How to Manage Your Water When Camping & How to Use Biodegradable Products


May 11, 2023


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At home, thanks to water treatment systems, we rarely worry about what happens to our wastewater. But it is different in nature. Water management is a complex issue for campsites and natural parks, and there are real risks that wastewater could flow into the environment and then flow into our lakes by runoff, infiltration or drainage during strong rains.

Unsurprisingly, this greatly affects the health of water bodies and surrounding wildlife. Poor wastewater management can also cause other nuisances for campers, such as bad odours and contamination of drinking water sources. The contexts being variable, here are several tips to always make the right choice when managing your water in nature.

This article was produced in collaboration with Earth Day Canada
Earth Day Canada

In this article, you will learn more about some good habits to get into when camping:

  1. Make Good Use of Biodegradable Products
  2. Manage your Wastewater with Infrastructure
  3. Manage your Wastewater in Nature
  4. Bring Together the Right Conditions for Swimming
  5. Plan your Drinking Water Supply
  6. Optimize your Use of Water

Make Good Use of Biodegradable Products

Contrary to what many of us think, biodegradable soap does not biodegrade in water. It only does so in the ground, where bacteria degrade its components. Instructions for use are usually written behind the bottle, but not everyone really takes the time to read the instructions before using biodegradable soap.

Algae problems, change in oxygen levels, decline in fish population, etc. – our cleaners have the power to considerably destabilize and destroy the ecosystem of our lakes and rivers!

This is why the use of these products in or near bodies of water must be avoided at all costs. If you must pour water with biodegradable substances, do it on dry ground far from any water source (allow 60 metres or about 70 adult steps).
On sites where there is wastewater disposal, the idea is to use small quantities of ecological products (for example without phosphate) or biodegradable soaps to facilitate water treatment.

Manage your Wastewater with Infrastructure

If you camp in a travel trailer or van, you are surely familiar with the management of your grey water (dishes, shower, hand washing, cooking, etc.) and black water (toilets). And if you’re not, become one, because letting them drain from your vehicle is never an option! Make sure to use the emptying stations or to bring an additional portable tank if you plan to make an extended stay away from a station.

To do your part for nature, find out about solutions with enzymes to treat your wastewater while extending the life of your tanks, or about the possibility of installing a dry toilet, which solves the problem of drains and even odours!

Manage your Wastewater in Nature

If you are on your own in nature, for example for a long hike, precautions are even more important because your water will flow directly to the site where you are.

So give preference to rinsing your dishes with clear water (without dish soap) in a container, and be sure to disperse your waste water on dry ground (or in a hole) 60 metres away (or about 70 adult steps) from water sources… and from your campsite, at the risk of seeing a bear or a raccoon pointing the tip of its nose, attracted by the smell!

Bring Together the Right Conditions for Swimming

In the summer, at the end of a day covered in sunscreen and insect repellent, it can be tempting to take a dip in a lake to wash up. As you can imagine, it is a habit to break, because it greatly harms fragile ecosystems. On some sites, you even risk a hefty fine if you do it!

If you want to wash up properly and there are showers where you are, use them. If there is no infrastructure on the horizon and it is authorized on the site, favour portable showers with a little biodegradable, phosphate-free soap, then dispose of the water far from the banks, on dry ground, as you now know. Be careful: like food scraps, soap odours also attract wild animals.

Last option, if you have not applied any products or at least not for several hours, cool off quickly in the lake without soap.

Cleaning in a lake

Plan your Drinking Water Supply

To avoid finding yourself caught off guard on a site without drinking water, get informed and plan your water supplies ahead of time if necessary, whether with a tank, water bottles or dedicated pockets!

If you have to stock up along the way, always use running water and filter it properly as to not run the risk of upsetting your intestines.

Optimize your Use of Water

Last advice, since the management of wastewater in nature is an issue, change your view of the water flowing from the tap and consider it as a precious resource to be reused as much as possible, for example by washing your hands above your dishwashing bin at the campsite.

To limit the volume of water to be treated, you can also take short showers and use ecological products in small quantities.

Portble Shower

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