How We Got Ready For A Low-Waste, Carbon-Neutral, Vegan #VanLife Road Trip

When we started planning The Animal Sanctuary Compassion Tour, we were initially focused simply on visiting and volunteering at animal sanctuaries across Canada and the US.

Our focus at The Seva Life is about empowering people to live more compassionate lives; by enhancing our capacity for compassion, and extending that compassion towards all living beings and the planet as a whole. We talk a lot about how our individual actions can have a big impact on the world around us.

That’s why when we started to factor in all the mileage we were going to cover, the fuel we were using, and how we’d be feeding ourselves while in transit, we knew there was a huge opportunity to really walk the walk.

Here are a few opportunities to do better that we discovered as we planned our trip:

Offsetting Our Carbon Footprint

We know burning fossil fuel is bad, and crude oil is quickly becoming a scare resource. Not to mention that the processing required to extract oil from the earth and turn it into gasoline has caused some pretty significant destruction to our natural environment. When we talk about harm reduction, we are talking about the changes we can make to do the least amount of harm possible, given the resources available to us.

Selling or getting rid of our perfectly acceptable minivan in order to drive an electric vehicle wasn’t an option. Neither was converting our engine to run on vegetable oil (yes, that’s a thing!). So what was? Offsetting our carbon footprint!

Offsetting your carbon footprint happens when you calculate what your carbon footprint is (by tallying up the distance you travel, the method you’re traveling) and then donating an equivalent dollar amount to an organization that plants trees or invests in renewable resources.

We’re using the app Driversnote to keep track of our mileage and at the end of the trip, we’ll use the Carbon Footprint Calculator from trees.org and donate the dollar amount to them, so they can plant sustainable forests in six Sub-Saharan Africa countries to help families escape extreme poverty.
 

compass drawn in a notebook
Easton Oliver on unsplash

 

Traveling Affordably

We put our income-generating lives on hold to do the Animal Sanctuary Compassion Tour. We believe that by showing the shared personalities and characteristics that farm animals have with household pets and even humans, people might feel more compassion towards all living beings and make changes to help end their suffering. We are so committed to this project that we were going to find a way to make it work -- but we had to be smart about it!

Our biggest, and unavoidable expense, was going to be fuel, which prompted us to launch a fundraising campaign to help galvanize interest in the Tour and invite people who were supportive of what we are trying to achieve be part of it. The next biggest expense was going to be accommodations.

Traveling in the fall months is off-season for camping but we knew that after long days at sanctuaries the last thing we would want to do is pitch a tent. Not wanting to spend hundreds of dollars on hotels or even motel stays, or invest in a trailer (that was going to slow us down and add to our fuel costs) we decided to turn our soccer-mom-style minivan into a stealth camper van. Chris was up for the challenge of getting his hands dirty (and splintered and bruised and bloodied) to build out a bed platform on top of custom-made drawers for our clothes, food and kitchen items.

Having recently done a home renovation, we were able to build about 25% of the van using recycled construction materials. We were lucky enough to be able to borrow a bunch of specialized power tools from a kind neighbour (thanks Trevor!).

We could also find savings on our food costs, which as you’ll read, means cooking most of our meals on the road. Plus we knew if we did have to stop for tea or coffee, we’d be getting $0.10 off by carting around our reusable mugs (hey, it all adds up!).

Planning for Low-Waste

Going low-waste has felt like a bit of a “final frontier” in our efforts to live in better harmony with the planet. From going vegan, to eliminating the use of toxic and synthetic chemicals found in our home and body care products, we have gradually been lessening our environmental impact in different areas of our life. Going low-waste was on our radar but we hadn’t quite taken any major steps in that direction. This road trip seemed like the perfect place to start — we were already going to have to live pretty minimally (#vanlife) so surely that would mean we’d be producing less waste anyways.

Full-disclosure: Chris had been stockpiling empty sauce jars for several years before we actually actioned to using them for food storage. Despite my best efforts to offload them into the recycling bins, they finally came in handy! Earlier this year, we converted our entire spice cabinet (more than 50 varieties of herbs and spices….Chris loves to cook) from plastic bags to glass jars so that we could refill them at bulk food stores when we ran out. We live in a city that collects recycling and organic food waste, so we had already become accustomed to sorting our trash.

Even still, between the two of us, our two cats, and our rental unit, we were producing a large black garbage bag’s worth of trash every week.

The first thing we had to do was educate ourselves on what it means to be low-waste, and how we could go in that direction. We learned that the biggest thing you can do to reduce your waste is not use anything that is only single-use. The next best thing you can do, is to not use plastic (y’all, that stuff is so prevalent that it is not decomposing or being recycled fast enough for our waste and water systems to handle).

On top of stock-piling jars, we had a healthy accumulation of plastic take out containers, sandwich boxes and peanut butter jars. Not wanting to throw away plastic just for the sake of it (especially with it all being perfectly reusable), we filled what we had with dry, at-home staples like different flours, nutritional yeast, rice and pasta.

We purchased some reusable canvas tote bags and produce bags to have with us on the road for grocery shopping, and we packed all the extra containers in the van, for our planned stops at bulk food stores and leftovers.

Accepting that some degree of waste was going to be inevitable, we packed some biodegradable plastic bags (the ones you can throw away with food waste because they decompose) and decided to store our non-recylcable or decomposable waste in a small container.

We’ll be documenting our waste reduction efforts, so keep an eye out for Chris’ weekly posts!

If one thing is for certain it’s that not all things go according to plan, so we’ll have to do our best to expect the unexpected and be prepared to modify and adapt as we go. We’ll be posting more about the van build, our vegan-friendly road trip recipes and other tips and tricks we learn along the way!

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