Are you contributing to environmental contamination?

Anita Pavey — 3 June 2015

It is a sad fact that many people don’t respect the environment, happy to discard their rubbish and litter the landscape. How many times have you driven into a free campsite to be greeted by rubbish strewn all over the place?

You have to wonder how some people live and whether they treat their own homes with the same lack of respect. Despite large fines for littering and graphic media campaigns showing the effects of littering on wildlife and the environment, the message still doesn’t seem to get through.

The good news is that we can all do our little bit to help.


Black water is the term used for human waste, carried in holding tanks of your RV and discharged into an appropriate facility, eloquently termed a dump point. If your travels are limited to the blacktop with overnight accommodation in caravan parks, it’s all smooth sailing, as most parks have such a facility. If you are using free campsites, you’ll need to keep an eye out for those blue RV signs indicating a public discharge site.

If you plan to free camp, part of your research should include finding appropriate dump points, as discharging black water into other facilities, such as a public toilet, pit toilet, storm water drain or any area other than a designated dump point could lead to prosecution under the Environmental Protection Act 1994. Put simply, don’t do it!

If you’re wandering off the beaten track and away from discharge points, consider using a pit toilet in national parks instead of your ensuite. Pit toilets take advantage of bacteria to break down human waste. Have you ever come across a smelly pit toilet? In some cases, this is caused by people dumping their black water; the chemicals kill the natural bacteria and over time create a smelly, waste management issue. It also results in more pit toilets being closed, higher maintenance costs and an increase in park entry costs for all users.

Some companies manufacture bush toilet with a flat-fold box design for easy transportation. Simply dig the hole and line the structure with biodegradable bags, which are dropped in the hole at the end of your stay. A moulded seat takes care of comfort. Make sure you tie off your bag at least 30cm below ground level to keep digging animals at bay and manage hygiene for other travellers.

If you prefer to keep it simple and dig your own hole at each visit, remember that foraging animals will dig up any shallow burial, meaning used paper is contributing to the wider litter problem. Burning used toilet paper is one suggested method, although consideration of the surrounding scrub is required to prevent the risk of a spark spreading. A deeper hole and biodegradable bag is the answer.


Few things in life are as relaxing as sharing the warmth of a campfire with friends. Sadly, campfires tend to be a pit for all sorts of rubbish both during and after the fire.

Environmentally speaking, plastic should be kept out of the fire, although in remote locations it is a better solution than seeing it littering the landscape. While aluminium cans will melt, it’s not ideal for the environment and they are easily squashed flat for transport for proper disposal. Steel cans and bottles should be kept out of the fire and taken to the nearest recycling or disposal facility.


In recent years, cigarette butts have become more prevalent than McDonald’s wrappers, littering storm drains, beaches and many public places. If you are a smoker, consider carrying around a small spice jar or similar for all your butts, periodically disposing them in a suitable facility.


Toxic weeds are prevalent all around Australia and are easily spread through contact with your vehicle and RV, as well as your clothes, shoes and camping gear.

In far north Queensland, the Siam weed is just one example. It is native to South America, grows 5m a year, and smothers everything in its path, monopolising all the nutrients and killing everything around it. There are also plant diseases such as Phytophthora dieback, with the P. cinnamomi species the biggest threat in Western Australia.

The best ways to limit the spread of toxic weeds is to do some research ahead of time. National park visitor guides are a great source of information and will often warn of environmental threats. Stick to paths and tracks both on foot and when 4WDing, not only to tread lightly but to eliminate picking up seeds under your vehicle and through mud on your tyres and soles. Washing your vehicle to remove any mud before moving on is a great preventative.

Educating others about the contributors to toxicity is a long term initiative. At best, we can consider our own actions and how we can minimise the impact. Beyond that, I challenge you to pick up some of that campsite rubbish before setting up camp. Not only will it collectively make a dent in the rubbish population but you won’t have to look at it during your stay. And that’s an outcome worth contributing to.

See you on the trails.

The full feature appeared in Caravan World #534 April 2015. 


rubbish cigarettes campfires Black water Toxic weeds


Anita Pavey