One of the first rules of responsible camping is to leave your camping site in a good shape. It is important for both the environment and its natural inhabitants as well as for other humans that might visit after you. This rule applies to all kinds of waste we might produce during our stay including grey water. Grey water disposal during camping is tricky but can be done without harming nature. So, how to get rid of grey water when camping?
To get rid of grey water during camping, follow the rules of campsite and the state/county you are in. You can dump your dishwater in your campsite disposal tank if available. If not, you can filter out solid waste and dump the water in a ground hole or let it evaporate in sun.
In this article, I am going to explain in detail what grey water is, why it is dangerous for the environment how to get rid of grey water responsibly and legally during camping.
So, Bear with me.
What is grey water?
Grey water definition varies from state to state but without going into too much detail, we can define grey water as any wastewater produced from shower tubs, kitchen sinks, laundry, or any other cleaning EXCEPT toilet water (that is called black water) is called grey water.
The definition depends on the specific state or county jurisdiction. Some states classify kitchen dishwater that has come into contact with food particles as ‘black water’ since it now contains organic substances and chemicals that are considered dangerous for the environment if dumped openly.
Difference between grey water and black water: The main difference between grey water and black water in most jurisdictions is the presence of human toilet waste. If the water has passed through the toilet, it is considered black water. Black water is treated more strictly compared to grey water.
Why is grey water an issue during camping?
Grey water should be treated with care because it can cause potential damage to the environment and its natural inhabitants (plants & animals). Also, grey water is a pollutant that can damage the natural beauty of the campsite and make it difficult for other campers to camp comfortably.
Here are a few main issues with improper dumping of grey water at the campsite or in the wild.
It can attract wild animals to campsite
Grey water contains food particles and if they are not removed before dumping the water on the ground, it can attract wild animals including the notorious bear if you are camping in a bear country.
You may have seen bears sniff honey from miles away in cartoons. That’s because these big hairy dudes have an amazing sense of smell. If I am not wrong, they can smell food from 20 miles away. (Also keep your unused food sealed and packed to keep the bear away. I have explained how to vacuum seal your food in this article)
By disposing grey water into the grass, you allow the smell of food, soap, and other scented stuff to disperse into that area, which is an open invitation to bears. Scary huh?! So, avoid throwing grey water If you don’t wanna be a bear munchie.
Grey water chemicals can damage the land & water
We only consider black water dangerous, but we don’t realize how deteriorating grey waters can be for the environment. Due to our intensive use of chemical cleaners in the kitchen, laundry, and washrooms, grey waters contain dangerous chemicals like sulfates, phosphates, triclosan, triclocarban, and EDTA additives.
These chemicals are detrimental to the ground chemistry and damage the local flora. Especially the soapy water that we might dump on the group carelessly can damage the ground permanently for the plants.
These chemicals can also disturb the balance of chemicals in water bodies like lakes and ponds and can increase the chances of untapped algae growth also known as “algae bloom”. Alge bloom occurs when there is unnaturally high nutrition available in the water for existing algae due to the dumping of grey water in lakes and ponds. This overfeeding can increase their population to dangerous levels.
Algae bloom can kill fishes and other aquatic life and can also make the water body toxic for humans (read more about algae bloom)
Dumping grey water can be illegal
Throwing grey waters into the streams, roadside, or on campsites is actually illegal in many US states. Although every state has its own definition of grey and black water and a set of rules to dispose of them, it’s illegal to dump them into open areas in most states.
Some states don’t have explicit rules in which case the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) rule comes into play which makes it illegal for people to dump wastewater (both grey and black) in non-designated areas.
Treating grey water before disposal
Before you dispose of your grey water from the kitchen, laundry, or washroom, it should be properly treated to minimize its effect on the environment. Here are what you can do.
Use organic (un-scented) soap/dishwash
One of the reasons for the contamination of grey waters is the chemical additives, scents, and other harmful chemicals present in soaps, dishwashing liquids, and detergents.
Organic soaps are not only less contaminating but gentle and beneficial for human skin. These bio-degradable soaps are made up of natural fats and oils, less harsh dyes, and petroleum-based lather. In addition, complex compounds added in it are comparatively easier to decompose or dissolve in nature which protects aquatic life and helps avoid unscented animals.
Coleman’s sheet soap is by far the best to travel with. It is not only biodegradable but is easier to keep and use. However, make sure to use just the required amount of biodegradable soaps. No matter how organic any soap is, it still impacts the environment as it takes its time to decompose.
Keep a separate container for grey water
It is always advisable to keep a large or multiple large grey water tanks to wash your dishes, clothes, hands, and other stuff. Keep your used water separate and store it until you find the right place to dump it.
For washing dishes, you can utilize the “three-bucket rule” i-e one bucket for the soapy water, one bucket for the hot rinse (read: how to heat water during camping?), and one bucket for the cold rinse. All three buckets will end up with grey water once you are finished and you can collect the water in a drum to dispose of.
Run your grey water through a mesh strainer
This might sound like a lot of work but is important. Grey water contains solid waste and has a large number of food residues—these food particles create a foul smell that destroys the beauty of the environment.
They are also dangerous for birds and other animals that might feed on them because they are contaminated with other chemicals in the grey water like your soap and laundry detergent. As discussed above, they can also attract wild animals like bears that can be scary and harmful for the campers.
You can use any mesh strainer normally used in the kitchen to separate the solid particles. If you don’t have any strainer, you can use a porous cloth or if that too is not available, you can make a few small holes in a plastic bag and pass the water through that. When you collect all the solid waste, you will have to tie them in a plastic bag and carry it out of the campsite for proper disposal in waste bins.
How to dispose of Grey water when camping?
Now, to dispose of your treated grey water, you can use any of the methods mentioned below.
Look for toilet or grey water disposal sink/tank
This is one of the easiest and hustle-free ways to get rid of your grey water.
In most camps, there are predefined rules for all types of trash and grey/black water. All you need to do is find out the rules and regulations of your campsite. You probably would find one if you are not camping out in the wild.
Most California campgrounds advise campers to use their water disposal tanks or their RV’s built-in gray water tanks and not throw them anywhere (because of critters and rats, Remember?).
If you’re lucky enough to find an assigned sink/ container for grey water, then all you need to do is to empty your grey water container in it and let it flow down to the black waters through the sink.
If it’s not available, have patience till you find a public toilet. Then, flush your grey water there and be easy. Pretty simple right?
Dump it in a ground hole away from campsite
This one is a bit tricky, but it’s pretty safe. Don’t forget to keep a shovel for this one because you’ll probably need it the most.
Now, follow the following steps religiously.
- Choose a place far away from your campsite (half a kilometer is good). Remember the more the distance the better because bears and rats can track and trail.
- Dig a hole to a depth of at least 6 inches or a bit more.
- Take your container and start to pour the grey water slowly (allowing the water to sink in).
- Once you have poured all the water in, fill the hole with soil completely. Remember the ‘leave no trace’ rule.
Now, If I were you, I would want to know how is it safe?
It is safe because the earth comprises layers of, rocks, pebbles, grainy sand, and fine sand. So, when you pour the water into the ground, the sand being perforated allows the water to pass through these layers, which decontaminate it layer by layer. So, when this water reaches the water base and mixes into the lake or underground water level, it becomes less harmful to marine life.
Let it evaporate in sun
If you don’t have an onsite grey water drain station and don’t want to dug a hole to pour your dishwater in, this is another option. Its the cleanest option because the chances of grey water polluting the environment is next to zero in this case.
All you have to do is keep your bucket of grey water in an open area under the sun. The sun rays will heat the water and convert it to gaseous vapors while leaving behind all the dirt and residue that you can scrap, put in a plastic bag and dispose of properly.
But this method requires a bit of patience as thermal evaporation is not the fastest method of getting rid of grey water. To speed up the process, chose a container with a wide mouth because the larger the surface area, the quicker the water will evaporate.
If you are carrying a plastic sheet on camping, you can use it to speed up the process considerably. Spread the sheet on a flat surface and secure it with rocks from all sides. Make sure the sides are at a higher level than the middle part. Now, pou4 all your grey water on the sheet that will provide it with much larger surface area to evaporate.
How to get rid of grey water when camping – Conclusion
Preservation of wilderness is not only the responsibility of the state. It is to every individual who is a part of this environment and us.
Being a camper, the only source of refreshment you look forward to every year is the beauty of flowing streams, quiet blue waters, snowcapped mountains, wildlife, and carpets of greenery around you. And to keep it the way it is, we all need to do the best we can. Be responsible and enjoy the camping season 🙂
Recommended Camping Gears: I have compiled a list of my favourite camping gear in one place. The selection is based on my own personal experience using them for many years camping as well as feedback from fellow campers. Check them out on my Recommended Camping Gears page