10 Ways to Adventure With Less Plastic
Written by KEEN Europe Ambassador Cal Major
Photographed by James Appleton
As adventurers, we are in a privileged position of being able to act as stewards of our environment. We see firsthand the problems the natural world faces, and we 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 "length of the UK" SUP expedition last year (1,000 miles from Land's End to John O'Groats), while looking at the incredible, dedicated individuals and communities tackling plastic pollution at its 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!
However, in an industry geared toward 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 we're off exploring the world around us?
1. Snacks. I survived on flapjack, which are fruit and nut bars (sample recipe here). 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. I also made delicious protein balls. For trail mix, I am fortunate to have a bulk buy Co-op near me, where I can buy dried fruit and nuts straight from a big container, with no plastic packaging. However if you don’t have one near you, try your local grocery store. They often have big tubs of help-yourself nuts. You can buy them in massive quantities, without plastic (just remember to take an alternative bag with you).
2. Dehydrating fruit. I bought a second-hand dehydrator and used it nonstop for about a week. I dehydrated everything from banana slices, to apples, kiwis, vegetables, even cooked rice. 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 taste blooming delicious, too!
3. Toiletries. There are heaps of options now for plastic-free toiletries. Some suggestions are: soap bars instead of plastic bottles of shower gel/shampoo/clothes wash (less weight too), bamboo toothbrush, compostable plastic-free bandages (PATCH bamboo bandages), and reusable menstrual products such as the Mooncup, which mean no waste products to have to carry around with you either when bins are scarce.
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 that are impossible to recycle.
4. 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 that 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, 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.
5. 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.
Cal always brings a flask of tea or coffee with her on the water.
6. 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, 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. Then I know I at least have something to keep me warm and give me a caffeine hit during the day.
7. Lunch. It’s difficult to take fresh stuff with you for lunch. I often made 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.
If you’re buying fresh or takeaway food, please do ask for it out of plastic.
8. Storing food. 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.
9. Protein. I use Vivo Life protein powder; they are just starting to sell their protein in compostable packaging. Be aware, this needs to be properly disposed of—in an appropriate composting environment—to have the most benefit as it won’t break down in landfills, but it is not made from oil-based plastic.
10. 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 altogether where we can, as all of it has an impact. When reusable alternatives are available, it’s a much better option.
I hope these tips are empowering, and help you enjoy your adventures even more, knowing that you’re doing your best to reduce your environmental footprint while enjoying the places we’re trying to protect! And remember, Better Takes Action.
KEEN Europe Ambassador Cal Major joined KEEN’s Better Takes Action boat tour this summer, helping us pull plastic waste out of waterways in Amsterdam, Hamburg, Munich, and London. An ocean advocate, veterinary surgeon, and adventure-seeker, she is passionate about connecting people to our oceans, and protecting the ecosystems and animals within them. In 2016, she started Paddle Against Plastic as a way to use stand-up paddleboarding adventures to highlight the plastic pollution problem and promote positive solutions. Learn more at www.calmajor.com