Australia needs the likes of caravanners. Tourism accounts for over 3 per cent of our nation’s gross domestic product, which equated to a contribution of over $60 billion back in 2018-19. Tourism Australia data tells us the industry has historically employed around 660,000 Australians, or roughly 5 per cent of the workforce. Locals make over 80 million domestic overnight visits a year, and the importance of these visits has been increasingly highlighted during the pause on international travel.
That doesn’t give anyone a free pass, though. Australians prefer big, burly and power-hungry vehicles. Our preferences mean that new passenger vehicles emit 45 per cent more CO2 than new vehicles do in Europe, and we drive these culpable vehicles further, given fuel is cheaper and distances are more extreme. Caravanners are inevitably drawn into this trend, as they need something large to lug a 3-tonne van around our sprawling island country.
Light vehicles (including 4x4s) account for 10 per cent of national emissions, making any one regular citizen’s individual impact a drop in the ocean; but if we all think like that, we’re doomed. The impacts have started to show in the form of bushfires, drought, flooding, the erosion of tourist beaches and the bleaching of coral on the Great Barrier Reef. Additional threats loom, such as lesser-known ones like an increased risk of mosquito-borne disease and Irukandji jellyfish further south.
We know many readers of Caravan World want to do their part and are conscious of their choices, so we’ve put together a list of suggestions to make it easier to tread lightly on your next holiday.
SAVOUR THE TREASURES CLOSER TO HOME
Reducing your impact begins even before you leave, with a tour of the house to make sure no electronics have been left on unnecessarily.
When planning your route, consider travelling closer to home. Making a cross-country pilgrimage to experience faraway destinations increases the CO2 you’re releasing into the atmosphere.
An alternative to travelling close is travelling slow. This allows you to soak up the destinations you’re visiting and savour the places missed by those rushing by, while simultaneously reducing your emissions on a day-to-day basis.
Favour eco-friendly caravan parks that utilise solar power and other sources of sustainable energy, or which make a conscious effort in other ways, such as by limiting shower times or utilising rainwater tanks.
When deciding where to stay or which paid tours to undertake, look for certification such as the ECO certification logo. Even by going on a tour with communal transport, you are effectively carpooling.
Try to camp in designated areas with good facilities nearby (particularly if your caravan is not fully equipped). Bring a trowel to minimise your impact in case of emergencies. Seek out shady sites when it’s summer and sunny sites in winter to avoid overreliance on air-conditioning. Use your awning to prevent sun from hitting the sidewall to moderate internal temperature.
RENT, SHARE AND REUSE
If you’re looking to buy a new van, consider the possibility of purchasing second-hand. If you already own a van, might it be worth giving it a new lease on life?
By rejuvenating an existing van through renovations and repair, you reduce the amount of waste materials generated, resources utilised and energy expended during production. Sell your old van if you’re not using it anymore, so that an entire new van doesn’t need to be built from the ground up for your buyer.
If new to caravan travel or uncertain if you’ll pursue it full-time, consider renting a van at first. There are apps and websites nowadays that cater to the renting market, such as Camplify, which also happens to be a great way to road-test a van before committing to it financially.
Consider carpooling if you’re travelling with friends. Use all possible sleeping options within your van (eg. bunks, convertible dinettes) before resorting to taking a second van and car combo. Even if there’s more people than sleeping spots, are there any young bucks along who could tent it for the night?
The more self-sufficient your van is, the more environmentally friendly it is
MINIMISE POWER AND WATER USAGE
Reflect on how many appliances you truly need to run, particularly for high-draw appliances that rely on 240V power. People naturally do when they are away from power, but when attached to power, many strive to get their ‘money’s worth’. Only rarely do some caravan parks charge proportionately to power usage — which puts the onus back on the owner and is a good potential model for reducing overuse.
Increase your van’s self-sufficiency to reduce your reliance on mains power and fuel-guzzling generators. This can be achieved by having a large battery bank; lithium batteries, which charge faster and can safely deplete to lower charge levels; an array of solar panels (both fixed and portable); and the ability to charge from your car’s alternator. Look into battery management systems that prioritise solar when solar and mains charging are both available.
Also, question the need for long showers. Don’t leave taps running when you’re brushing your teeth or washing your dishes (use sinks with plugs or tubs instead). Consider fitting low-flow fittings to minimise wasted H2O. Only wash full loads of washing; allow the basket to fill up first.
REDUCE WASTE AND MAKE SUSTAINABLE CHOICES
Favour reusable food storage solutions such as Tupperware and zip-lock bags instead of disposable plastic containers and glad-wrap. Invest in a Keep Cup and take it into cafes for your caffeine dose. Minimise your use of wet wipes, which are infamous for their failure to biodegrade, and try not to pick up handheld paper guides if such resources are also available in digital form.
Set up a second bin in your van’s interior or on the outside on your spare wheel if possible, so you can separate recyclable waste from general waste.
Look into rechargeable batteries for your small gadgets and when your van’s deep-cycle batteries go bust, dispose of them responsibly through a dedicated disposal facility or recycler. Many battery specialists and repair centres will be able to manage this process for you.
Consciously purchase more sustainable food. Choices can be limited when in the outback, so this may require a reconsideration of where and how you shop. Favour local produce to reduce the amount of food miles going into the food you consume (while also supporting local farmers and businesses). Meal plan so you don’t overpack, particularly when it comes to perishable items — which if wasted enter landfill and contribute to methane emissions.
If you don’t have them already, try switching to appliances that have lower power demands and look at energy star ratings for an indication of this on any whitegoods. Lighting can be a culprit of higher power use, so ensure any older van is fitted with modern LED lighting or similar.
Favour biodegradable soap, shampoo and detergent. Also, be aware that damaging chemicals can exist in skincare products. For this reason, consider covering up with skivvies or swimsuits rather than applying more sunscreen than is needed before a swim.
When on the road, hibernate the meat-eater inside for one, two or three nights a week and eat vegetarian meals. Livestock farming can have an adverse effect on the environment by releasing methane, degrading soil and using up a lot of water.
DISPOSE OF WASTEWATER RESPONSIBLY
Grey water can contain a number of contaminants from your detergents, bacteria, food scraps, soaps, shampoos and cleaning products. Travel around Australia and you will witness many people diverting their grey water onto the ground, off of the road shoulder, or even in places they figure no one will see them.
Opt for higher gears and shift as early as it is reasonable to do so
Even when water is drained on concrete, it can still reach natural environments through rainwater run-off and dehydrated, windblown sediment. Book parks and campsites with a dedicated grey water drain for your site, or dump points. Alternatively, limit the chemicals entering your grey water, given some caravan parks may prefer grey water be directly drained onto grass, particularly in drought-affected areas.
Consider draining any sinks that are independent of the grey water tank into a bucket and then pouring the water down a dedicated drain at your site or scattering the water away from camp. Resist the urge to wash your van and car at camp, particularly if you plan on using a cleaning agent. Coin-operated washing facilities tend to use recycled water, plus they have proper drainage.
Accelerate slowly and change gears at your earliest convenience to reduce your rev count. That said, don’t go overboard and bust the clutch, and always put your safety first when climbing and descending hills. Consider not exceeding 90-100km/h, at which speed most cars have reached their uppermost gear. You’ll find it saves you fuel too.
Reduce the weight of your van by only bringing necessary items. Take note of items that have sat around pointlessly on previous trips and eliminate them from future trips, with the exception of safety gear. Pay special attention to any items stored externally to the van body, as these will increase drag.
Consider the need for your van to have all-terrain tyres, which will increase fuel consumption. Also, carefully monitor tyre pressures, favouring the higher end of the recommended range in on-road settings. Even a small reduction in PSI can increase fuel consumption.
Many people do this already but consider investing in good security and leaving your van behind on day trips when you are looping back to the same or a similar area that night.
EXPLORE NEW PASTIMES
Explore environmentally friendly pastimes such as cycling or hiking. To take it even further, how about beachcombing for junk, volunteering at a national park or as a campsite warden, or taking part in a tree planting project?
Resist the urge to feed wildlife or pick flowers, and reduce the likelihood of hitting an animal by not driving at dusk or dawn. If you do hit an animal, consider calling an organisation such as WIRES that may be able to nurse it back to health.
Try not to camp too close to bodies of water. Camping too close can lead to bank destruction and instability, as well as increased pollution through run-off. The surface erosion that occurs can also muddy and contaminate the water body, particularly during rain events.
It can be heart-breaking to throw out 10 good bananas so familiarise yourself with all relevant region-to-region biosecurity restrictions, such as fruit limitations in the Riverland. Similarly, clean your car when signage advises so as not to spread weeds and pest species, such as phytophthora cinnamomi — the cause of dieback. If your boots, mats, or other gear become extremely muddy or dirty, wash them before reusing.
When making a fire, don’t burn anything manmade and avoid artificial fire starters. Never take firewood from living trees and consider whether deadwood represents natural habitat for native animals. Thoroughly put out fires when going to bed or leaving camp — all it takes is a spark.
FOLLOW PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT
Keep a close eye on the market over the next few years. We may see more and more caravan brands producing products that are sustainably manufactured and eco-friendly. Hopefully this occurs as regulations increase, sustainable production methods and energy solutions become affordable, and a new wave of environmentally-aware buyers exerts pressure on the marketplace.
Even now, we can look at choosing vans that incorporate recycled materials, utilise sustainable manufacturing techniques, and draw upon sustainable power in their warehouses and factories. We can choose light aerodynamic vans, with quality installation, good ventilation, alternative energy sources, limited power-hungry features and a well-equipped solar set-up.
Stay up to date with electric and hybrid vehicles over the next few years, too. In 2018, ‘green cars’ accounted for just over 4 per cent of sales in Australia, but the numbers continue to grow. Even hybrids emit around 30 per cent less CO2, while saving you a lazy 40 to 60 per cent on fuel consumption.
All that said, we can make the most significant difference not in our capacity as travellers, but in our capacity as voters. Prices need to be fair and the sustainable path needs to work in with our plans for us to do the right thing on a large scale. Though we might not be able to afford electric 4WDs or accept only travelling along routes laid down by charging stations, we can call upon leadership to implement meaningful policies that incentivise industries to take a sustainable path. If we do that consistently enough and with sufficient urgency, sustainable options will become more feasible and accessible to all.