While preparing for a upcoming camping trip with the family, I began to think about how to go about it without leaving a large swath of waste behind. A good way to try to do this is to follow the principles of 'Leave No Trace.' Leave No Trace is a non-profit organization who seeks to educate all hikers, bikers and campers to leave no trace or even a negative trace (Yes it is possible!) when camping.
Principles of Leave No Trace
Camp food Most items thought of as biodegradable such as apples and apple cores, orange peels, banana peels, nuts, candy, etc., are not native to most natural environments and are not thought of as suitable food for wildlife.
Anything that is carried into the woods should come out of the woods with you. Otherwise it's simply trash. One apple core will not completely disrupt the local ecosystem, but litter is litter. The biggest problem with improperly disposing of food waste, e.g. tossing apple cores into the woods, it that it is ultimately harmful to wildlife. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters their natural behaviors and exposes them to predators and other dangers. Once you are to a more modern campground with dumpsters or a park visitor center, then your trash can be properly disposed of there.
Buy bulk organic foods and cook them on the greenest stove that meets your needs.
Choose your camp stove wisely: for backpacking, Sustainable Travel International recommends the Sierra stove, a lightweight, super-efficient model that can burn pine cones, wood chips, tree bark, charcoal or any other solid fuel.
Consider a pollution-free solar oven if you'll be car camping. http://www.solarcookers.org/basics/basics.html
Properly store your food to protect it from bears and other animals. Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not feed the animals.
Soap and cleaning Pack washcloths for cleaning up. Biodegradable soap still can pollute rivers and streams since it does contain some chemical contaminants.
Wash yourself and dishes 200 feet from any water sources and away from campsites.
Don't use soap or shampoo. Even biodegradable soap still has an impact on the environment.
Hiking Stay on designated trails while hiking or backpacking. Walk single file in the center of the path. Leave only the lightest of footprints.
Use existing trails. Don't shortcut switchbacks.
Stay on the trail if it is muddy or wet. Hike through it. If you walk around the mud the trail will widen and become even muddier in the future. Mud is part of the backcountry challenge. Wear waterproof boots and gaiters to protect your feet from mud and water. Stay on the trail.
Hike on durable surfaces (rock, sand, gravel, snow, pine needles, or dry grasses) to prevent vegetation damage and erosion.
Navigate with a map and compass to eliminate the need for ribbons, rock cairns, or tree blazes.
Camping Camp on durable surfaces. Avoid fragile areas that will impact easily and take a long time to heal after you leave. Try to concentrate use into campsites that are already established.
Make your site or travel route look like nobody was ever there. Leave no signs of human influence. Remove all evidence of your stay. Inspect your campsite for trash or misplaced gear before you leave.
Do not bury your trash. Animals will dig it up or it will become exposed later on for someone else to find. Pack it out.
Do not burn your trash. Tin foil, plastic bottles and the like do not completely burn.
Pick up trash that others may have missed or that were dropped by accident. Pick up trash you find along the trail.
Bury human waste in catholes about 6-8" deep 200 feet from any water sources, campsites, or trails. It is good to carry out used toilet paper since animals often dig it up and spread it all over.
Take only pictures, leave only the lightest of footprints, and bring home only memories. Leave stones, feathers, artifacts, shells, petrified wood, etc. so that others may enjoy them.
Leave the place you're visiting in a natural condition. Do not alter a site in any way.
If you must build a fire and not use a camping stove (Solar or lightweight) make it as small as possible and use established fire rings. If there is no fire ring contain your fire in a fire pan or build a mound fire to protect the area from the eyesore of old coals and blackened rocks.
Remove all unburned trash from your fire ring. Contrary to popular belief aluminum foil and plastic bottles do not completely burn in fires. Scatter your leftover cold ashes over a large area away from campsites.
Don't camp near water. Camp at least 200 feet away from water sources. Animals come to water to drink and may be scared off. Areas near water are also more fragile and camping too close can lead to erosion.
Other tips Treat the animals you encounter with respect. Remember that you are a visitor and are traveling and camping in their backyard.
Report people to the proper authorities who damage resources, litter, or violate area regulations. Better yet, educate them on why they shouldn't be doing what they're doing and teach them how to correct their behavior.