Where can you empty grey water, and how to do it respectfully

As life gets more and more politically correct, a simple subject like where can you empty grey water becomes more and more complicated.

In the past, any grey water you’d generate when camping would go onto the ground, basically anywhere you were, with a bit of common sense and respect for those around you.

Today though, there are a number of places that don’t permit grey water to fall onto the ground, and you’d get absolutely roasted if you suggested emptying it on a nearby plant. What’s changed, and is it really for the better?

What is grey water?

Grey water refers to any water that has been used in the cooking or cleaning process. That means your dishes, shower water, washing machine water, and so on.

It is normally relatively ‘clean’ when it first gets emptied, and people have been using it to water their plants for decades. However, if you store it, then things change and it becomes more controversial.

Cleaning the dishes
Typical grey water, from washing the dishes in your camper

Does grey water turn to black water?

Black water is effectively waste water, and sewage. It’s not what you’d water your plants with, and has a number of health risks including bacteria. If you’ve ever smelt a grey water tank, you’ll know that it reeks, and often to the same extent as a toilet holding tank. 

The reason is simple; when you contain grey water and it isn’t able to have bacteria killed by the sunlight, it turns to black water.

If you’ve held the grey water for more than 24 hours (like in a Caravan Grey Water Tank), its considered black water, and should be emptied in a suitable grey water dump point, or the normal toilet dump points that you see all around the country.

Dump point use
You can empty grey water down a normal dump point if necessary

Where do you need to contain grey water?

If you ask this question on Facebook, you’ll be told its impossible to travel without a grey water tank, and there are thousands of places that make you contain your grey water. The reality is very different, with very few places wanting a fully contained grey water setup. 

Most of them are overnight rest stops run by shires, not Caravan parks, and certainly not National Parks. If you are in a tent, its almost impossible to contain your grey water, and its not something you’d ever really have to worry about at this stage. 

In our extensive travels around WA, we’ve come across two sites that required us to contain our grey water. One was Cossack (and we just knocked up a portable grey water tank), and the other was a site near Geraldton (which I believe has since closed down).

Both were run by the shire, and seem to be doing the politically correct thing, rather than what is logical.

I know plenty of people travelling Australia who will tell you they’ve only had a handful of places turn them away for not having a grey water tank; most places are more than happy with you respectfully disposing of the grey water near a tree, or onto the grass.

Cossack grey water collection
Collecting our grey water at Cossack with a portable tank underneath

It’s all about common sense

They say common sense isn’t so common today, and I’d believe it. You have places that have suffered drought, with trees, plants and grass struggling to survive, and the location has rules that you can’t help out with your grey water, in a thoughtful and intelligent way?

Of course, be respectful; no one wants to arrive to a camp site with a big puddle of grey water from the previous owners, but if you run the water out to somewhere sensible, and don’t store it there are no issues at all.

At our previous stay at Horrocks Caravan Park, I overheard one of the caretakers speaking to another camper, and he said they’d rather that grey water was put onto the grass, and not down the designated grey water drain.

I also obliged, and kept moving our grey water hose around to different parts of the site, and within a day every time you could see the grass flourishing and taking off.

We left the site in better condition than when we arrived, all because of some simple common sense. The sun takes care of any bacteria, and the water was immediately drained, so no loss for anyone.

Horrocks Caravan Park
Keeping the grass growing at Horrocks Caravan Park

Emptying grey water into a dump point is a false economy

Encouraging people to tip their grey water into proper dump points that were designed for sewage is a false economy. They aren’t big enough to handle that sort of volume, nor are there enough of them to make it easy for everyone to do.

Imagine dumping 150 litres of grey water down one, instead of the usual 20L of waste from your toilet. How long is it going to last with everyone doing this?

Who pays for the dump point to be emptied? Where does the product go? It just creates more work for everyone, and I don’t feel that the benefit is there.

Beyond that, a lot of people can’t actually empty their grey water tanks into normal dump points anyway, because of the height difference from the tank to the dump point not being enough to make the water flow. Then what? Do you drive around in search of one that is lower in the ground?

Should you put your grey water down a normal dump point? Yes, if you’ve stored it for more than 24 hours and that is what is required, because that’s the world we live in today.

Black water to the dump point
Dump points were never designed to take bulk grey water

Where can you empty grey water?

The reality is you can empty your grey water anywhere you want. Whether its good for the environment, dangerous or annoying for others or you get a fine for doing so will depend on the circumstances.

When it comes to grey water, the first place to start is the regulations for where you are staying. If its clearly marked that you can’t drain your grey water onto the ground, don’t.

Collect it, and dispose of it elsewhere. Whether that’s in a portable tank and you take it to the dump point, or its a tree 50 metres away (with permission from the land owners), there’s always somewhere to empty grey water.

If nothing is mentioned about grey water, my advice is to empty your grey water respectfully and regularly just out of your camp site, where it won’t affect anyone else.

If you are allowed, run your drain hose away from camp, to somewhere that is going to use the water. Don’t put it near creeks, rivers or dams, and just consider those who will be coming in after you, and the environment.

Caravan parks almost always have a grey water drain that you run your grey water hose to (or you tip a bucket down, depending on your setup), but as above, plenty would rather you put it on the grass too.

If you’ve stored your grey water for more than 24 hours, find a suitable grey water dump point, or normal dump point to get rid of it.

Don’t let it drip all over the road, or empty it where you aren’t allowed, or you’ll upset someone and possibly even get a fine.

How do you deal with where to dump grey water? Are you finding things have changed over the last couple of years?

Grey water tank guard
Grey water tanks are becoming more common on caravans

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  1. Hey Andrew,

    A lot of the chemicals are biodegradable, and its entirely OK to dig a big hole well away from a watercourse and where people go, and empty it in as needed.

    If you come home, you are fine to empty the waste into the toilet, as long as its connected to mains sewage, and isn’t a separate septic system that requires the contents to break down.

    Some chemicals are septic safe, but its not a good idea to tip any portable toilets down the national park drop toilets, or caravan parks just in case; you can do extremely expensive damage if you upset their systems

    All the best

  2. Timely article… thanks.
    Also interested what people do when camped in the middle of nowhere for extended periods without sewerage dump points?
    Or maybe just a long weekend. You arrive home with partially full tanks. Where does it go? Apparantly home septics are not suitable.