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Caring about the environment doesn’t stop once you hit the road.

Even despite the fact that your carbon footprint is possibly lower when you move into a tiny home on wheels, we still need to do our best to cut down on our plastic use, recycle, and compost when possible. However, with no permanent home, little space, and being constantly on the move, it can be difficult to know how or where to recycle. Even so, this doesn’t make recycling in a van any less important.

3 vans parked together - recycling in a van

After two years on the road, we have had our ups and downs with recycling in a van. I wish we were perfect and could say with certainty that we always recycled, composted, and hardly ever used single-use plastics. The truth is, whether you are in a van or not, cutting down on your consumption and waste is a practice and an effort that you hone over time. Some weeks we are really great and recycle everything, while others our trash fills up so quickly you would think we were a family of five, compared to two.

If you are like us and need a little knowledge of the best ways to tackle recycling in a van and cut down on some plastic waste then read on to learn some of the best ways to recycle while living on the road.

Make a Permanent Place for Your Recycling in a Van

One of the most important things you can do to ensure that you set a habit of recycling is to make a permanent recycling bin in your van. In such a crowded area it can seem difficult to make room for yet another item but when you separate your recycling from your trash, the trash tends to pile up less often. Depending on your rig, you can possibly put the recycling bin under your cabinets, behind the driver’s seat or under your bed if it is a fixed bed.

Best Recycling Containers for Your Campervan

Slim Plastic Rectangular

Waterproof Recycling Bags

Cloth Recycling Bin

How to Find Recycling on The Road

Being on the road can make it more difficult to recycle since you don’t have a dedicated recycling center to bring your recycling. It takes much more intention on your part to continually recycle and take the effort to find a center when your bin is getting full. There have been many times where it would have been much easier to find a trash can instead of going out of the way to find a proper recycling bin. However, using these tools below will help you to be able to easily and quickly find places to put your recycling, no matter where you are!

sprinter at sunset - recycling in a van

Recycling Centers

Most cities have recycling centers that are available for the public to use for free. You simply need to do a quick google search for “Recycling Center (Insert City)” and it will pop up with the address and hours! There are so many online resources for finding recycling centers but to get you started here are a few great ones:

United States


Main Attractions

Being on the move means you have access to a variety of different stores and facilities, from Natural Grocers such as Whole Foods, Target, Rest Areas, and even campgrounds all have some sort of recycling that is available for you to access. These are all spread throughout the United States and Canada which means you will likely be able to find one near you. Use common sense when getting rid of your recycling and try to dump often so you do not overload one bin with your rubbish. 

Ways to Reduce Single Plastic Usage in a Campervan

Buying in Bulk

Buying in bulk is a great way to cut out your use of plastics and cardboard. How many food items do you use every week just to throw away the box and plastic once you are finished? Items such as cereal, trail mix, nuts, oats, nutritional yeast, chocolate, and so much more. These items are often available at grocery stores in bulk, meaning you fill it up yourself instead of buying it straight out of a container. This allows you to have more freedom over the quantity and you are able to bring in your own container which means less waste!

Pro Tip: Check with the store before filling up your container. Often they have a particular policy and will have you weigh your personal container before filling them up with the bulk item!

Mason Jars

Mason Jars go hand in hand with buying in bulk. Bring your mason jars to the store to fill up your bulk items and then store in your van for a farmhouse look!

Reusable Plastic Bags

Plastic bags are a thing we try to NEVER purchase. When we do purchase a container of plastic bags we always find an excuse to use them when we could have easily used a Tupperware container or found another way to store them. This is why reusable plastic bags are so handy. You have the ease of being able to throw something in a bag but have none of the guilt!

Reusable Cups/Straws

Being on the road doesn’t mean that you have to eat out a lot, however, often that can be the case. Especially when it comes to coffee and delicious drinks! A great way to cut waste is to bring in your own cup and your own reusable straw!

girls using reusable straw - recycling in a van

holding coffee cup - recycling in a van

Bring Your Own To-Go Container

One of my favorite things about traveling all the time is the opportunity to visit local restaurants and feel like I am truly experiencing the area I am visiting. However, I ALWAYS have leftovers. If you are like me then at the end of your meal, offer to go get your Tupperware container and forgo the single-use to-go containers. You are saving the restaurant money, you will have more room in your fridge, and are helping the planet!

Honey Covers

Plastic wrap is a thing of the past. From Tupperware containers to now beeswax wrap, you have no reason to use plastic to cover your leftovers or random items that you don’t have a perfect container to use!

Reusable Water Bottle

Honestly, this should be no. 1 on your list as a vanlifer. You should definitely have a reusable water bottle. Being on the road can mean you don’t always have quick access to filtered water but there are ways around that without purchasing a plastic water bottle. From water bottles with built-in filters to installing a filter inside of your water system, let’s do our best to avoid purchasing plastic water bottles!

go-van water bottle - recycling in a van

Rethinking Other Single-Use Plastics

A great way to cut back on plastic is to start brainstorming all the different items you use in your daily life. What items do you throw away without even thinking about it? For example, your toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo/conditioner bottles, body soap container (some is even wrapped in plastic!), dish soap, cotton swabs, and the list goes on. Now start researching ways to cut out a few of these items. You don’t have to take on everything! Start with your toothbrush and find compostable ones instead of plastic, try shopping at farmer’s markets who have soap for sale, and even consider purchasing from eco-friendly companies coming up with new innovative ways to create containers for daily products without using plastic!

In the end, recycling is something you have to do with intention and are constantly working to do better. Whether you are in a van or at home, we hope that you will use these tips to recycle more and make an effort to cut down on your plastic waste. I’d love to hear from you, are there any top ways to cut down on your plastic waste or to easily recycle on the road? Let me know in the comments!

recycling plastics - recycling in a van

family toothbrushes - recycling in a van