After a Motorhome Hobos blog post discussing a recent upsurge in media and physical attacks on motorhomes in what we termed a “vanlife vendetta”, we have been considering the sustainability and ecological effects of vanlife.
Is there such a thing as an eco-friendly motorhome?
The media has rounded on the mobile community, both full-timers and holiday makers, accusing us of causing litter and pollution across the countryside. The headlines scream of “gas-guzzlers”! And a “Trail of Litter”!
This has led to bad feeling throughout the country.
We know that many of these stories have been fabricated or enhanced to sensationalise the headlines. However, we must concede that our vehicles are hungry beasts.
But let’s try to take a level-headed look at the debate…
Are motorhomes really the bad guys as regards eco-friendly living?
Do we really consume fuel in excess of the national averages and drop litter as we go?
Well, before we get to the cons and pros lists beneath, let’s consider the basics. For full time van-lifers, the physical footprint upon this planet is a fraction of that of a house. Rainwater goes straight onto the ground – a van has no concrete paving of its own, a far smaller roof and its floor is off the ground.
There is no pipework for water and drainage nor wiring for communication needs. Gas and electric are bottled or renewable (unless on hook-up) and are therefore not in inexhaustible supplies.
It has to be said that the brick-built house does not drink fuel at the rate of 28MPG or belch out emissions in beauty spots. However, our family have cars which are not much more economical.
Our personal effect on the planet
We Hobos have a brick house as well as a motorhome. The house is relatively small and is only heated to 16-18 degrees, even during winter. We do not leave our equipment on charge or standby. And we are not major consumers; our clothing has to last as does our technology equipment. These are financial decisions as much as consciously helping the planet.
The car we use has a high economy rating and we walk rather than drive if possible. We are mostly vegetarian and tend to shop locally.
Therefore, we feel that our footprint offsets the diesel that the motorhome uses.
But mainly this blog post is to consider the effects on the planet of full time living in a motorhome.
Is vanlife ecologically friendly?
Vanlife and the environment: the PROS AND CONS
Let’s start with the negatives…
Diesel or petrol use is heavier in such a large vehicle. This does not need further discussion; it is something we all need to cut down on. The brevity of this sentence does not imply that it is something we dismiss.
Emissions too are of major importance. Again, this is not something we are dismissing. And noting the emergence of battery powered vans, it is worth a reminder that some of the electricity to recharge the batteries comes from coal burning power stations. And the search for charging points could lead to problems on road trips to the outer reaches of the country.
It would help the planet if we were allowed to remain in one place for a while. However we understand the concerns of people living nearby. The need to keep moving has to be listed amongst the “cons”.
Motorhomes have limited cupboard space for bulk buying which often means more packaging going into the waste bin. Smaller storage means more trips to the shops which burns more fuel and blows more emissions into the atmosphere.
A motorhome finds eco friendly storage difficult. Storage in recyclable glass is not practical in a moving vehicle with a weight limit. The weight and fragility of glass makes it impractical. The lightest and safest containers are usually plastic.
Motorhomes must drive to waste disposal points to recycle and drop refuse. Again, more fuel. And that is assuming that a waste centre will allow a motorhome in!
Without a solar panel, or during Northern winter months when the sun is not strong, the motorhome user is reliant on bottled gas and pumped fuel if that’s how you heat your space. Neither are environmentally friendly.
Now, allow us to blow your socks off with the other side of the story…
Here is where we show you that a motorhome can be eco-friendly!
As well as being the biggest polluter, diesel or petrol will be the biggest expense, so consciously slowing down and avoiding unnecessary journeys helps your pocket and the environment. The rising cost of fuel will ensure that this continues.
Van-lifers tend to eat either in the van or locally, using local shops and restaurants. This is one way of saving fuel and time. It also helps whichever community you are staying in.
Does wild camping make a motorhome eco friendly?
The best way of conserving fuel use is to stay in one place for a while. Having said that, staying put is not something an off-grid van-lifer in Great Britain can do often. Wild camping is a big bone of contention!
The possibility of remaining undisturbed in one spot for longer than a night is fairly unlikely. Our hands are tied there!
These large vehicles use a lot of fuel but most people who live in them often work in them too, so the daily commute is cut out.
Battery powered motorhomes
There are battery-powered vans already on the market. Naturally the batteries need charging, which uses electricity. There’s a bit of a “con” there; as much as we are encouraged to “go electric”, some power stations are coal powered, certainly until 2024.
However, that glitch ignored, the emissions are nil from an electric engine. Once the batteries can be charged via an alternator or similar, these will be a fantastic option.
There are campervans being built now which are designed to be eco-friendly. According to the write up, there are electric motors which recharge when braking, low-low emissions and high-high mpg.
LPG is used too – this doesn’t seem as popular at the moment. The benefits of LPG are outweighed by the decision by some garages not to stock it, but if demand grows, then so will availability. Designing eco friendly motorhomes has to be the way forward. However, for the purposes of this blog, let’s talk about the ones most of us have.
The law states that we must have a valid MOT test pass for our vehicles. Therefore we are obliged to have emissions tests yearly. It is also in your best interests to keep the engine ticking over sweetly with regular servicing. Watch the tyre pressures and weight of the vehicle. That should keep your MPG as high as it can be. Win win!
How to conserve your resources in a motorhome
People who live in their motorhome must always consider how much gas (propane/butane) the tank has. It needs to be conserved so they are mindful of usage. For example, boiling only the amount of water needed is saving both fuel and water.
Nor are van-lifers heating a house. After all, no matter which heat source is used, it will not be coming in an endless supply through pipes or wiring. Meaning they will not want to waste it! Leaving the motorhome door open in winter whilst popping out is not an option; it’s about thinking for yourself as well as the planet! So van-lifers are more energy conscious as it is not “on tap” and can be a major expense.
Many full-time van dwellers have wood-burning stoves put in; much better for the planet.
Battery use has to be monitored too. Leisure batteries are not power stations. Many are topped up through solar power but they still only have a limited amount of power after sundown. Even though this does not affect the National Grid, it engenders a constant sense of conservation. No more leaving equipment on stand-by or charging long beyond the time when it reached 100%. A good habit to develop.
Pretty, Sparkly – and Plastic
Storage space for trinkets is very small. Unnecessary purchasing is now a habit for many of us in first world countries; an endorphin producing high. However, a motorhome has no space for pretties -the quick fix sparkly rubbish which breaks and gets thrown away. You have to buy what will do a job and do it efficiently. Much of the trinket genre is plastic and imported remember.
Our plastic items are in constant use. Not thrown away. Mainly those are containers. Glass is recyclable but more likely to break in a moving home (and broken glass tends to be bundled up and placed in the black bin). Glass is also heavier which adds to the weight of the vehicle leading to reduced MPG.
Water consumption needs to be low as the tanks are not big – van dwellers don’t waste valuable water. Cutting down on the number of showers taken and how often clothing is washed will reduce water use. A daily body-wash with a flannel and a bit of warm water is adequate.
This naturally cuts down on the chemical load we place into the country’s water systems.
Cutting down on showers whilst in the motorhome is not just eco-friendly, it actually helps your skin too! Chemicals are not necessarily good for your protective layer, despite what the adverts show!
If laundry is done in the motorhome it is eco friendly. It will not be at a high temperature, therefore saving energy. Laundry is washed cooler and less frequently.
Plus, washing, ironing and drying dramatically cuts the life of garments. Irons and dryers are not something the average motorhomes would have, so clothing lasts longer.
Wardrobe space is limited in a motorhome. Clothing should be practical and durable. The garment industry is recognised as being one of the dirtier ones. The methods of manufacture and the air miles are shameful. Buying consciously and purposefully makes a huge difference.
Van-lifers as eco warriors!
The vanlife vendetta means we are accused of leaving waste of all kinds and rubbish in places we park. Therefore, many van-lifers (us included) are actively clearing up any rubbish they find before yet another permissive parking spot is withdrawn.
Since most motorhomes have bins and facilities, it’s more likely (but not exclusively) to be cars and walkers who drop the mess but us who carry the can. Literally. Naturally we cannot carry a dust cart load of other people’s recycling and refuse but we can certainly make a difference.
Let’s hope that the attitude towards motorhomes will improve!
Many motorhomes rely on solar power for their energy needs. We have a single panel which keeps the battery topped up and is great for charging equipment and running the water pump. For full time use, we would get a second…and third maybe.
Now, how about light pollution? Perma-lit cities and towns are having a terrible effect on wildlife. And we humans need “down time” too.
Our routine whilst in our van, Cree is wake and sleep with the sun. OK, we use lighting during winter evenings, but we tend to get to bed earlier. Firstly, the lights are not great and secondly, it is cold. Therefore we cut down on fuel and light pollution.
So, the results are in…
As you can see, the list of PRO “motorhome eco-friendly” is longer. Living in a stationary “normal” home, with the associated lifestyle has far more of a negative impact on the planet.
Naturally, there are many of us who have both a house and a van. But remember, when we are out in the van, we are not using the facilities in the house. Plus the mindful usage of utilities tends to have become a habit even after we return to the house.
And, there is a “type” of person who is a motorhome owner. Many, not all but many, motorhomers are of the mild end of the eco-warrior model. The types who consider the effect their lives have on the planet and think about it. The sort who considers composting toilets and wood burners for their vehicles. They want their motorhome to be eco-friendly for the environment, not just their pockets.
Composting toilet? In a motorhome? Eco-friendly?
Yes, you can get composting toilets for motorhomes – it’s worth looking into. The number of times you have to empty the “solid waste” reduces significantly, although the “liquid waste” needs tipping into a suitable receptacle as often. The fact that these are even a vanlife “thing” shows the dedication of some people to protect our environment from chemical overload.
Van life and the environment: our conclusion
Motorhome life is not as irresponsible as the media infers. Nor is motorhome life as eco-friendly as some van-lifers would hope.
However, like every other pro and con in the arguments surrounding the environment, any lifestyle is as ecologically sound and sustainable as the person living it!
You see, having shown how our motorhome is less of a burden on the environment than our little house, we could then start driving at 100…ok…75mph and doing HUGE motorhome sized doughnuts in LIDL car park. That’s how you turn ANY eco friendly motorhome into a planet destroying monster.
We could burn our way through a gas cannister every week and travel non-stop from John-o-Groats to Lands End just to turn around and go back again.
But it’s the same for the house…the heating could go up to tropical setting and the bath could make a lovely indoor fountain.
I guess the point of this blog is that the air pollution, landfill refuse and the chemical load we impose on our planet is up to all of us to reduce, but let’s stop pointing fingers at motorhomes!
Living in a motorhome can be eco friendly. So long as the occupants are mindful!
We’d love to read your thoughts on this post so please scroll down to the comments section below. Do you think it’s possible to be eco-friendly in a motorhome?
Now…to get me off my eco-friendly motorhome-life soapbox…what adventures have we had this month? BAH…Cree is still at the workshop!
We know that our engineer does high quality work, and that takes time. We are hoping to join the Suffolk Bugrs on their Christmas Lights Cruise on the 10th December.
Having time in the brick house gives us the space to write and research. If Autumn is nature’s way of telling us to step back and take stock, Winter prompts us to rest and recover, ready for Spring.
Although human life seems to be based on a never-ending cycle of hit and rush, we Hobos like to observe the calling of nature and her seasons as much as we can.
May your path be clear and your roads open.
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