. I survived on flapjack. My mum and I both made several big batches of this, and by steering clear of butter, the flapjack lasted for ages. Packed with calories, nuts, seeds and dried fruit, I regularly had flapjack for breakfast. We used porridge oats bought in paper bags, and wrapped the flapjack in greaseproof paper and reused packets we found in our kitchens.
  • Dehydrating fruit. I bought a second hand dehydrator and used it non stop for about a week. I dehydrated everything from banana slices, to apples, kiwis, vegetables, even cooked rice (see below). I absolutely love doing this, as you can make cheap, plastic-free fruit snacks that aren’t going to get squashed or bruised in your bag. The apples are blooming delicious too!
  • Trail mix. I am fortunate to have a bulk buy COOP near me, where I can buy dried fruit and nuts straight from a container, with no plastic packaging. However if you don’t have one near you, try your local Lidl. They often have big tubs of help-yourself nuts – cashews, almonds and pistachios. You can buy them in massive quantities, without plastic (just remember to take an alternative bag with you. I use Refuse and Reuse bags made from recycled plastic).
  • Expedition meals. Having a hot, easy and quick to prepare meal at the end of a tough day is a huge relief. However, these are the worst for plastic, as they often come in multilayered bags which are impossible to recycle. I found an amazing company called Outdoor Food, who make ‘Firepots’ (delicious expedition meals), in compostable packets! They last for ages (I just ate my last one a year after it was made), the packaging is really durable, and I’ve even reused the packets. I have also dabbled in making my own expedition meals by dehydrating vegetables and cooked rice, and adding nuts, seeds and seasoning. This was delicious and easy to cook up. I also have uncooked rice and quinoa and dehydrated vegetable mix, which takes a bit longer to cook, but when I have a good water supply and time this works just as well.
Outdoor Food meals in compostable packaging. The packaging still needs to be brought home with you!
  • Water. I always have a massive Klean Kanteen water bottle with me, that I fill up whenever possible. When there isn’t any tap water, I use a UV water filtration device.
  • Tea and coffee. Having your own coffee cup with you for takeaway coffee is ideal. But even better is being able to make your tea or coffee in the morning when your stove is out and you’re making your morning brew, and then making enough to last you the day. Particularly for when out on the water, when brewing up isn’t really an option! I always take my Klean Kanteen insulated bottle with me on the water, with either green tea or strong coffee depending on the stage of my expedition. Then I know I at least have something to keep me warm and give me a caffeine hit during the day.
I always have a flask of tea or coffee with me on the water
  • Lunch. It’s difficult to take fresh stuff with you for lunch. I did make some oatcakes, but they fell apart and were difficult to transport. So what I started doing instead was making twice the portion at dinner time, putting one portion into my insulated Klean Kanteen food canister, and that would form my lunch for the next day. These canisters are awesome, they keep your food hot for hours, and it meant no faffing the next morning, I could just get up and go and know that my lunch would be ready and waiting for me when I needed it.
  • Storing rations. I use a mixture of Klean Kanteen single-walled canisters and bottles to store dried rations. They make a range of sizes and they’re very durable, keeping food fresh for months.
  • Protein. I used Vivo Life protein powder; they are just setting up a crowdfunder campaign to make it in compostable packaging, which would be so great!
  • Be careful with what you’re buying. You can often buy chocolate out of plastic (e.g. Green and Black’s), and if you’re buying fresh or takeaway food, please do ask for it out of plastic. I’ve even used one of my food canisters at a fish and chip van before so I didn’t have to use their polystyrene tray. And remember, this isn’t just about the plastic we’re using, it’s about trying to cut back on unnecessary packaging where we can full stop, as all of it has an impact. When reusable alternatives are available, it’s a much better option.

As with any time spent outdoors, never leave anything behind. Take everything away with you, even compostable packaging which often needs specific industrial conditions to decompose quickly. Please leave any tips you have too in the comments below!

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