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Van Life, No Trash Life: Camping Trash Can and Disposal Ideas

This post was updated on November 27th, 2023

Keep Van Life Clean and Eco-Friendly With Disposal Solutions

One thing many people don’t consider before deciding to give van life a try? Garbage. Everyone has garbage to get rid of, and when you live in a van, there isn’t always a dumpster sitting conveniently outside your door. On top of that, space is limited, making it hard to keep a trash can around. This means you have to get a bit creative coming up with van camping trash can solutions and ways to get rid of your garbage. 

The good news? There are ways to throw your trash out and ensure your tiny home-on-wheels stays stink-free. Here are our top tips on the subject! 

Van Camping Trash Can Ideas

Camping trash can mounted to the inside door of a campervan.

First, let’s talk about our favorite van camping trash can ideas. You might think your van has no space at all for a trash can, but we’re guessing one of these awesome camping trash can solutions will fit the bill. 

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Over-the-Door Trash Bag Holder

First, we really like this over-the-door trash bag holder. It sits neatly inside of a cabinet door, so it doesn’t take up floor space—and honestly, it doesn’t require a whole lot of cabinet space either. Best of all, you can totally use old grocery bags with this holder, so you don’t even necessarily have to buy dedicated trash bags. 

Seat Back Trash Bag

If you’re living extra tiny, you may not even have a cabinet to work with. In that case, maybe just a small seatback trash bag is the way to go. These are technically made to be used in cars to keep used tissues and other small trash in one spot, but in a pinch, they would work as a van camping trash can solution. 

Cabinet-Mounted Trash Can

If you like the idea of an under-cabinet trash solution but want something more solid than the bag holder above, this cabinet mounted trash can could work nicely. It is small so it’ll fill quickly, but it has a lid (so it contains smells) and is out of the way.

Under-Cabinet Sliding Trash Can

If you have a whole cabinet to dedicate to your trash can, an under-cabinet sliding trash can such as this one could be a nice solution. It keeps all of your trash under the cabinet and out of the way, along with the fact that it is bigger so it won’t fill as fast. However, it takes more storage space than many other options. 

Small or Narrow Trash Can

You could also just stick with a traditional trash can and set it in whatever little nook you can find. There are plenty of small trash cans out there, as well as narrow trash cans that would fit in almost any space. Do some shopping to see if you can find a trash can that would fit nicely in a spot you happen to have. 

Collapsible Trash Can

Finally, there is the collapsible camping trash can. This is a good solution if you really only need an outside trash solution to set up when you’re in a campsite. It folds down into a tiny circle for easy storage when not in use, but holds a decent amount of trash when set up. 

However, it’s important to note that you should never leave trash sitting outside, as it can attract wildlife and be harmful to the environment. Always dispose of your trash properly and pack it out when leaving the campsite.

Disposing of Trash When Living in a Van

Hand holding plastic bottle just about the throw it in one of three recycle trash cans lined up in a row

Now that you have a camping trash can solution that fits your van, the next step is figuring out where to dispose of the trash in your camping trash can once it’s full. Here are some suggestions that may help. 

Compost What You Can

Believe it or not, people do compost organic material while living the van life. A small and airtight compost container such as this one would allow you to create an on-the-go compost bin, and putting organic material into the compost will greatly reduce the amount of trash you have to get rid of. (Besides, the mounted option is pretty cool!)

Remember to Recycle

You’ll also want to recycle what you can. While this does add another container of stuff to get rid of into the mix, recycling doesn’t tend to smell bad, meaning holding onto it for a bit longer is less of a problem—provided you have the room to do so.

Buy Package-Free Foods

A huge amount of the garbage we create is food packaging. Therefore, you can actually reduce the amount of trash you need to get rid of by purchasing package-free foods whenever possible. Buy the loose peppers rather than the ones in the plastic-covered three-pack, fill your own reusable containers at the bulk bins, and avoid processed foods when possible. 

Remove Packaging at the Store

If you do need to purchase packaged foods, consider removing excess packaging at the store and throwing it out or recycling it in the store’s containers. Most shopping locations have garbage cans and some even have recycling bins in their parking lots, and as a customer, you have permission to use these. 

Burn Paper and Cardboard

If you find yourself with a bunch of paper or cardboard, you can get rid of these things by burning them in a campfire. Just be sure fires are allowed where you are camping and don’t burn plastics or other things that could cause a stink or release toxins. 

Use Gas Station and Rest Stop Trash Cans

Most gas stations and rest stops—and as mentioned before, grocery stores—have trash cans available. These are small so they won’t hold a lot of garbage, but if you stay on top of throwing things out, you can get rid of most of your trash in these smaller trash cans. 

Head to a Campground

When you find yourself in a situation where you have a lot of trash to get rid of, you might want to book a campground for the night. This will give you access to a dumpster and often gives you access to a shower as well. Plus, you can usually fill up your water tanks or jugs there.

Say Goodbye to Van Life Trash Woes

As you can see, there are plenty of ways to solve the camping trash can dilemma and dispose of your trash while living and traveling in a van. Hopefully this article helps keep your van clean and stink-free so you can fully enjoy this amazing van life you’ve chosen!

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