Living in a van as a family of four you really become intimate…with the amount of rubbish that you create. Because we have limited storage and need some convenience items the situation becomes even worse.

When we first set off (knowing that rubbish is always an issue when we go away in the van) I suggested to hubby that we’d recycle whilst away. He was less than impressed:

“We don’t have the room to recycle.” he said

“But we make so much rubbish and we’ve got to keep that somewhere anyway.” I reasoned

“Hmmm…” he replied

Anyway, long story short and we recycle in the van.

As we live in a van, we obviously don’t have a dustbin collection. In France, Spain, Portugal and Italy there are several households that do not have rubbish collection; instead they have communal bins at random places all over the town. These places include recycling bins – it’s worked in our favour and we’ve been able to easily recycle glass, plastic, tetra packs, cans and paper (Italy also offers food waste).

This makes the actual disposal of our rubbish and recycling easy. But it still mounts up very quickly. When we started out I assumed that we would be shopping at markets and therefore be able to limit our use of plastic bags. The reality is that, for convenience, we actually end up shopping at supermarkets and being forced into buying plastic wrapped produce (who prepacks leeks?! And why do broccoli require so much packing?).

I have started to bring my own bags for loose apples rather than pulling off one of the shops plastic bags (I already used reusable bags for carrying food from the shop to the van!). My husband hates using non-supermarket bags for loose produce. I think he feels it’s strange and shops won’t like it. The reality is that the checkout staff haven’t batted and eyelid. They search the bag (as they can’t see the fruit/veg), take out the contents, weigh it, price it and shove it back into my bag! My main issue is that I don’t have enough smallish bags to do this, I end up mixing produce which does slow checkout. I’d like to stop the butcher from plastic wrapping my meats…but I don’t have suitable containers in the van (I hear stainless steel is good).

My mother kindly purchased some buzzcloths for me – these are wax coated fabric pieces that can be used to wrap around cheese etc in place of cling film or tin foil. We’ve been using these for a month with great success – we didn’t use cling film anyway, but we no longer have tinfoil rubbish to recycle.

We tend to cook and eat meals in the van. As dessert we buy yoghurts (we really spoil ourselves, haha!) – lots of single use plastic containers with non-recyclable plastic lids. On occasion we’ve been able to purchase yoghurts and chocolate mousse in glass jars. These jars are über cute and topped with tin foil but are not available everywhere.

We don’t eat out often but I did have a takeaway hot choc – I used my own cup (well, one my mum had in her bag!). The owner was a bit wary, but he filled it with my drink and it was a success. I did end up with a sticky hot choc coated cup to carry around in my bag. This was annoying but a cup and lid would solve it (don’t currently have one in the van..so perhaps a separate bag to put the dirty cup in will suffice for now).

We’ve currently got shower gel in plastic containers (I feel so guilty about all plastic I’ve bought in my life…), once our current stock has been used up I shall be searching for bars of soap (and I understand you can get bars of shampoo too) for us to use instead – taking bets on the fact that they’ll be shrink wrapped in plastic…

It seems like there is a growing ‘plastic free’ industry so you can buy toilet roll, toothbrushes or milk that is not made of plastic, packed in plastic or wrapped in plastic packaging. However most of these seem to only be available by purchasing online. We don’t have a fixed address and we tend to move everyday so these are not an option for us. I’d love to see more plastic free options in ‘normal’ supermarkets so that we can access these products more readily. Until then, we do what we can to reduce, recycle and refuse plastic products.

If anyone has an recommendations then please get in touch and let me know. I love hearing new ideas that can help.

Disclaimer: I am aware that traveling in a diesel van is not the most environmentally way to get around – but I can’t afford a Hydrogen fuelled one at the moment. Trying to reduce the impact as much as possible and waste and recycling is one way to do it.