About Us – The Little Kamper Story
The Little Kamper story is about people who love to be outdoors and their sincere desire to protect our environment for future generations. It is also the story of people who came from different places with different histories and thought processes, working together to solve a problem that few people understood.
John Kamps grew up in California’s Central Valley and began his outdoor life as a kid, exploring the Sierra foothills and mountains long before they became the popular destination of today’s visitors. After college, John started his first company, Kamps Propane, and began a career in the propane industry that eventually included owning 5 companies and having hundreds of employees. One of his companies, Pick Up Propane, recognized the need for a propane tank recycling service and began offering that service in 2011. Within a few years, Pick Up Propane was receiving used 1lb propane tanks by the truckload. The tanks were all made by one American company, distributed and sold through retail stores, and then used by people for outdoor recreation. Few people realized the volume of waste created by these tanks. Recycling them was time-consuming, hazardous, and costly. The cost of keeping these tanks out of landfills was paid by national parks, state parks, counties, and hidden in the trash bills of people around California. Single-use 1lb propane tanks create an environmental problem with a substantial cost and in many places, they simply end up in landfills. And the one American company was manufacturing millions of the tanks every year.
Josh Simpson grew up in Berkeley, California and his outdoor life began when his parents joined the Sierra Club in the late 1960’s. Like many young families in Berkeley at that time, environmental awareness was changing lifestyles and the Simpson family began collecting bottles, cans, and paper to recycle at a nearby community recycling center. As the middle child in a family with 5 kids, backpacking and camping trips were the typical Simpson family vacations. That experience set a lifelong pattern of spending free time hiking, camping, and backpacking in California. In 2013, John Kamps hired Josh to become the marketing director for his companies. In that role, Josh learned about the 1lb propane tank waste recycling performed by Pick Up Propane and witnessed the deliveries of thousands of tanks to the Pick Up Propane facility in Manteca.
In 2014, Flame King introduced their 1lb refillable propane tank. It was built for reuse, with a thicker steel shell and a brass valve that could stand up to years of outdoor adventures. Flame King showed off the tank to propane companies all over the US but there was little interest in a tank that could only hold 16oz of propane and allowed the end user to refill the tank. At a meeting with Flame King, Kamps Propane, and Pick Up Propane leaders, Josh asked the question “Why not create a 1lb tank exchange program?”.
There was an equal mix of curiosity and skepticism in the conversations that followed but two things became obvious. Josh was determined to see if 1lb tank exchange would reduce waste in parks and campgrounds. John was equally determined to see if the idea could become his next new business. The Little Kamper was created as a program for Kamps Propane customers who could buy and exchange their tanks at the 13 Kamps Propane locations around California. Within a few years, interest in the program from retailers in Northern California brought Josh and John to create the pilot program that tested retail distribution for the Little Kamper. Two years later, John decided it was time to invest in the technology required to expand the company. Little Kamper is now available in 10 Western States and the company fills and refills Little Kamper tanks with a state-of-the-art automated production system.
This story is about the opportunity of bringing philosophically diverse people together and letting their best work come from sincere collaboration. The Little Kamper team has worked with the California Product Stewardship Council, Cal Recycle, the National Park Service, the Yosemite Conservancy, and a variety of other groups to reduce fuel cylinder waster in America’s parks and campgrounds.
What happens next is up to every person who buys or sells portable propane tanks. Retailers who care about the environment will help us make the Little Kamper available where people buy propane. Outdoor enthusiasts who care about the future of our parks and campgrounds will realize that disposable tanks are bad for the environment and adopt our sustainable alternative. John Kamps chose to do something about this problem and we hope you will too.
40 million reasons ought to be enough to get people who care about our campgrounds and parks to help us reduce single-use 1lb propane tank waste.