Generating grey water is a simple fact of life. We all produce it, whether you’re in a home, a camper, a caravan or even a tent. Grey water is the dirty water resulting from cooking, cleaning and washing during our day-to-day living.
RV grey water is what gets washed down the drain from the kitchen sink, bathroom sink, shower and washing machine. The best way to deal with caravan and camper grey water disposal is to direct it away from camp and over to a tree using a grey water hose.
But, what happens if you find yourself at a camp that doesn’t allow grey water to be dumped on the ground? Here we tackle a range of different options available around where to empty grey water when caravanning and camping in Australia.
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Grey Water & Black Water Explained
When it comes to caravanning waste water, you’ll hear two commonly used terms being thrown around: Grey Water and Black Water.
But, what’s the difference between the two?
Difference Between Grey Water & Black Water
Essentially, “grey water” is all household wastewater that comes from the kitchen sink, the bathroom sink, the washing machine and the shower.
The toilet waste is called “black water,” which is held separately in either a cassette or black water tank. Black water can also be grey water that has been stored for up to a day or longer, which is explained further below.
GREY WATER comes from:
- Kitchen sink
- Bathroom sink
- Washing machine
BLACK WATER comes from:
- Grey water that is over 12 – 24 hours old
When Grey Water Becomes Black Water
The issue with storing grey water is that it will quickly turn into black water.
It only takes somewhere between 12 – 24 hours (sometimes less in wet, warm and dark conditions) before grey water begins to grow bacteria. Once bacteria is present, all of the organic matter (hair, dead skin, food waste etc.) will become bacterial food, quickly multiplying the process.
The main problem with grey water turning into black water is that it can fast become toxic and smelly.
When it comes to grey water disposal, there are multiple options available, which we will delve into below. However, once it turns into black water, you must now only dispose of the wastewater into a dedicated dump point.
Caravan Grey Water Tank Regulations
As of 21 October 2023, there are currently no laws or regulations in Australia requiring caravans, campers or motorhomes to have a dedicated grey water tank.
However, individual caravan parks, national parks, private campsites and local councils are well within their rights to instil their own rules for the use of that space.
NEGATIVE impacts of dumping grey water onto the ground:
- Can be smelly
- Other campers may need to set-up where you’ve just dumped your grey water
- Chemicals & detergents can make their way into local waterways
- Chemicals & detergents can be harmful to the local flora & fauna
POSITIVE impacts of dumping grey water onto the ground:
- Grey water is disposed off before it turns into black water
- Stops unnecessary use of dump point resources
- The ground & plants get an extra water
Many campsites around the country stipulate that they are for the use of fully self-contained vehicles only.
Self-contained camping means that you should have all the facilities onboard to bathe and cook, as well as collect all waste and take it out with you.
A Fully Self-contained RV Includes:
- Drinking Water Supply
- Rubbish Storage
- Grey Water Storage
- Black Water Storage
In reality, the rules for “fully self-contained” will vary from campsite to campsite. Sometimes they only require that you have your own shower and toilet, but will allow grey water to be diverted to a nearby tree using a grey water hose.
I’ve only ever encountered a very strict fully self-contained campground once in all of my travels, which was at the Hughenden RV Camp in outback Queensland.
Each afternoon the onsite caretaker would check everyone’s set-ups and systematically kick out anyone who did not have an internally plumbed shower and toilet (portaloos not accepted). However, we were allowed to collect our grey water in a bucket and empty it into the onsite dump point.
Do You Need a Grey Water Tank?
No, you do not need to travel with a grey water tank (whether it’s in-built or portable). However, you will have a wider range of campsite choices if you do have the means of collecting your grey water when required.
We didn’t have a grey water tank because the previous owners of the caravan had opted for 3 water tanks instead of 2 water tanks + 1 grey water tank.
We figured we’d just travel around and see if we really did need any grey water storage. If so, we were going to buy a small portable grey water bladder just for those times when it was strictly necessary. After four years of living full-time in a caravan, we never once needed to make that purchase and always made do without.
As we mostly free camped, most of the time we’d hook up a long grey water hose and direct it to a nearby tree so that nobody would walk in or set up camp on the wet ground.
If there was nowhere to direct the grey water, we’d put a bucket under the grey water outlet and manually tip the water out somewhere away from camp.
Where to Empty Grey Water while Caravanning or Camping
Where to empty grey water while caravanning and camping will depend on what type of campsite you’re staying in, as well as what facilities you have onboard.
Here are the various grey water disposal methods for caravans, campers and RVs in Australia.
Direct Grey Water into a Drain (Caravan Parks)
Most caravan parks need to cater for all types of RVs pulling in and out of dedicated sites very frequently. This means that they simply cannot afford to have people dumping grey water on the ground, as it could quickly become a sloshy, muddy health hazard.
You’ll find that the majority of caravan parks will provide a grey water drain for every campsite. So, it’s as simple as hooking up your grey water hose and directing it into the grey water drain.
Easy as! No grey water storage necessary.
Direct Grey Water to a Tree with a Hose
Generally, Free and Low Cost Camps won’t have anywhere to dispose of grey water, so then it becomes the responsibility of each camper.
Unless there is signage stating otherwise, grey water disposal can often be directed to a nearby tree (or somewhere away from the camping area) using a grey water hose.
Sometimes people will direct their grey water underneath their car or caravan, provided it won’t run downhill and into the awning space. With this method, it’s important to make sure there is no excessive food waste being dumped onto the ground as it will attract wildlife, plus it makes the campground unsanitary for the next camper who wants to set up there.
Use a rubber band to attach a piece of fabric or chux to the end of your grey water hose to stop chunks of food waste from ending up on the ground.
This also stops critters from coming up your hose and into the pipes.
Collect Grey Water with a Bucket
If you find yourself in a situation where there is nowhere to direct the grey water, you can collect it using a bucket. From there, you can carry the grey water to a spot away from camp where it can be emptied.
This method can be a little tedious as it doesn’t take long for a bucket to fill up, especially at shower time!
We always have two buckets handy so that as one fills up, you can replace it with the second bucket straight away, while wandering off to empty the first. It becomes a bit of a production line.
If possible, direct your grey water to a different spot each day, whether you’re using the grey water hose or a bucket. That way, the liquid gold can be spread around to water many spots!
Dumping Grey Water on the Ground
Sometimes it’s totally fine to dump your grey water directly onto the ground. In fact, there are some campsites that encourage it as they want the water on the parched earth, which is especially the case in the outback.
In the larger cities and coastal areas, dumping of grey water is less accepted as the volume of people coming through is much greater.
Always check the local signs to make sure there are no regulations against dumping or pouring grey water onto the ground.
Generally, if the owners or facilitators of a campground don’t want people dumping grey water on the ground, there will be clear signage spelling it out.
Use a Grey Water Bladder
When a campsite strictly states that it’s for the use of fully self-contained vehicles only, this means that you will need to collect and store your grey water.
If you don’t have a grey water tank plumbed into your caravan or camper, then an easy solution is to invest in a portable grey water bladder (pictured below).
You can sit the grey water bladder underneath your caravan and hook up the grey water hose so that the wastewater funnels directly into the bladder.
The bladder can then be put into the back of the car and emptied somewhere suitable (e.g. a nearby bush outside of the campground). Remember, once the grey water has been stored for more than 24 hours, it will then need to be emptied into a dump point.
Use a Grey Water Tank
The final solution for caravan and camper grey water disposal is the most obvious and that is to have a permanent grey water tank underneath your RV.
If you’re ordering your caravan from brand new, this is the time to get it included in the build. If you already have a van that doesn’t have a grey water tank, see if there’s room underneath to get one installed.
While it’s not compulsory to have a grey water tank, it will certainly come in handy when you want to stay in campgrounds that are strictly for self-contained RVs only.
Grey Water Tank Considerations
Keep in mind that with a grey water tank, as you’re using your potable water, it will then be stored as grey water in a separate tank, meaning that you’ll need to take that extra weight into account with your payload allowance.
In addition, most grey water tanks are smaller than drinking water tanks, therefore you won’t have the space to store all of it as grey water. In other words, you’ll either need to empty your grey water tank more frequently than you’re filling up the drinking water tanks, or you will still need to be disposing of some grey water onto the ground.
When using a grey water tank…
- You won’t be losing weight as you use water – it just gets moved to a different tank
- Grey water tank capacities are generally smaller than potable water tanks
- May need to still dump some grey water onto the ground
- Grey water turns into black water within 24 hours
Where to Empty Your Grey Water Tank
If you have a grey water tank or bladder and you feel that you need to use it while caravanning or camping, you will be left with the inevitable chore of needing to empty it somewhere.
Where to empty grey water will depend on what’s available as well as how old the grey water is that’s being stored.
If your grey water is less than 24 hours old, your best option is to drive away from camp and find a nice big tree to empty it onto (provided the landowner is okay with that).
Unfortunately, once your grey water has been stored for longer than 24 hours, it then becomes black water and must be emptied into a dump point.
The problem with using dump points for grey water is that they are designed predominantly for toilet waste. The majority of RV toilets in Australia are the cassette-style with a capacity of about 20 litres. So, if every second caravan was dumping 100L of grey water as well as a toilet cassette every few days, it won’t take long for the dump points to be overflowing.
Having large numbers of caravans and campers using dump points for grey water waste is simply not sustainable for the councils and private businesses who have to continuously empty the sewerage holding tanks.
Best Options for Emptying Grey Water:
- 1st Option – Direct into a grey water drain (if provided)
- 2nd Option – Direct it straight onto a tree or away from camp
- 3rd Option – Collect it in a tank or bladder & empty it onto a tree within 24 hours
- 4th Option – Collect it in a tank or bladder & empty it into a dump point after 24 hours of storage
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