So, do you need a grey water tank for your caravan/camper? In other words, are you required by law to have a grey water system in your camper in Australia?
To save you time:
The answer is: Currently, as of Dec 2021 there is no Australian Federal legislation that requires you to have a grey water tank in your caravan or camper. But read on, because there are some nuances to this.
Since there is no blanket legislation about grey water systems in recreational vehicles, that leaves local councils, caravan parks and other privatised campsites to establish their own rules & regulations about it because it can potentially be harmful to native wildlife and other people depending on their location or proximity to sensitive fauna and flaura.
This does bring one big challenge to the everyday camper: How to be compliant when traveling from park to park when everyone has different rules about it?
Even if you bring the topic of Grey water up around the campfire it can become a heated conversation with conflicting ideas on what we should & shouldn’t do. Nothing is black & white with grey water!
In this article, we try to take an objective view and leave the decision up to you based on the information provided. We’ll also look at what other countries are doing and try to decipher some general rules of thumb / practical guidance which will hopefully keep you out of trouble.
What is a grey water tank?
Well simply put, grey water in a residential home setting is any waste water that isn’t from the toilet system (black water). That includes the kitchen sink, shower, basins, washing machine etc.
At home, people say you can use this water on your plants (recycle the water). However, in the caravan & camping world you can’t do this because it can contain harmful chemicals and bacteria which can make people sick, kill wildlife and plants + the smell!
Probably the biggest debate in caravan/camping industry around grey water is:
Should shower water be considered grey water?
Right now, there are many campers on the market that have external showers because showers take up a lot of space on a vehicle, even people who are tent camping may have portable showers with no facility to catch the grey water, other than perhaps a bucket which are by no means all that effective.
So therein lies the conundrum for Australian campers:
In Australia, in a caravan or a camper, you have very limited water carrying capacity (fresh, grey or black) because water is heavy and takes up your precious payload / towing capacity.
In most grey water systems, caravan grey water tanks are at least 1/3rd the size of the freshwater tanks. So there is physically no way to carry out 1-to-1 what you carried in, unless you are just staying for 1-2 days until your grey water tank is full.
So what are you meant to do with the grey water?
Across Australia, there are waste stations you can use to drain the grey and black water. However, these are poorly mapped in remote areas that are few and far between and they are not to be confused with “porta potty” (toilet) or “black water” dump stations.
However, we do generally have plenty of freshwater access at road stops, campsites etc.
So on extended trips for 2 or more days you could easily fill your freshwater tank multiple times before you could find a dumping station for grey & black water. They could be hundreds, sometimes thousands of kms from each other in rural Australia!
Shower water is a sure-fire way to fill up your grey water tank after your first two days of camping.
The logic behind not considering shower water as grey water is because showering products typically go through thorough and stringent testing to ensure that they are not harmful to humans, and are least likely to impact the environment (obviously some more than others). If you can put it on your skin or wash your hair with it then by rights it is meant to be non-toxic.
Unlike kitchen sink waste which contains detergents, food scraps and oils that have harmful elements to them which can make people sick, kill wildlife & plants.
On the other hand, some argue that shower water should be considered grey water.
The theory is simple. Carry out what you carried in. In some countries they call it self-containment.
So if you have a shower with water you carried in, the grey water weight should be no more than the water you carried in. Basically just transferring the water from one tank to another, and once you leave the campsite you simply find your nearest dump point.
This absolutely makes sense in population-dense places where you are practically camping on top of other people. Where there are heaps of waste stations to conveniently dispose of the grey water. Mass population with limited land.
It becomes a sanitary necessity.
So where does that leave Australian campers where we have mass land but limited population?
We think that Grey water responsibility falls on the camper owner. Being aware of the effects it can have if not correctly disposed of. So we always encourage responsible use of water to consider both the wildlife and fellow campers. Check out the tips for responsible use of greywater at the end of this article.
The Difference Between Caravan Grey Water and Household Grey Water
With household greywater, it is generally desirable to divert it onto lawns and gardens. However, in the caravan/camping world that is generally not possible to do this. You have to take it to a proper waste disposal station.
One of the biggest issues is that in your RV grey water tank/pipes the grey water quickly turns into a black bacteria sludge (can happen within 12-24 hours). Bacteria rapidly multiply in wet, warm, dark conditions.
This bacteria can easily get stuck in pipes and hoses which causes that horrible rotten egg smell. And depending on how close you are, camping next to your neighbour can make what was a pleasant camping experience to a very smelly horrible experience if you decide to dump it on the grass.
Not to mention the poor folks who have to camp on the previous persons dumped waste, if they also dump there and so do the next campers – pretty soon there could be a potential septic bio hazard occurring that could cause severe health issues or environmental damage.
Household greywater is in large from the washing machines, showers, baths & basins, which uses gentler products made for human contact, perhaps only a small percentage of that is the kitchen sink (depending on plumbing etc)
Whereas in the caravan/camping industry, the grey water is mostly from the kitchen sink if shower water is not stored.
The chemicals in dishwashing detergent often acts as a surfactant for plants, which they use in the agriculture industry to break down the molecular surface of plants so the next thing they spray them with is absorbed rapidly (like fertilizer). But if the next thing is another chemical or harsh bacteria then you can quickly kill the plants.
Okay, so this all sounds pretty gross and bad for the environment, and absolutely makes sense that local caravan sites & national parks have rules about grey water if there is no blanket legislation federally and they need to protect their sites for the next campers to enjoy.
At Trayon Campers we have the option of installing a grey water system to our campers, but in Australia, there isn’t any federal legislation that requires you to carry a grey water tank. So the decision is yours.
So why do we do it?
Well, that’s because we don’t just manufacture and sell just in Australia, we also export overseas to markets like Switzerland, Netherlands, France, Italy, UK & New Zealand. All these countries have very strict regulations on grey water for the RV industry. That means all manufacturers must meet the grey water requirements before they can be sold.
The country with the most strict RV grey water regulations that we are aware of is New Zealand and even they don’t require the outside shower water to be contained specifically.
But we are also astutely aware that Caravan Parks & National Parks are increasingly adopting internal policies about self-containment in Australia, for the moment it seems to be mostly about black water (porta potties). So it all depends on where you plan to travel.
Most motorhomes have grey water tanks due to their international appeal, however, most caravans and campers only have optional fitment. So this issue definitely has far-reaching effects.
Regardless if you see the outside shower as part of what should be grey water or not – remember most caravan parks and some campsites have their own shower facilities for customers to use. That would leave only the sink waste to be contained and that’s where the Trayon grey water tank comes in.
Since there is no Federal legislation on the matter of Grey water, in addition to local council & caravan parks having their own policies, the “Leave No Trace” scheme helps campers understand their responsibilities. The goal of this scheme is to demonstrate to councils and other authorities that self-contained vehicles can have little impact on the environment, even at campsites with no facilities.
Why You Might Want a Grey Water System
If you have done your research and know that your destinations have grey water policies then yes, absolutely get your grey water system installed. If you are an existing Trayon Owner, we can retrofit one for you. If you have another brand, check with your dealer manufacturer to explore what options are available.
Why You Might Not Want a Grey Water System
If you don’t plan on camping in places with grey water policies then, no you don’t need one. Currently, there are still plenty of places that don’t mind you dispensing grey water on the grass, sometimes it’s even encouraged during drought periods. But every Caravan park is different, so keep that in mind.
Can I still go Camping without a Grey Water Tank?
We depend so heavily on water in our lives, if there were strong grey water regulations at every camping destination about taking it out with us, there would definitely be many campers who probably wouldn’t go camping, and there will always be the 1% who don’t listen to the authorities.
The people who go tent camping out of their SUV or car are very limited in how they can carry their grey water in their vehicle. So that could be challenging at many campsites.
Grey Water Disposal Tips & Tricks
There are some free camps, national parks and state forests that indicate that campers must be self contained. They are usually near a water catchment or river. However, they are few and far between. You usually don’t know until you arrive at the site and read the signs. This does make it challenging to plan ahead to find the closest disposal points. However, it is always wise to do your research.
Some private campsites and caravan parks are adopting safer grey water practises and require all campers to be self-sufficient / self contained. So if you do have a grey water system, there are still some common things to keep in mind when operating it.
Here are some key tips to minimise hassle & environmental impact:
- Plan ahead and learn any policies or regulations by local councils or campsites
- Identify where your closest wastewater disposal sites are
- Use natural soaps & detergents
- Empty your grey water regularly
Trayon Camper Grey Water Tanks
Our grey water system specific to Trayon Campers is a specially designed kitchen sink catchment tank mounted under the Trayon Camper in the aluminium frame and this complies with the legislation in all the other countries we export too (even by not containing the shower water!). We can retrofit them to our 1980 and Dual-wide models (single cab and dual cab). If there is a drawer in the way, you may have to remove one drawer to fit the tank.
We hope this article helps you make up your mind about the installation of a grey water tank and responsible disposal of it. Happy camping!