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  1. #1
    Registered User eabyrd1506's Avatar
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    Default Impact of Freezer Bags vs Dish Washing

    First, sorry if this is in the wrong place, I didn't see a LNT forum per-se.

    I've been contemplating the impact of using Freezer Bag Cooking (and packing out the used freezer bags obviously) vs the impact of a little ivory soap and water to wash my pot after dinner. Given the assumptions that 1) soapy water used would be disposed of down the privy if possible and disbursed 200' away from a body of water. 2) I'm going to be using some soapy water anyway to clean up (I wear contact lenses) and 3) it isn't likely many trail-heads / trail towns will offer the "plastic bag recycling" necessary to recycle ziplock (generic not brand) freezer bags I'm thinking I'd probably have much less impact washing my dishes each night.

    That being said my experience is limited almost to the point of non-existence so I am interested in the thoughts of others on the topic.

    How do you minimize the impact of freezer bags if you use them? Am I wrong about recycling opportunities along the AT?

    Thanks

    Ed

  2. #2
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    I do not use freezer bags and routinely cook in my Jetboil. I do what many long distance hikers do to clean up. For breakfast, I eat oatmeal first and clean out as much as I can with my spoon. Then I boil water in the same pot for coffee (without cleaning the pot) and drink the coffee. Almost all of the oatmeal residue is gone at that point and I dry it with a bandana. For dinner, I cook my meal in the pot and afterwards add a bit of water and clean out the rest with my fingers and then drink the water. Gross sounding, I know, I know, but it really isn't all that bad. Note that I am meticulous about washing my hands prior to doing any meal preparation; otherwise this could cause illness. Any bacterial residue left in the pot after drying that could cause illness should be killed the next time I boil water.

    If you can get past the "gross" factor this is basically zero impact - no wastewater, no freezer bags to dispose of, just small zip locks for the food to be held in prior to cooking.

    This is what I've been doing for the past three years on many long hikes.

  3. #3

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    soap is completely unnecessary for cleaning dishes.
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  4. #4
    Registered User eabyrd1506's Avatar
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    Coffee, thanks that's helpful but what about washing your hands. Do you use soap and water or an alcohol based germ killer? (The alcohol stuff doesn't really work well with contact lenses, talk about feeling the burn)

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    I'm always cooking for two, and haven't used the FBC methods. Most of our hot meals require the cleanup of two bowls and two spoons, sometimes the pot as well. When possible, the pot is only for heating water (oatmeal and mashed potatoes are good examples). I quit using soap for dishwashing quite a while ago. I can clean everything satisfactorily with less than a cup of water. If I don't have to clean the pot, a half-cup is almost enough. Keys to making it easy: no leftovers, avoid greasy foods, don't let food burn or stick to bottom, sequence meals so that messiest item is first (ex: water for hot cocoa after meal removes residues). We're normally on the trail for short periods, weekends and occasional weeklong sections. For a longer hike, I would plan to wash with soap in town on a resupply.

    I can't bring myself to even contemplate drinking dishwater.

  6. #6

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    I FBC. All of my food would be in some kind of ziploc/freezer bag to be packed anyway so cooking in the bag itself seems just logical. Either way, you are going to have trash...either from the original packaging or from the ziploc/FB. I try to rinse them out a little on a longer trip and then use them for my garbage bags for my snack and lunch wrappers. They do double duty in that sense.

  7. #7
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    Great thinking about impact. Much appreciated.

    I think that an "impact budget" for freezer bag cooking vs. in-pot cooking and cleaning would require us to look at how we pack our meals for in-pot cooking. If we are already packing our meals as single meals in bags, I don't know that cooking in the bag vs. cooking in the pot makes much difference. However, if we are truly trying to minimize our impact beyond just our impact on the trail we are hiking, we should also probably look at how we repackage our food and what processed & packaged food we eat vs. what we can buy and carry in bulk.

    Hmmm. Should we stop teaching beginning backpackers to break open all their packaged food and repackaging it lighter and more compactly into organized plastic bags for each meal and/or part there of? I sure as heck go through a lot of ziplock bags in prep for a backpacking trip. I have watched videos and/or read bits by people that buy their food in bulk, process it at home (i.e. cook and dry or whatever) and then package all their meals in wax paper instead of plastic.

    Personally, I'm too lazy to go to all the trouble to make and process all my food, heck, I don't even do that for dinner at home as much as would be good.

    Maybe we should start a thread on advanced, lazy-person, easy, and environmentally responsible food prep? I'd love some creative ideas on minimizing food processing and prep impact without too much effort.
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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by eabyrd1506 View Post
    Coffee, thanks that's helpful but what about washing your hands. Do you use soap and water or an alcohol based germ killer? (The alcohol stuff doesn't really work well with contact lenses, talk about feeling the burn)
    Handwashing with Soap and water are essential for proper back country hygiene and it is the most basic precaution recommended by nearly every medical association to prevent the spread of infection. Alcohol based sanitizers are helpful, however they have their limits and are ineffective against some common back country pathogens, most notably Norovirus. Your comment is spot on that proper hand washing becomes more essential if you are handling contact lenses.

    That said, when it comes to cooking in my pot, I generally do what coffee mentions and bring both cooking and rinse water to a rolling boil to sanitize my cookpot. I rarely use soap to wash it while on trail, though it does get a good scrubbing whenever I am in a hotel or hostel.
    Last edited by Sarcasm the elf; 09-16-2016 at 11:47.
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  9. #9
    Rain Man's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by eabyrd1506 View Post
    Given the assumptions that 1) soapy water used would be disposed of down the privy if possible ....
    Perhaps nitpicking, but not sure trail volunteers would really want soapy water poured into privies. Seems that would seriously affect the bacteria breaking down the contents properly.
    ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: ... Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit..... Numbers 35

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  10. #10

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    A lot of common backpacking practices aren't particularly ecologically sound, which is a different from LNT. I went through countless zip lock bags, repackaging most everything for size, convenience and keeping it fresh and clean. I cooked in the bags and then used them as trash containers, packing everything out.

    I guess you could buy certain foods in bulk, like oatmeal and bring the single packaging container on the trail. Not really practical for resupply however, you'd end up carrying that big old cardboard tube style container wasting half your pack space. In reality, I think you just have to relegate yourself to the fact that you'll be making purchasing decision that involve a whole lot of small portion inefficient packaging while on the trail. Then you'll have to pack it out to the nearest convenient trash where it begins it's journey on the remainder of it's trashy life cycle.

    Also, don't pour liquids into privies, a lot of them have a planned decomposition regime based on the standard proportions of human waste to duff. It sometimes gets more complicated, but there will be specific signage in those privies telling you what they want.

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rain Man View Post
    Perhaps nitpicking, but not sure trail volunteers would really want soapy water poured into privies. Seems that would seriously affect the bacteria breaking down the contents properly.
    As long as it's not anti-bacterial soap it should be fine...we use regular soap in septic tanks all the time. Regular soap doesn't kill bacteria it combines with the greasy deposits on pots and hands and then rinses off with the "dirt".

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by eabyrd1506 View Post
    Coffee, thanks that's helpful but what about washing your hands. Do you use soap and water or an alcohol based germ killer? (The alcohol stuff doesn't really work well with contact lenses, talk about feeling the burn)
    A few drops of Dr Bronners and an ounce of water, well away from camp and water sources. I guess that is a little impact but not much.

  13. #13
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    I should say that sometimes I feel a little self conscious with my methods when camped with others in which case I bring an evening hot beverage like hot chocolate to drink after dinner (after eating almost everything out of the pot) so that I can just boil water and drink an actual beverage rather than "dishwater" - more socially acceptable.

    I agree that there's a difference between lnt and low overall environmental impact with respect to trash. You can practice lnt with freezer bag cooking but it seems higher impact than using small sandwich bags for food and cooking in the pot. I tend to think more about lnt than overall environmental impact personally.

  14. #14
    Registered User Just Bill's Avatar
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    I've been working on (not super successfully) eliminating plastic bags.

    For dried goods, just a brown paper lunch bag works.
    For meals- https://www.amazon.com/Natural-Value.../dp/B001KUSK5G
    For smaller snacks and/or Gatorade drink mixes- https://www.amazon.com/4in-Glassine-...xed+paper+bags

    I use some paper tape to seal them.

    I say not super successfully because the wax paper bags for meals almost have to be re-taped at the bottoms to prevent smaller spices and dried powders (like Nido) from leaking out.
    They are not moisture proof- So stuffing the food into a 2-gallon ziplock still seems needed.
    They occasionally break, and this can make it a hassle to carry your day's rations in your hipbelt (requiring a quart sized freezer bag).
    It is nowhere near as easy as using plastic bags.

    But... though not perfect- I'm down to just a few plastic bags that are readily re-used from trip to trip.

    The bonus- all of your trash makes for either a good emergency and/or practical fire starter.

    On the actual washing...
    The old billy bath with doc bronners and a bandana is a decent way to clean both pot and self when needed.

    Handwashing I find is most easily done when carrying a water bladder. When filled tight it is easy to either step on, squeeze under your arm, or kneel on at camp to let you wash up and rinse away from your water source.

    Agree- don't think dishwater belongs in a privy... but if you're washing dishes you're probably at camp... dig a cathole for immediate or morning use for your dinner dishwater/scraps and simply finish it off when you're ready or before you leave camp.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DuneElliot View Post
    As long as it's not anti-bacterial soap it should be fine...we use regular soap in septic tanks all the time. Regular soap doesn't kill bacteria it combines with the greasy deposits on pots and hands and then rinses off with the "dirt".
    i have pumped a lot of septic tanks . The soap and grease are not eaten by the bacteria always .they end up as a large mass. I won't b poring my soap water in the privies . But HYOH.

    Thom

  16. #16
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    I once had a property that was on septic that failed. It was an unbelievably disgusting and horrible experience and so expensive to fix, although I always felt the guys fixing it were still underpaid. Be really, really aware of what you put in systems on a septic.

  17. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by Coffee View Post
    I once had a property that was on septic that failed. It was an unbelievably disgusting and horrible experience and so expensive to fix, although I always felt the guys fixing it were still underpaid. Be really, really aware of what you put in systems on a septic.
    Oh I agree, but REGULAR soap, not the anti-bacterial kind because it destroys the needed bacteria in the tank, shouldn't ever be a problem. We've had septic tank issues also, but more because it's a old tank with design flaws that need to be managed. Nothing except water, soap and certain types of TP should ever go into the septic along with your business! Same goes for privvies!

  18. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by Just Bill View Post
    I've been working on (not super successfully) eliminating plastic bags.

    For dried goods, just a brown paper lunch bag works.
    For meals- https://www.amazon.com/Natural-Value.../dp/B001KUSK5G
    For smaller snacks and/or Gatorade drink mixes- https://www.amazon.com/4in-Glassine-...xed+paper+bags

    I use some paper tape to seal them.

    I say not super successfully because the wax paper bags for meals almost have to be re-taped at the bottoms to prevent smaller spices and dried powders (like Nido) from leaking out.
    They are not moisture proof- So stuffing the food into a 2-gallon ziplock still seems needed.
    They occasionally break, and this can make it a hassle to carry your day's rations in your hipbelt (requiring a quart sized freezer bag).
    It is nowhere near as easy as using plastic bags.
    Some good ideas, I'll explore them further. Maybe not perfect but at least I can say I'm trying.

  19. #19
    Clueless Weekender Another Kevin's Avatar
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    On freezer bag cooking:

    When I consider the amount of petroleum that a freezer bag uses, compared with the amount I burn getting to the trailhead, the net impact is a drop in the bucket.

    Freezer bags are for the most part LMWPE - which incinerates pretty cleanly in a hot enough fire. If someone has a roaring fire going at a shelter, I have few qualms about incinerating freezer bags. There's very little emitted besides carbon dioxide. (Again, comparing the carbon footprint of that practice versus what I burn getting to the trailhead, it's a drop in the bucket.)

    Plastic in the waste stream can be a real problem. Even most plastic 'recycling' programs typically have asphalt as their output. (The exception is soft drink bottles - they're very high quality PET or PBT, and can readily be recycled into clothing. Your fleece jacket is likely made of pop bottles.)

    So, I mostly do the ungreen thing of FBC, wash out the bags when I get home and toss them into 'single stream' recycling, where they'll wind up in someone's parking lot.

    On cleaning the cookpot:


    I do also cook in the cookpot - because I sometimes do things like dal bhaat tarkari, with the rice and lentils done FBC and the curry made in the pot from dehydrated ingredients. I also do the "clean out the cookpot with a gloop of water and drink the soup" thing, which is a lot less disgusting than it sounds, and I depend on the next boil to sterilize the pot. If I've used my mug for food, it needs to get washed with soap, though. (I'll wash my spork at the same time, so that I can use it for cold food - otherwise I'll have to boil it, too.)

    On disposing of wash water:

    With greywater from washing dishes or socks or me, I follow the recommendations of the land manager. In some places, that's to distribute it as widely as possible. In other places, it goes in a cathole. All washing is done away from the water source. If I'm washing more than my hands, I use the cookpot for wash water and my Sea to Summit bucket for rinse water.

    Please do NOT put liquids in the privy. (That extends to peeing in the woods before you use it.) A privy hole isn't a septic tank, and the privy doesn't have an absorption field. The stuff down the privy will decompose a lot faster if it isn't swimming. That goes double for greywater. Even 'biodegradable' soap has a significant effect on the microbial ecosystem.
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  20. #20
    Registered User misprof's Avatar
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    If you pack your dry foods into zip locks you can reuse them. I do this all the time at home and on the trail. For short trips (weekend) you can bring them home and wash them. Please do not pour soapy water into the privy esp a composting one. The amount of water in them can stop the composting. Many of them have signs even asking you to pee outside and save the privy for #2.

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