When you think about vanlife, what comes to mind first? For many, it’s all about freedom – freedom of the open road, freedom from monthly rent and utility bills, freedom from genuinely taking part in the rat race. On the other end of things, it paints a different picture – people who don’t shower, live in their own filth and have no goals. If there was just one thing you could do to combat that status quo – what would it be? We suggest being organized.

Being organized isn’t just about putting the right things on the right shelf. It’s also about getting rid of the right things in the right spaces; the best way to do that is to start with your waste. Typically, there are three common methods for disposing of the unwanted: trash, recycle, and compost. Naturally, a small space such as a campervan won’t allow for all three – between the scents and the genuine build-up, there just isn’t any availability for it.

So, how do you handle it? If you want something thoughtless and easy, there’s always a trash bin. Something small that can fit itself into a crevice you’ve allocated for would be a great way to take care of waste, but it comes with a few drawbacks. Anything too large will overpower the square footage of the van, and anything too small will require frequent trips to a larger bin elsewhere. Plus, if you aren’t on top of using trash bags, there could be a build-up of bacteria or filth that you won’t be able to wash over time. That’s why it’s best to give yourself a second way to dispose of waste in your van. When it comes to a small space, a great rule of thumb is that in all cases, you should always work through as many ways of doing things as possible. When even living in a camper van is new, you may find better, easier, and newer ways to do things you’ve only known how to do one way!

Recycling in many places is hardly a second thought, and with many vanlifers joining the lifestyle out of a desire to be more conscious, it comes naturally. Recycling can be done without too much fuss – a simple break down of packaging won’t typically have food residue on it, but it will require additional space the trash wouldn’t. Also, it could be difficult at times to find a place to actually dump a small amount of recycling, especially in smaller towns. Your best bets are to avoid bringing recyclables into your van in the first place, or take advantage of rest stops on freeways – they will almost always have a place for you to do the right thing. Just be wary in case you end up with too many recyclables. You could find yourself making multiple stops just to get rid of it! Check grocery stores, or even local online forums to find a place that could potentially take it all.

A third and less popular option is composting. Though it isn’t as mainstream as a simple wastebin, it’s actually the easiest to manage. If you have food waste, there’s typically a very good chance it can be composted. It’s as simple as mixing together your food waste, some soil, and a few earthworms. With a proper lid and filter, the three find harmony in breaking down what was once waste into what will be more soil. Nature’s method of taking care of the unwanted leaves the smallest footprint, and is the best for the environment without needing a third party, like a recycling plant or a landfill to take care of it! If you need to, resources such as “findacomposter.com” can provide a great map of where to locate a place to dump it. The best part? It doesn’t have to be huge – you can store compost in something as small as a cup or as large as a bucket in your van. It just depends on how often you cook and what’s leftover.

The most important thing to remember is that you absolutely must not burn your waste. While sometimes if you’re in a proper place to have a campfire of sorts it is useful to burn paper waste, the grand majority of your waste won’t be as “green” or even ethical to set aflame. Usually, it’s best to check with your campground, your site host, or the place you’ve parked before you burn anything. Stay vigilant for ways to reduce your impact on the planet you drive on! Your campervan is an insanely wonderful tool, and it often opens opportunities for you to try your hand at living in ways you never have before. Don’t be afraid to move out of your comfort zone – starting the vanlife was step one.