Would you like to build a camper yourself, but would you also like to take the environment into account? Fortunately, camping – not only with a tent, but also with a campervan – is much more sustainable than traveling by plane and staying in hotels. But there are also plenty of options to make the camper itself more sustainable. In this blog I share 6 tips.
#1 Choose a small campervan with a high emission class
Electric campers are already available, but due to their high weight, high price and sometimes the limited charging options, this market is not (yet) large enough to make it an option to many people. So there’s a good chance that you still have to rely on a diesel. That may not sound very environmentally friendly, but if you choose a relatively young car you are already making a big difference. Additionally, the camping lifestyle generally has a relatively small footprint when compared to many other ways of traveling, spending the night in an accommodation or living in a house at all. After all, in those situations you have unlimited access to electricity and water, which means that consumption is much higher than in a camper and because you also have more space, you are also more inclined to buy things that you actually don’t need at all, which causes unnecessary to consume.
*For comparison: we only use 60 liters of clean water per week in the camper, go to a campsite once a week for a hot shower and use relatively little electricity due to the battery with limited capacity, while we also generate the electricity ourselves via the solar panels on the roof. Moreover, we only buy groceries (or items as replacements or when we really need something) because we simply don’t have the space for them. In short: of course things can always be improved, but no one is perfect and you can still be very sustainable with a diesel.
Despite the diesel, you can of course still see if you can buy the most economical vehicle possible. Depending on your budget, it is best to choose a van/camper that is not too large in size and with an emission class of at least Euro 5. These vehicles drive more economically and use less diesel, but they are also equipped with a diesel particulate filter, which means they emit less particulate matter, among other things. In addition, younger diesel vehicles are also suitable for refueling with HVO. HVO (hydrotreated vegetable oil) is a fuel made from fully renewable vegetable oils that first served a food purpose, such as old frying fat. The diesel is therefore not at the expense of the food chain and has already had its emissions. HVO ensures a CO2 reduction of no less than 90% and the fuel is much cleaner/purer. This not only makes a diesel low-emission, but it is also better for your campervan’s engine.
#2 Make use of second-hand materials
To convert your van into a camper, you can look at second-hand materials or materials left over from other DIY projects. Consider wooden panels that you can use for the floor or to build interior parts such as the kitchen, cupboards or benches. For example, part of our U-shaped bench and kitchen, the bookcases in the back doors and the table top are made of wood that we still had in the shed from previous projects. Do you have nothing of your own? Then ask friends and family if they have any lying around and otherwise buy sustainably (certified) produced wood. Also look at other second-hand items that are interesting for building or furnishing your camper. For example, our lithium battery is also second-hand.
#3 Generate your own energy with solar panels
Generating your own (green) energy is of course a great step to make your camper more sustainable, but adding one or more solar panels is also recommended for those who plan to camp off-grid. This can make you completely self-sufficient and therefore much more free in where you go and where you stay. The price for one camper solar panel is also not that high (due to a limited battery capacity and the limited space on the roof you might don’t need that much) and also mounting and connecting is relatively simple. Definitely do it if you have the budget!
#4 Cook on induction instead of gas
If you have more budget to spend, you can also consider further expanding your electrical system with a lithium battery and a larger inverter. You then have the option to cook on induction in the camper which means your camper is also completely gas-free. This is not only safer (because there is no open fire) and easier (induction is very efficient and the hobs are easy to clean), but of course also more sustainable because you do not use gas. We have been cooking in the camper on induction for years now and can say from our own experience that we are very happy with it and would not want it any other way. However, a suitable electrical set-up requires considerably more budget than if you were cooking with gas. This is because an induction hob requires a relatively large amount of power, which means you have to invest in a lithium battery and a larger inverter.
#5 Choose a compost toilet instead of a chemical toilet
No matter how small your camper van is, a toilet on board is really nice to have. You can always go to your own toilet instead of (sometimes) dirty public toilets. Choosing a toilet in the camper can in any case be a sustainable choice because in this way you ensure that you and any fellow travelers do not have to relieve themselves in nature for lack of anything better or during off-grid camping (something which unfortunately many people still do and don’t clean up after them). If you choose to have a toilet in the camper, preferably choose a compost toilet. This uses no water or chemicals, unlike a chemical toilet such as the popular porta potti. Instead of using chemicals, you collect the feces and urine separately in a compost toilet and cover the feces with sawdust (or something as wood chips or hemp fibers). This ensures fewer unpleasant odors. You can throw both feces (depending on any medication you use and whether you want to fertilize edible crops or just plants) on a designated compost heap. Otherwise, you can also empty the contents at campsites and special toilet disposal areas, in a dog poop waste bin or otherwise with the organic waste or residual waste.
*You can build your own camper composting toilet, but there are also ready-made compost toilets for sale.
#6 Hot water via residual heat from the engine
Most camper boilers run on electricity, gas or a combination thereof. But did you know that there are also boilers that can use the residual heat from the camper’s engine to heat the water in the boiler? We have such a boiler and we are very happy with that too! The boiler works on 230V (so you can also use it with shore power at a campsite), but is also linked to the cooling system of the engine. The heat from the engine, which is normally ‘discarded’ through this system while driving, is now first flowing through the boiler via hoses to heat the water. This means we have hot water after every car ride. Even when we camp off-grid, we regularly have hot water. Depending on the temperature inside, we have hot water for up to 24 hours. Connecting a motor boiler is somewhat complex and requires sufficient knowledge. After all, 90°C passes through the system, so it is important to know what you are doing.
This article contains an affiliate link. Read more about this in the disclaimer.