Wednesday, June 16, 2010

RV gray water controversy

I have no problem recycling RV gray water onto grass, shrubs and trees. Plants will thrive on RV gray water if you don't use harsh soaps or chemicals. Your gray tank holds shower water, laundry water (if you have a washer and dryer), dish water, teeth brushing and hand washing water. If you think about it, that amounts to a lot of water usage. Selecting plant friendly biodegradable detergents and soaps will allow you to recycle this water instead of allowing it to go to waste.

I've stayed at many campgrounds that didn't have sewer drains at the campsites. We can usually go two weeks before having to dump our black water, but the gray water tank will only last about three days before we need to empty. I'm too lazy to pack everything up and go to the dump station, so I water the surrounding vegetation with our gray water.

You will need an adapter (sold at most RV stores) that will attach to a standard garden hose and to your black/gray water drain pipe.If you didn't already know, there is a controversy surrounding this idea. Some parks forbid the practice and some people argue that it is unsanitary. I don't let the hose sit in one place causing a puddle, but move it around to different plants until the tank is empty. In many parts of the country water is in limited supply and recycling gray water makes more sense than sending it down the sewer to a treatment facility.

When I'm at a fairground or outdoor event that has RV parking on the grass, I use a short hose to drain my gray water tank directly under the RV. By doing it this way you don't encroach on your neighbor's space. Instead of throwing an old hose away, I recycle it for this use.I know some folks object to this method of disposing of gray water and that's why it remains a controversy. Because of waterborne diseases like cholera, you should always dispose of black water into a sewer system. Gray water on the other hand has far fewer contaminates and in my opinion is safe enough for recycling. As long as you are not offloading gray water near water sources such as a lake, stream or a well, there should be no problem.

Covering the gray areas of RVing - Jim Twamley, Professor of RVing

31 comments:

Rae said...

In Canada, it is illegal to dump your grey water anywhere but in sanidumps. There are huge fines if you get caught doing it.

I agree that 99% of grey water is harmless, maybe even good, for the environment, but a huge fine and chance of imprisonment are enough to scare me into either moving the rig or dumping into a bucket and then emptying the bucket in a sani-dump.

LiveWorkDream said...

Hey Professor, pretty brave of you to admit to it. My hubby and I will do it in places like Slab City, but that's it. I think the Canadians have it right.

I think it's OK to do it IF you are in a non-environmentally sensitive area and are one who uses biodegradable soaps and go easy on what you put down the drain (i.e, no animal products, harsh toothpaste, etc). Not too many people are environmentally savvy that way though, so I personally think it's a very bad idea.

CoachDANNY!! said...

Is there a list of suggested 'environmentally friendly' products we should be using on board, just in case we need to shead grey water?

Jim Twamley said...

Coach Danny, to answer you question, take a trip down the soap isle at your supermarket and you will find a whole section dedicated to environmentally friendly detergents and soaps. Read labels carefully before you buy to make sure you know what you are getting. All health food stores and co-ops I've visited have these alternative products. Costco also has a selection of these products in the detergent isle. Happy camping!

Anonymous said...

Unless you pour actual poisons down your sink, like pesticides and herbicides, I think any normal household products are going to be so heavily diluted as to be harmless, whether marketed as "eco-friendly" or not.

Gray water is a useful resource- to flush it down a sewer treatment facility is a waste.

Alan said...

We also ensure that the food residue is removed from pots, pans and plates with paper towels, prior to be washed. This way the animals will not be attracted into the camping area.

Al said...

I asked a park ranger once about the signage that stated you could not dump 'grey' water and no mention about 'black' water. It seems is should say no 'black' water dumping. The ranger told me that most people in the park did not know the difference and they just used the term 'gray' for all water from campers.

I then asked the ranger about the folks that were tent camping in the next section and what did they do with their 'dish' water (gray water) every day. He said they just tossed is on the ground away from the tents. How is that different than me dumping my dish (gray) water? He didn't have an answer; but had a puzzled look on his face.

But then he told me it was ok to dump my 'gray' water, since they were in a drought.

The government can be pretty confusing at times!!!

x-ranger said...

Having spent 30 plus years as a park ranger, I think other commentators hit upon several key points regarding food residue and grease in the grey water. There isn't much of an issue associated with grey water dumping in remote areas. The problems are associated with developed campgrounds that have been it use for many years (since CCC days in some cases). Oils, grease, chlorine, and other chemicals can in fact impact the environment if everyone dumps their grey wastes in the typical 30 x 50 foot camp area. The same is true of foot traffic around campground trees compacting soils and making it a tough environment for the campground trees to prosper. It is the numbers and repetition that is the problem

Ken and Helen said...

In just about every instance, my gray water has been used to come in contact with some part of my body, so why wouldn't it be safe enough for the ground outside? It makes perfect sense to use gray water to water grass and plants, and I will continue to do so with reasonable caution.

Anonymous said...

Grey water comes from sinks in which dishes with food residue are washed. On our trailer, grey and black water exit via a common pipe. For tenters, signage says wash dishes in the sink, and it is prohibited to wash dishes atthe fresh water spigot. Wonder why.
Twamley gets it wrong.

Anonymous said...

A few years ago areas of PA were in severe drought. We were asked to not only use dish water etc from stick homes to water plants and trees but RVers were also asked to do same with their grey water. Were told if you didn't want to use it on your property to use it to water public grounds.

WCForbesPE said...

I agree with Jim that grey water is pretty innocuous, but there is some research (for houses) showing surprising levels of coliform bacteria in grey water. If you have a washer dryer, or are changing baby (or adult) diapers, or have other circumstances where feces may wind up in the grey water, you should definately use the dump and not put it on the ground.

jhp said...

I go along with the person who said that there are contaminates like grease and food particles in the grey water that will build up over time and attract flies. I suppose if you are the only one that does it, there is no problem?

Camper Dick said...

When boondocking in the desert we will do the dishes in a plastic tub and dump ihe water in the fire pit. The evening fire will cook the oils etc. out of the soil. This helps slow down the gray tank
'fill up'.

Malc said...

All pleasure crafts on the Great Lakes do not have grey water holding tanks, all sinks and showers drain directly into the lake, no problem. Soil is a good filter.
Why are RV's allowed to have out door showers if there is a problem?
I dump the grey water at the dump station when avaible but I am comfortably dumping grey water on vegetion.

jhp said...

Showers are different than dishwater in that there are no food particles in the water. Dumping gray water in the Great Lakes is like dropping a grain of sand on a beach. I did stay at a campground in TX that allowed you to drain gray water at the camp site. I still say gray water that includes dish water will draw flies.

hankaye said...

Howdy, Wounder why it is that when some of the conservation folks say it is a GOOD THING to use your household graywater (includes fats and everything else that goes down the drian), to use for your plants and lawn (being eco-friendly), yet if we want to do the same at a campground we are being an enemy of the eco-sphere. Am I hearing "double-standard"?

Anonymous said...

We have been doing this with a garden hose for several years now. It's amazing how green & plush the grass will get within a 10' radius of the dumping site! One thing to remember is after a while solids will build up and the hose connection will need cleaning. I recommend wearing gloves when disconnecting the hose as backed-up gray water will spill suddenly.

John B said...

I would venture to say tent campers have done this for years !

Anonymous said...

My inlaws had their grey water go directly from the house to her VERY lush garden. I've often thought that made much more sense than to make our treatment plants treat water that can water our plants and lawns. We've been in areas where we were told to dump gray water directly onto the ground, with no ill effects. In drought stricken areas, that's only common sense.

David said...

Depends on how heavily used the site. Is there someone else ready to pull in as soon as you leave, or will it be days/weeks before the site is next occupied?

It does take a period of time for the soil to biodegrade the waste, no matter how 'eco-friendly' the product claims to be. If the next camper dumps his waste on top of yours before yours is fully neutralized, a cumulative problem will develop.

Old Chinese proverb: No single raindrop feels responsible for the flood.

Anonymous said...

A few years ago San Diego Ca rewarded us for dumping household gray water on our lawns. Made sense because we were in a drought. Makes sense before you enter a drought. Can't see wasting a precious resource. We went to a Holiday Rambler rally in 1999 and were told to dump as we entered. Then we could dump our gray water on the dead and dying grass. After a week there was no odor in the fairgrounds.

Anonymous said...

As my husband and I sit in an RV park,in Whitehorse Yukon, Canada,we are 10' away from our neighbors on either side. That doesn't leave much room for us to use the provided picnic table. I can only imagine what the smell and wet ground would be like here. I agree that in the "wild" it should be OK. However, we have found that many areas have been closed to us now because some people decided that if they could dump grey it must be OK to dump black too!

Boonie Rat said...

This is an interesting topic to say the least! I used to go up into the mountains where even hikers wouldn't go- - - Jeeping that is. We showered, ate, etc and the gray water was dumped onto the vegetation. Potty material was buried and per BLM & FS instructions and general common sense. Now, as for the issue of gray water being dumped/poured etc, onto vegitation, why not? I use an approved bio-grdeable solution purchased to pourr into the gray water tank to take care of the grease, etc. I have no qualms using the gray water from my tanks onto vegetation. However, I will check with the campground or responsible organization (BLM/FS rangers) as to their wishes. Hmmm- - - Interesting subject it is!

janis said...

well, this is interesting topic. i remember reading one time about a woman RVer whose dog had gotten hold of something from the grey water tank dumping they had done. the dog almost died from it. i will never dump my grey tank on the ground due to having a dog i love too much to chance it. just a thought.

Anonymous said...

To find a product that is good for the environment - look for products recommended for homes that are on a septic tank system. They do not contain stuff that will kill the enzymes that make the system work.

Anonymous said...

To those who fill they grey tanks while the black is low may I suggest the following. I installed a macerator and while doing so incorporated two valves.
I placed a "T" with a pipe going to the black tank between which I placed the first valve. The second "T" is closed when pumping
grey to black. When I close the first valve and open the second valve the fluids go thru the normal disposal method.

Anonymous said...

We are one of those that fill the gray well before the black. Typically, I'll use my portable tank to drain it down a bit. Also, I like to use the gray to flush out my lines after I drain the black. It's a matter of good sanitation practice and odor reduction.

Out of respect for my neighbors, I don't drain my gray at the campsite, under the vehicle or not as it does have a slight odor.

While gray is much cleaner than black, it is not without bacteria and possibly viruses. Think about where it comes from, showers, dirty dishes and finally, it goes through the same outlet as the black on the way to disposal.

YMMV, Rocky

Bud said...

I thank when we can we need to conserve water especially in the times that there is a water shortage. Like David said in some of the other comments it depends on how much the site is used and how much water is put in one spot. When I was a young boy growing up my Dad always drained our house gray water on our lawn,plants and trees with a 2" plastic hose about 100ft. long as long as we keeped it moved around the yard thair was no smell or damage to the yard we had the greenest yard on the street althrough it was the only house on the street. we had dogs, cats and farm animals on the place and yet we all lived a very healthy life I'am 63 now and yes there was plaslic hose back than. So keep those hoses moved and you will more than likly be fine in the places you can use them just use your head about it. It just takes a little common sense and hopefully we all have alittle of that.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

I'm from Canada, and we are not allowed to dump the gray water even though most of us do. I've read through most of the comment here, but everyone seems to forget on thing. Most trailers have one dumping pipe for black, and gray water. The problem that I have with people dumping there gray water depends on what they dumped last. If they dumped their gray water first before their black water, that means that the residue from the black water will wash out when they dump the gray water the next time out. It stinks, and it is unsanitary. That's the big difference between someone who is tenting, and someone with a camper. People who tent dump pure chemicals, not feces residue. Sure, most of us are wise enough to dump black water first, and wash the pipe out with the gray water last. I try to dump in the grass for away, and not around any travel paths or sites.

jvmullin said...

We have to remember that a short distance of the pipe is used for both Grey and Black water discharge.
I know the practice is to discharge black first followed by grey. But really how clean is the pipe from the black water discharge by using this method?
If there were totally separate systems I would not see the problem.
I have discharged grey water in areas where it was appropriate to do so as I feel it maintains the aquifer in the area.

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