THE TRUTH ABOUT VANLIFE - THE VAN PROJECT
AMANDA, MATT & ROYAL of @VAN.PROJECT
1. How do you practice sustainable living in your day to day vanlife? Do you have any creative or innovative tips to share?
Moving into our RV inherently reduced our environmental impact right from the beginning. First, we use much less water. When we lived in an apartment, we showered everyday or every other day. Now, on average, we shower once a week. This did take some getting used to but over time our bodies have adjusted and stopped creating as much stink and grease/oils, so we actually don’t smell and our hair doesn’t look nasty even after 6 days without washing. We also tend to wash dishes much less, wiping them out vs. using water to clean them every time. Or sometimes we just reuse the same coffee mug morning after morning, or the same bowl that was last night’s chili dinner is now this morning’s egg breakfast (without getting cleaned in the traditional sense in between).
As far as fossil fuels: We do drive our literal house with us, but compared to some folks in RV we get quite good gas mileage (our average is around 13 MPG). Also, we don’t heat our RV at all (we had a little buddy for a few weeks but it didn’t do much for us) and instead move to warmer climates when it gets too cold for us.
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As far as energy: we run 100% off solar power. Our fridge, fan, lights, and everything all run off this. We don’t have a generator or any sort of shore power.
As far as waste: we work to minimize waste, and we always recycle. We use cloth rags to clean up most of the time instead of paper towels. We actually just completed a 100% zero plastic waste month, where we didn’t purchase or acquire (including free) plastics like plastic bags, cutlery, straws, or packaging of any sort. This made it hard to eat lots of meats or cheese so we actually ate 95% vegetarian, which is a bit more than we usually do on average. One of the coolest things we learned about during that month was this awesome product called Bee’s Wraps (there are a few brands that make them). They’re basically a resin and beeswax coated organic cloth that you can use in place of plastic wrap or plastic baggies that last up to a year. We were even able to bring these wraps into grocery stores like Whole Foods, Sprouts, etc. and have them sell us cheese directly in these wraps.
2. Tell us about your water setup. How do you collect, store and conserve water?
Our RV originally came with a 30 gallon fresh water tank, but it was old and grungy so we replaced it with a new, BPA-free fresh water reservoir (still 30 gallons). We also usually carry a couple gallon jugs of water that we use to fill up water bottles quickly.
We can only fill our tank with a pressurized hose, so we typically fill up at RV fill stations, but have also used potable water stations at gas stations and even people’s garden hoses. We also carry an activated charcoal filter that attaches to a standard garden hose to reduce chlorine and make sure our water tastes decent.
3. How do you shop for and store food in your small space? How do you minimize waste?
Food shopping is pretty much the same for us in our RV as it was in our pre-rv life, although we eat less meat than we used to and have to shop a little more frequently. We cook 90% of our meals ourselves. We always use cloth shopping bags to reduce our need for single-use plastic (something we’ve been doing our best to cut out of our lives). We have enough space under our kitchen counter to store about 2 weeks worth of dry goods - things like rice, pasta, lentils canned foods, etc. We also have a 50-quart DC-voltage refrigerator from ARB for vegetables, yogurt, milk, and other perishables. We use a plastic container specifically designed to keep vegetables fresh and it’s been a great addition to our fridge (it’s rigid so we can stack things on top of it). We especially notice a difference when we use it for our leafy greens: our kale, spinach, lettuce, cilantro, etc. really do last longer in there. Because our fresh food capacity is as small as our refrigerator, waste hasn’t been a problem for us. We VERY RARELY have to throw away anything. Occasionally an apple will get dried up and shrivelled because we’re often spending time in dry environments (but we try to eat those too!).
4. What are some sustainable methods / materials you’ve used in building out or customizing your van?
One sustainable material we used in our build was recycled denim insulation. It was much more pleasant to work with than fiberglass (it’s not itchy and you don’t need to wear gloves). We also used a natural solution called Corroseal to help deal with some of the rust we encountered while re-insulating our vehicle. It converts rust to magnetite which simultaneously stops future rust and seals the metal by converting the existing rust to magnetite.
Of course, we also have a solar system, and we run 100% of our lives off of that now, so that’s definitely much more sustainable than our previous non-solar enlightened lives.
5. What are some challenges you’ve faced in your efforts to minimize your environmental impact on the road? How are you overcoming these challenges?
Three “challenges” come to mind. First, we always recycle, but since we’re not always in the same places we don’t always have easy access to recycling facilities. Usually, they’re not far away but we do tend to sometimes carry around our recycling with us for a few days to a few weeks. Some National Parks or BLM lands with other recycling don’t allow glass recycling, for instance, so if we finish up a salsa jar, we may end up keeping it with us for a few weeks until we can find a place that does recycle glass. Second, we’d love to be using even *less* fossil fuels as far as gasoline and propane. We considered getting an induction stove but would have to size up our solar significantly, so right now it’s a bit outside of our budget. However, we are hoping to do that in the next 1-2 years. Finally, when we lived in our San Francisco apartment, we kept a small worm compost so that our food waste like banana peels and apple cores could be reused as soil and didn’t end up in the landfill. Unfortunately, we’ve not found a good solution for compost yet that works for our lifestyle. The best we’ve been able to do is make an effort to compost when we are in areas that do offer commercial compost. We’re always open to suggestions though, so if you have any thoughts about how we can do this better, reach out to us and let us know!
6. Feel free to share anything else you feel is important in regards to sustainable living on the road.
I think it’s kind of easy to think about sustainability and how far you are from your ideal version of sustainability, whether it’s zero waste or plastic free, or not relying on fossil fuels at all. One thing to always keep in mind is that if you are thinking about these things, learning about them, spreading the word, and taking steps each day to make your life more sustainable, you are making a huge difference.
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