At our expedition’s end we left Kangirsuk with very little waste. Much of the waste we generated came from traveling—packaging from food we purchased on our travels to and from Umiujaq and Kangirsuk.
A summary of our expedition waste:
Items that were recycled:
Our trash bag was tiny! The area we traveled through had very little impact from modern day travelers and we picked up little trash along the way. In working to execute a zero waste expedition we learned that it was relatively easy for us to make conscious decisions about small things; how to pack our food, waterproof our gear, and bringing reusable bags to the grocery store when we purchased food.
Much of the waste we accumulated came from product and food packaging. Every bulk food item or piece of gear we mail-ordered prior to the trip seemed to come packaged in an excessive amount of plastic or new cardboard. In the small Northern towns in Nunavik every vegetable was packaged in plastic and Styrofoam. It was hard to watch Air Inuit cargo workers shrink wrap our cargo with a large amount of single use plastic. However, after contacting Air Inuit about this, they did say they are looking for alternative ways to organize their cargo. We can't completely avoid single use plastic, though we can be active conscientious consumers. When you find a company that doesn't ship items in plastic, thank them. When you're frustrated with your options speak up!
How did we minimize waste?
We made 200 reusable waterproof food bags prior to the expedition. All of our dry foods were packed in these bags. Our food bags were then packed into barrels lined with Ostrom pack liners. All of our food was packed by meal, meaning we planned specific meals over the 45 days. Our meals were organized in 4 sections each including about 12 days. In each section instead of eating 12 different things for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, we planned 4 different meals and ate them three times each. This allowed us to use less bags because we could pack more than one meal in a bag. Our barrels were watertight, the Ostrom pack liners were fantastic, and all of our food stayed fresh and dry.
The food bags were durable. Over the course of the trip none of our bags broke or ripped. A few of the bags we used daily to pack individual rations of snacks, to carry handmade bread for lunch, to grow sprouts, and even sew a new crotch in Steve's rain pants. After the bags were emptied they were packed back into a barrel where they stayed for the remainder of the expedition.
At the expedition's end I flipped all the bags inside out, rinsed off the powders in the sink, and put them all in the washing machine. Almost all of the bags came out looking link new. We did discover one food item that created some staining—pumpkin seeds! As of now the bags have been put away are awaiting their next adventure.
I plan to continue working on developing this idea. Long term I hope to create a product that can replace single use plastic bags for food packing in the outdoor programming industry. Short term I plan to continue to evolve the design and field test the bags in a variety of conditions and environments. Apeiron Expeditions is field testing bags in Maine. Contact me if you are interested in trying them on one of your own adventures.