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Find sustainably managed campgrounds

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Eco-camps should have a smaller environmental footprint than conventional campgrounds. Look for locations that use solar, wind, low-impact hydro, or geothermal to power the place; sustainably managed sewage and garbage with comprehensive recycling facilities; responsible purchasing plans for chemicals and cleaners; and water-saving features like low-flow showerheads and composting toilets.

Find it! Sustainably managed campgrounds

Eco-camping is relatively new and still making its way into the US camp scene, but the list below should give you an idea of what’s new and innovative. We’ve included some international databases, just in case your travels take you out of country. If you’re not able to find something here, check with your campground officials about their environmental programs, and if they don’t have any, suggest that they adopt a few!

Choosing an eco-campground helps you go green because…

  • These facilities attempt to save water and conserve energy.
  • Sustainability means recycling as much garbage as possible while properly disposing of human waste, too.

America’s 25,000 campgrounds (commercial, public, and private combined),[1] are visited by over 45 million people every year.[2] As the most popular vacation activity in the US, it’s no surprise that a full one-third of all US adults say they’ve been camping in the past five years.[3] With Americans spending $289 billion on outdoor gear and related activities (including campgrounds) every year,[4] campers’ collective eco-impacts are significant.

Power-hungry campers

Though certainly not the largest energy users in the hospitality sector, campgrounds still add to the overall pollution problem associated with power consumption via their need for lighting, heating, cooling, and grounds maintenance.[5] According to Environmental Defense, electricity use in the US is responsible for 70 percent of sulfur emissions, 33 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions, 23 percent of mercury emissions, and 23 percent of fine airborne particle emissions. Coal power plants account for most of these emissions,[6] which create several environmental problems, including lake and stream acidity, disruption of nutrient balance in water basins, depletion of soil nutrients, decreased plant and animal biodiversity, and damage to natural habitats.[7] In addition, fossil fuel burning power plants in the US release about 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually.[6] A study done in England recently showed that campgrounds can achieve significant financial savings by retrofitting their facilities with energy- and water-saving features at little cost.[8]

Dumping camp waste

Proper management of human waste in campgrounds is important for the protection of water and wildlife. Human waste, whether improperly disposed of in a campground bathroom or at campsites, can pollute fresh water streams and lakes, spreading disease and harming native wildlife and other humans.[9] Campers and scientists alike used to believe that solid human waste became innocuous in a short period of time, but studies have shown that fecal matter that's been buried can contain pathogens even one year later. Disease can spread laterally through soil and water from campsites.[10][11]

Reusing old cars

Some campgrounds are using recycled materials to build hardscapes and buildings, including a camp in Blue Ridge (Coconini National Forest) that used smashed cars in its landscape architecture.[12] Recycling turns an object that would otherwise need to be disposed of into a usable resource. Since some materials, like aluminum, can be recycled locally over and over indefinitely, the costs of transporting raw materials long distances for manufacturing can be reduced or eliminated as well. Recycling even plays a role in reducing emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases. Recycling programs are estimated to have kept the equivalent of 39 million car's worth of carbon out of the atmosphere in 2005.[13]

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