Vanlife has turned us into a closer couple, and we love facing the challenges that a zero waste nomadic lifestyle brings, together. We wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.
Hi there! We’re Jordy and Marijke, a Dutch couple who both recently finished their master’s at Wageningen University, the Netherlands.
Over the course of eight months, we converted an old rusty construction vehicle into our own little home on wheels. The second we finished our conversion, we moved out of our student dorm room, and started living out our dream in our campervan.
But we’re getting off track. What’s more important for now, is the fact that we discovered the zero waste movement during our tiny home build. The concept really intrigued us.
We already actively promoted sustainable living on our website, mojoandfriends.com. By suggesting to reduce meat and dairy consumption, for example, and by focusing on the use of natural products, highlighting the importance of food waste limitation, and many more topics.
So it was about time for us to start paying attention to the excessive packaging material we bought. We were, quite literally, buying waste on a daily basis.
We’d always thought to be quite considerate. In a way we were already doing some good. Instead of single use plastic bags we always brought our own and mainly bought local produce local. We used reusable products, such as bamboo straws, reusable water bottles, and many other things. It was a good start, but we still had a whole bag full of plastic packaging to throw in the recycling bin each week.
Taking things further
Grocery shopping is one of our most favorite things to do since living the vanlife. It’s a challenge, but it gives us a great feeling whenever we fill a trolley with package free items!
We never thought twice about the fact that recycling of non-natural material certainly isn’t the best way to go. Let alone the fact that plastic is not fully recyclable, something we were not aware of at the time.
The zero waste movement really opened our eyes to how much further we could take things. Although we lived in one of the greenest cities in the Netherlands, we’d never come across anyone paying any attention to their waste.
Some people argue that they are just one single person; so what effect can they have? For us, it took just one person to show us the way. Just imagine how many other people you could inspire to do the same! The Internet does have quite a few positive sides!
One of the first things we noticed however, as every zero waster does, is that these days a true zero waste lifestyle is next to impossible. Especially since we live in a diesel-powered vehicle...
We therefore chose to focus our attention on making considerate choices regarding the things we buy on a daily basis and to take things slowly. Adapting a zero waste lifestyle certainly doesn’t happen over night. It really does take time to adjust your habits.
Our current goal is to continue our travels whilst excluding single-use plastic as much as possible, but also to avoid all packaging if we’re able to. For now, we’d like to share with you how zero waste vanlife has treated us so far. And we’d like to thank Bianca for showing us an alternative way of life. We’re honored to share our story on her amazing blog (and webshop)!
Traveling on a budget
Vanlife has offered us one of the greatest gifts: We’re able to choose a new backyard every single day.
Money has probably been the most determining factor in our success in zero waste grocery shopping. As neither of us currently holds a high paying job, we’re living on a tight budget. Making better choices does not always come at a higher price, but it too often does.
Yesterday for example, we found a 300 gram bag of radishes that cost about 1 Euro, but the bag was made of plastic. A little to the right, an unpackaged bundle that contained half the amount of radishes was advertised for 2.8 Euros! At the moment, this is just too expensive for us. In the Netherlands, we regularly saw cucumbers wrapped in plastic for 80 cents, and unpackaged organic varieties for three times that price. In Sweden, plastic free cucumbers are practically non-existent.
Eating the rainbow
No, we’re not talking about skittles, but the veggie rainbow!
The high cost of many unpackaged vegetables has resulted in a diet with a lower variety of fruits and veggies than we would like to have. Those packaged radishes were cheaper, but instead we opted for other unpackaged vegetables. Last week, we finally decided to buy a bag of frozen spinach as we failed to find any unpackaged leafy greens for two weeks straight. Since we follow a vegan(ish) diet, leafy greens are quite important. The bag of frozen spinach gave us the most value for one plastic packaging (compared to fresh spinach).
Back at home, we had the possibility to visit the farmers’ market twice a week. We were always able to find a large variety of unpackaged produce at a very decent price. It has certainly not been easy to find stores or markets in every area we have visited during our travels. This means that we have had to settle with less most days of the week.
Though most of our snacks are package free, supermarket fruit always comes with some form of waste. These stickers frustrate us on a daily basis.
Although the diversity has decreased, we’re actually eating more fruit and veg than ever before. Over the past few years, fruits and vegetables made up the bulk of the food we consumed, and we followed a good diet in general. But we have also eaten a fair amount of unhealthy stuff, such as chips or cakes.
Since we started traveling, it hasn’t been easy to find stores that offer package free alternatives to these snacks. When we visit a new place, which in general is every day, we don’t know which stores sell plastic free junk food. This is great, it makes healthy eating even easier. It just takes some getting used to!
We did sneak in a few unpackaged donuts in our grocery trolley at the Lidl last week. But don’t share that with anyone else ;)
If we were to live in a large city, we would know exactly where to go to find package free cookies and the like. We’d be tempted to visit a plant-based café and spend money that we don’t have to. Now we just make a cup of tea at home with a healthy snack. Marijke’s current favorite is apple with peanut butter.
We now eat much healthier. We save a bit of money not spending it on unnecessary and unhealthy snacks, and have come up with simple, healthy, waste-free alternatives.
Green zero waste
Another aspect that most people don’t consider - we certainly didn’t think it all the way through beforehand - is green waste disposal. At home, every household either has a green bin, or a compost bin.
Composting is not an option in a campervan, nor do we have a bin of which the contents are picked up once a week. We actually do have a composting toilet in our campervan, but we still have to figure out how to use it properly.
Sweden has been great as far as recycling goes. Every little village has at least one recycling station where they differentiate between cardboard and paper, magazines, plastic packaging, hard plastics, metal cans and lids, colored glass, clear glass, and clothing. But since we’re trying to live zero waste, what type of ‘waste’ do we produce most? Green waste of course. And what’s missing? A green waste bin..
The Netherlands doesn’t offer any public places to get rid of your green waste either. It makes sense. But we didn’t expect not to find green waste bins at places like campings, for example.
We currently have two bins filled to the brim with green waste. Whenever we drive through cities or villages, we’re like eagles trying to find a mouse; but rather desperate people trying to find a green waste bin. We have to find a place for our green waste, so it gets composted rather than compressed in a landfill.
Where does everything go?
We have recently figured out a way to make zero waste overnight oats. It’s our favorite breakfast and Marijke prepares it every evening.
Although our previous home wasn’t big - it was just a student dorm room - we did manage to fit two large closets for our pantry. Currently, we can’t even fit one.
Our wardrobe has two small shelves designated for food, and we’ve managed to find some space on the floor next to our fridge. But that’s about it. We’ve had to sell and donate quite a few of the jars that we used to store our food during our years at university.
The few times we do find some amazing package free stuff, we can store only a limited amount and variety of products in the few glass jars that we own. It means that we run out of those quite quickly.
We could find package free rolled oats, for example, and fill up our glass container. It would cost way more than the packaged alternative, and would only last us 3-4 days. So far, we have only once found package-free oats during the past five weeks. Luckily, we’re able to buy 1.5 kg paper bags of oats that fit on the floor next to our fridge.
Just a few days ago, we found frozen spinach in a cardboard package for the first time. But our freezer is tiny, and since we share it with our dogs, we can’t store much. If we want to eat more leafy greens (which is necessary since we follow a vegan-ish diet) we are not able to store several boxes at a time, and we rarely find them in any store.
Owning dogs makes things a tad more difficult, but we’ve even found some package free natural and meat-based snacks in Swedish pet stores!
Since we own dogs, we will probably never take our plastic consumption down completely whilst traveling. Although there are several brands of dry dog food that come in compostable packaging, we prefer to feed a raw diet.
Back at home, we prepared this diet ourselves. We would order 20 kg of food at once, which came delivered in a large box with meat frozen in very thin plastic bags of 1-2 kg. Alternatively, we bought some scraps at the butcher’s or at the farmers market and asked for them to be wrapped in paper, or put it in one of our containers. If we didn’t have time to prepare food for the dogs ourselves, we’d buy a box of premade raw food that was solely wrapped in one thin layer of plastic all around the interior of the box.
In Sweden, we’re only able to find very thick plastic bags with 800 grams or 3 kg of raw food. Depending on the amount of freezer space we have on a given day, we buy either of these.
The UK does have a great brand that produces balanced raw food in compostable packaging. If we were to live in England, we’d be able to limit our waste tremendously! But again, these products are difficult to find in stores, and are available more easily when ordered online. Living in a vehicle, we don’t have an address that this food could be shipped to.
Poop bags are another aspect of dog-ownership that complicate zero waste living. We recently wrote about the subject, yet we’re still not sure what would be our best option to clean up our dogs’ waste whilst living in a van.
It’s a challenge
Package free grocery shopping is certainly possible whilst traveling. Let’s be honest though. Having a large budget really would’t hurt.
It mainly takes a lot of time and quite some strategic planning ahead. We have to figure out when to go shopping, for example, which stores are available in the area, and visit multiple stores to get the most variety without plastic packaging.
How do you prepare yourself for both short and long trips away? We’d love to hear some of your tips!