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We love traveling in our RV but we frequently worry about the impact our RVing habits have on the environment. With everyone becoming more concerned with pollution and environmental impact we feel it is important to reduce our environmental footprint. That’s what we’ve come up with 11 eco-friendly changes you can make in your RV.
To make sure your RV living and travel is more eco-conscious, there are a ton of different swaps and modification you can make to your RV and the products you use. Some will be simple trades, some will be more complicated and others will make you rethink your chosen mode of travel.
Easy Eco-Friendly Changes
I’ll start by covering some of the eco-friendly changes you can easily make in your RV. These will be simple swaps and habits you can start incorporating into your everyday RV life.
Food waste is one of the biggest contributors to household garbage. In our stationary homes, many of us are already composting but we have never considered taking our composting habits on the road with us.
I know you might think I’m crazy but you can make a small 5 gallon bucket worm composter, aka vermicomposters, that will let you easily compost your food waste while on the road.
We built our own worm composting buckets and it decreased the amount of garbage we produced but 80%. It’s a simple DIY project and you can even buy your worms off Amazon!
If you are worried about the compost being smelly, when done properly it should just have a nice earthy scent to it. Just make sure to not overfeed or water the worms, and let them have proper aeration.
My only caveat to building a composter for you RV is if you cross the border frequently. I don’t think border guards in Canada, USA or Mexico will be too happy about you trying to bring your little worm friends with you.
This DIY worm compost bin video below is how we built our successful, portable worm composters. If you aren’t into DIY this small worm composter found on Amazon would be an awesome alternative.
This is another habit that is ingrained into us in our brick and mortar homes especially when it gets carted away for us at the curb. It takes a bit more conscious thought in an RV because unfortunately, not all RV parks have recycling bins.
Recycling can help keep over 30% of waste from landfills so even if it’s a bit more difficult to do while RVing it’s important to keeping unnecessary materials out of the landfill.
As I mentioned RV parks may not have recycling facilities so you’ll need to find a recycling place to get rid of it yourself. Aside from flat out Googling recycling + your location, websites like recyclerfinder.com, berecycled.org, and earth911.com are all great resources to find local recycling centers.
The other option is to store your recycling at your campsite in a Rubbermaid and bring it home with you to put out curbside.
3. Convert to LED Lights
Swapping out your old incandescent and fluorescent light bulbs to LEDs is a very easy way to reduce the power consumption of your RV. LEDs use so much less power than normal bulbs and have a much longer lifespan. As an added bonus there is no glass to worry about for most types of bulbs.
You can also fully replace your light fixtures or do like we did and retrofit your existing fixtures with LED strip lights. You can read our full tutorial about How to Change RV Lights to LEDs.
If you aren’t into the DIY scene then you can pick up fluorescent style LED bulbs that fit fluorescent light fixtures from Amazon. They just tend to cost a little more
We bought basic LED bulbs, new dome lights and LED strip lights from Amazon to replace and retrofit all our existing fluorescent and incandescent bulbs. We also used color changing LED strip lights (link to Amazon) with a remote to upgrade our under counter lighting.
4. Choose Environmentally-Friendly Alternatives to Plastic
One of the most popular items in travelers’ bags and homes is plastic – in the form of Tupperware, water bottles, sandwich and snack bags, and so much more. This material has taken over our lives! Partially because it is incredibly convenient for storing foods and also because it is so cheap to purchase.
Now reusable plastics like Tupperware aren’t too big of a deal, it’s the single use plastics, especially non-recyclable ones that are terrible for the environment.
One of the biggest single use plastic products we use is plastic wrap. This stuff is terrible for the environment. One amazing alternative that I personally love is switching to beeswax food wraps. These are made of cotton coated with beeswax, and while you can’t microwave them they do mold nicely to different shaped dishes and foods.
I have this beeswax food wrap set from Amazon and having several different sizes is a huge help.
Some other alternative to plastics you can use are:
- Instead of ziplocks invest in some silicone reusable food storage bags (link to Amazon). I have the ones in the link above and they have been amazing, fully leak proof and basically dummy proof to close properly.
- Switch your plastic grocery produce bags to reusable ones. I have these mesh produce bags (Amazon link) and they are the perfect lightweight alternative to plastic produce bags.
- Buy some reusable grocery bags so you can ditch the pathetic plastic ones that get holes before you make it to the car (I’m looking at you Walmart). I keep a foldable nylon bag (Amazon link) in my purse or backpack all the time and have heavy duty bags (Amazon link) for big grocery trips and loading/unloading the RV.
5. Use Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products
Using high-quality cleaning products is important for your family’s health and safety at home or in your RV. The fumes from our cleaning products are released into the air and can pose a risk to your family and the wildlife or plant life that may be nearby when you are out camping.
There are many DIY cleaning products that are very effective and safe for the environment. Baking soda, white vinegar, and lemon juice are just a few that clean and disinfect while still being eco-friendly and budget friendly.
If you prefer to buy cleaning products Dr. Bronners Castile soap (Amazon link) can be diluted and used for a ton of different uses. A few other good all-purpose clears that are biodegradable and avoid harsh chemicals are Greenworks, Seventh Generation and Mrs. Meyers all of which can be found on Amazon.
Some of the things you should look for in environmentally-friendly cleaning products are:
- Use of renewable resources in ingredients (i.e., solvents from citrus and vegetable oils)
- Biodegradable as defined by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)
- Low toxicity for aquatic species
- Low VOC content
- Ability to be used with cold water to conserve energy
To see more, see this guide written by the Environmental Protection Agency.
6. Reduce Heater and A/C Use
Traveling during the extreme seasons, either winter or summer, is going to cause you to use a lot more energy either in the form of heating or cooling. Heaters and air conditioners are always a huge resource pit, using lots of energy and/or propane.
Looking for alternatives to your heater or A/C will help reduce your energy consumption and your environmental impact. Of course, it’s not always possible to point blank not use them but there are ways to use them a little less.
Here are some tips to make it a little cooler for summer camping:
- Pick shady campsites whenever possible or at the very least park to avoid the mid afternoon sun when it’s at its hottest.
- Use your awnings to shade your RV from the suns rays
- Position your RV to utilize any breeze for crossflow
- Set your ceiling fans to suck the hot air out of your RV
If you are more of a cold weather camper here are some tips to stay warm:
- Park to maximize sunshine on your RV
- Position your RV to reduce the area exposed to wind
- Wear thermal layers
- Slippers will help heat loss through the RV floor
- Use warm blankets.
You can reduce your propane or electricity usage with these simple techniques but you don’t have to sacrifice comfort for eco-friendliness.
Intermediate Eco-friendly Changes
These changes will take a little more planning on your part than the last few but are still pretty easy to put into practice and don’t really cost any money to implement.
7. Use Other Modes of Transportation
When picking places to visit and choosing the best campgrounds look into using public transit, biking, walking or taxi/Uber to get around locally. Reducing the amount of driving you do in your RV especially city driving is a simple way to be a little more eco-friendly and also takes the stress out of parking your home on wheels.
Many buses are equipped with bike racks so you can bring your two wheeled vehicle closer to the action but check on the cities transit site if this is an option.
If the city you are in is not public transit friendly then consider Ubering into town. It’ll save you the hassle of breaking camping and trying to find parking for your big rig.
And don’t overlook how far your bike alone can get you! Bicycling is an easy way to quickly get around with no environmental impact. We took full advantage of our bikes while exploring Vancouver. It was amazing not having to hunt for parking for our 25′ RV in downtown Vancouver.
At some point, you will need to face the reality that you don’t have to drive your RV everywhere you want to go! If you’re out camping, park your RV where you intend to keep it for the night or weekend and leave it there. If you want to adventure throughout the area, use your legs and explore that way!
As I said in the begging it’ll take a little more planning and a bit more strategy to find good RV parks that have good walking, biking or public transit access but it does make life a lot easier to leave your rig in one spot.
8. Plan Your Travel Route
Long distance travel in an RV is a great way to experience the sights, sounds and smells of different destinations on route and having a well mapped out route is one way to reduce unnecessary miles.
Many of us RVer’s love to just wingit. This is true for us to a certain extent but we have found by planning our travel route we can be much more considerate of the route we are taking. We can avoid backtracking to see sights we’ve missed and also do our best to avoid major mountain roads.
Deciding how far or rather how long you want to drive each day can actually reduce the amount of fuel you use. You don’t want to be in a rush when driving a motorhome or pulling a trailer, the slower you go the better fuel economy you’ll get. Finding the right sweet spot for your rig is a great way to maximize your fuel economy.
Find out more about fuel economy and how fast an RV should drive in our article.
Complex Eco-Friendly Changes
These changes are going to take more time, money and energy to implement. They will be major modifications to your RV but well worth the time and effort.
9. Use Solar Power
Adding solar panels to your RV is an amazing way to reduce your need for electric hookups. You can opt for a portable solar system or a roof mounted system.
There are benefits to each type. A portable solar system lets you place your solar panels directly in the sun while keeping your RV nicely shaded. You can also move them to follow the sun to get more power for longer.
The downside is you need to store your panels somewhere when they are not in use and you may find it irritating to set up and take down.
Roof mounted solar panels are easy because you can basically forget about them on your roof but you do need to be strategic with parking your RV to make sure they get the most sun possible.
We chose to have roof mounted panels so we did need to worry about storage and setup. We found flexible 100W solar on Amazon and purchased three of them for our setup.
It does take a little work to DIY and you can also get it installed for you. We’ve put together a complete step-by-step guide to installing solar power in your RV. This is guide goes over exactly what products you need and how to install your system yourself.
10. Switch to a Composting Toilet
One of the best, most popular options for becoming more eco-friendly is by purchasing a composting toilet. Not only will this reduce your water use in general, but it is also a better way to dispose of human waste.
While RV toilets don’t use a ton of water they still need some to function and you also need a dump station to empty your black water tank. Many people also use chemicals to keep their black water tank clean which isn’t very eco-friendly.
Composting toilets for RVs or other campers and tiny homes are entirely self-contained, meaning there will be no odor or anything unpleasant finding its way out of the toilet. These toilets need three things to help break down the waste: oxygen, warmth, and moisture.
Many models need help from a “bulking agent” such as peat moss, saw dust or straw to help in speeding up the natural breakdown of materials. These materials will be mixed in with the waste either using a crank handle or the toilet will do it automatically.
Most composting toilets will actually separate the liquid and soil waste. This is done to help speed up the composting process. But now to tough question how to dispose of your waste?
To get rid of your liquid waste you can still use your blackwater tank or if you don’t have one you can use a standard public toilet somewhere to flush it away.
Once the solid waste has been properly broken down you’ll have to dispose of it according to your state’s regulations. If you’re lucky you can find a farm that has a human waste composting pile that you can add your load too but more likely than not you’ll have to find another way.
Most states allow human waste, especially partially composted waste, to be disposed of in landfills. Again check your local regulation but using a compostable trash bag, like these found on Amazon, to empty your full composting toilet and dispose of it in a pubic garbage bag should be fine and no different than dirty diapers. Actually it’s probably better since diapers don’t breakdown.
There are definitely both pros and cons to using a composting toilet and you’ll want to do your research before diving headfirst into this eco-friendly switch. Composting toilets can be fairly pricey but Nature’s Head Self Contained Composting Toilet is one of the top rated ones found on Amazon.
11. Switch to Biofuel
A major change that is gaining traction in the RV community is the use of biodiesel. Biodiesel is cleaner burning than petroleum based fuels. It is actually produced using co-products or by-products of currently harvested crops.
Most biodiesel available is technically called “biodiesel blend” and is a blend of 80% standard diesel and 20% biodiesel which is made up of vegetable oils or animal fats. There are specifications on what can be actually be called biodiesel as well.
Biodiesel blend can be found throughout the US and is marked at the pump with a blue and black biodiesel sticker. You’ll also see marked BXX where XX will be the percentage of biodiesel in the blend. So you’ll find up to B20 which is a 20% biodiesel blend.
As I said you can use biodiesel blend in any diesel vehicle but you might need to change your filters more regularly in the beginning since there is a solvent effect with biodiesel that can free deposits from previous diesel fuels on the tank walls and pipes.
You can find retail locations for biodiesel blend using biodiesel.org’s location finder. It can help you plan your trip so you can continue to use biodiesel on your RVing adventures.
Now if you want to go full biofuel you can convert your diesel vehicle to run on vegetable oil. It’s a fairly in-depth conversion since you need to add a second fuel tank for the oil, proper filter and heaters.
The vegetable oil needs to be filtered properly before it can be used by the engine. It also needs to be at a certain temperature before it is liquidy enough. You will need to use a bit of standard diesel to start your engine and get the vegetable oil up to temperature.
Finding vegetable oil shouldn’t be too hard since you can collect used frier oils from restaurants just make sure you ask before you start dumpster diving their old frier oil. And yes, you will smell like greasy French fries driving down the road.
If you are interested in making the change to a grease run RV one of the top places recommended on the internet for information and products is Golden Fuel Systems.
A Greener Future: Eco-Friendly RV Travel
Many people think that when we change our lives for the greener that it is all about sacrifice, but really, it’s just about making a few alternative choices here and there to clean your life up a bit.
RV manufacturers are slowly changing over to lighter materials and increasing the fuel efficiency of motorhomes. Hopefully, we’ll see hybrid and all electric RVs in the near future that can still get us where we want to go.
For now, while we wait for all of these incredible innovations to come our way, try employing a few of the swaps suggested in this article to get your current RV as eco-conscious as possible. Go green and happy traveling!