Well, you may choose to buy a hiking shirt, hiking pants, a sturdy set of boots, a good hat, polarized sunglasses, a backpack, maybe a backpack cover, a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, pots and pans, rain jacket, fleece jacket, tent, rain fly, a waterproof watch, breathable socks, gloves, beanie, down jacket, hiking poles, all to allow you to enjoy the great outdoors with the greatest amount of comfort.
Paradoxically, what allows you to get closer to nature actually promotes an incredibly high carbon footprint and a large global waste stream. What you may not consider is the fact that the production of all that gear took an incredible amount of electricity (and therefore carbon dioxide emissions), raw materials, metals, plastics, dyes, machinery, and manpower to create. Then, if you factor in the carbon footprint from shipping those things from China, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh, wherever they’re made, that adds on even more. Then, of course, each item usually comes in some form of packaging when you buy it at an outdoors store, so there’s an added measure of plastic, cardboard, or paper entering the waste stream. And all so that we can ‘feel closer to nature’ by spending more time in the outdoors.
But what happens when your jacket or your tent rips beyond repair? Well, I personally don’t know of any tent-recycling facilities, and thus it’s most likely tossed away, plastic zipper and all.
The outdoor tourism industry is an amazing idea in concept, but the gear industry it promotes is one that has a conflicting impact on the environment. Undoubtedly, millions of people across the globe purchase one or more items of outdoor gear to be be able to brave the elements, but this just promotes a wasteful, carbon-intensive gear economy (particularly when you include knock-off items with no sustainability obligations). And how many of those people make outdoor expeditions recurring lifestyle phenomena? Who’s to say?
Solutions to this overlooked problem are tough to tackle, as there is no single discipline which can fully address the issue to begin with. Gear rentals are great in theory, but given the nature of the actual activity, most equipment would likely not last very long. The greatest step to reduce the carbon and waste footprint generated from buying outdoor gear in excess is to simply reduce the purchasing of the equipment in the first place. I’m not saying don’t go outdoors (I strongly encourage it), but be mindful when you think about bringing plastic-packed ready made meals, upgrade your boots after three trips, or buy different down jackets for fashion purposes. Keep the nature where it is by getting creative with solutions.
Let me know what you think. I am looking forward to your comments.