The motorhome toilet cassette is not the most attractive piece of equipment you’ll carry. Barely spoken of in polite circles, it sits quietly doing its job in its accommodating, non-judgemental way.
But controversy has surrounded this inoffensive (usually) if indispensable little receptacle! Having attracted the attention of the newspapers, it is now enjoying its moment in The Sun! (pun intended – although it is currently the North Norfolk News and Eastern Daily Press)
Just as the van life community thought that the unwelcome spotlight on us was dimming, the humble motorhome toilet cassette is now being blamed for blocking sewers in North Norfolk!
We’ll outline the accusations, add a contentious comment, then get to what we can do to keep the newspapers off our backs!
What are the accusations? The case for the prosecution!
“Public toilets under threat of closure!” ?
North Norfolk District Council complains about motorhomes “illegally wild-camping” in its car parks. Then emptying their toilet waste into public toilets. This is causing blockages along the sewer system. Allegedly.
And this has led to the thinly veiled “hate speech” stories emerging in the newspapers again.
Fair enough, Weybourne has an eco-toilet which does not have the capacity to cope with large quantities all at once. But why do “normal” sewers have a problem with fluids? The council state that public toilets are threatened with closure along the North Norfolk coast due to motorhomes. Really?
The number of motorhomes that are down on the car park these days is beyond ridiculous.
“The council does its best in keeping up with it but what can it do when people don’t respect the rules,”
If you can be bothered to wade through the adverts, here is the story covered by both the NorthNorfolkNews and the EDP. (We hate adverts – Hobo Gav has written a piece explaining why!)
The Norfolk council suggests that motorhomes and campervans should make use of campsites instead of car parks overnight. And we sort of understand – in a “we don’t enjoy big sites and want to be spontaneous” kind of way!
Nor do we enjoy mass “wild camping” which is always going to annoy others. And as for mass motorhome toilet cassette emptying parties as suggested by a Norfolk councillor – no. We cannot see more than one going down at once!
Not motorhome friendly
Sleeping in Norfolk’s car parks is probably prohibited anyway. It certainly is in Suffolk. East Anglia is not a forward-thinking region as regards accommodating mobile tourists. Many car parks have a length restriction. (Although one must read the small print to find out!) But campsites are often full in summer, many are raising prices and some only offer three+ night stays.
To be fair to North Norfolk, we spent a lovely few days there this spring, choosing which road to take as we drove. We used campsite facilities for emptying the motorhome toilet cassette, grey waste and filling the fresh tanks. One owner asked that we watered her fruit trees with the grey waste! Very eco-friendly! All the sites we used accepted us at short notice. And were reasonably priced.
However this is not a rant about campsites. So back to emptying the loo!
We changed our advice
Our own website has carried the advice to use public loos for emptying the motorhome toilet cassette. People living along the NC500 asked us to amend or remove this. They too blame motorhomes for the frequent blockages to the sewerage system. Until the problem is solved, their animosity towards the van life community will increase.
Frankly we were sceptical that it is the toilet cassette causing the issues but agreed to make changes after a friendly exchange of opinions ensued. We have yet to receive evidence that blockages and subsequent closures of public facilities was due to motorhomes. But since motorhomers carry the can, it has become our problem.
So, where can motorhomes empty their toilet cassette?
NOT public toilets it seems! Whether you believe or not that a motorhome toilet cassette can block a main sewer when emptied, it is causing an outcry. It will get motorhomes banned from more places!
Nor random holes! We have read that some people simply lift a manhole cover and pour their grey or black waste in.
Please don’t. Some parts of the country have sewer and surface water drains combined, other parts do not. If you empty black waste into a surface drain, you can even be guilty of polluting aquifers. It is not something to do in the dead of night to avoid the fine – pollution creates a serious risk to health. Both public health and the health of the environment.
Even grey waste must not be tipped into rainwater drains!
And never, ever water courses!
Never empty the toilet cassette into water courses!
We were horrified when a warden said that wild campers had been emptying their motorhome toilet cassette into a stream on a nature reserve. Wildlife suffered and died. It was due to that that the car park was now “no overnight camping”. Yes, it is rare, but we all carry the blame as a result. We share the shame!
We were “wild camping” novices back then and got caught. But rather than just demand that we leave, the warden explained why. Education is vitally important!
If you are in an area which uses septic tanks, then be very careful what type of toilet fluid you use. Septic tanks must have the green variety. That means eco-friendly, not just a green label. Check that carefully! Some unscrupulous manufacturers have found that a green-coloured label increases sales!! Putting the wrong one into the system can “kill” the tank, the owner then has to have it flushed and repopulated with the right bacteria again.
This is not anti-motorhome bias. Septic tanks do not work with bleach and many other strong toilet cleaning fluids either. These tanks do not appreciate biological washing liquids either – we are aware that some motorhome users have these in their cassettes.
Some parts of the country have almost all foul waste removed via septic tank so always carry the green fluids and be mindful of these wonderful “eco-systems”.
North Norfolk Council complained that the Eco-Toilet at Weybourne was “swamped” by motorhome waste. Such facilities cannot cope with a large amount of waste at once – even liquid waste. Particularly liquid waste with strong chemicals in we suppose.
“We’ve fought for years to try and get a toilet, then NNDC provide us with one that’s a little bit different and unfortunately the minority go and spoil it for everybody else.
Note that “the minority” mentioned above are US! The motorhome community. PLEASE never use an eco-toilet for emptying any tank!
Did you know that eco-toilets have restricted capacity?
We didn’t know!
Are van-lifers aware that eco-toilets are off limits for emptying? Is there explanatory signage? Most…almost all…motorhome users will obey rules if they are more than “just because we don’t want vans here”.
We thought that most of this was more about petty rule-making than serious problems.
We were wrong.
But in most cases, the jury is still out for us. After all, even if we rule out eco-toilets, why can a normal sewer not cope with around 17 litres of fluid?
Our domestic drain system is a combined, shared one. The motorhome toilet cassette has never blocked it. And when we pull the plug on the bath, it doesn’t back up. That’s far more than 17 litres!
Wet wipes, nappies and sanitary wear are the culprits we think. These could be in the motorhome toilet cassette. But it is more likely that they are flushed by tourists, motorists and walkers who have no refuse facilities. There is no such thing as a “flushable” wipe!
(As an aside, we saw a refuse collection lorry with a plea along the side for people not to place disposable nappies into the recycling bin. Seriously?)
We asked for evidence
Is the motorhome community being accused unjustly? We think so! We approached Anglian Water and Scottish Water for their opinion.
Anglian Water quickly acknowledged our request and stated that they would ask their experts to send us information. Waiting!
Scottish Water sent information – read their publication here.
Scottish Water insist that motorhome cassettes should not be emptied into public toilets. But without an explanation that we found apart from the septic tank issue. However, by reading both documents, it appears that motorhomes are causing Scotland some sleepless nights. That is not good! It leads to antagonism and the dreaded height barriers and “no motorhomes” signs
Scotland has a delicate ecosystem, and many areas have no sewer drainage, relying on septic tanks. Therefore, it is understandable that they do not want our harsh chemicals emptied into the pipes.
Nor do they want black waste dumped on the ground. There is no excuse for that anywhere!
They are proposing a network of disposal points for black and grey water with various operating methods as appropriate to the area.
Again, we wonder how much of the problem really is due to motorhomes rather than the lack of responsibility shown by many humans in general. Including those who live and work in the area! Wet wipes are a national problem for drainage companies.
Scotland in particular has a smaller bore sewer system – there were fewer homes to service. Of course, that has changed, houses seem to be spreading like mould on soggy warm bread. Add a few thousand tourists and a motorhome toilet cassette to the equation and there may be an issue.
Is there a hidden agenda?
But…and now the sceptic starts to think…are motorhomes the scapegoats blamed by councils for antiquated sewerage-systems in need of upgrading? There is a small voice which questions whether they are claiming that trouble is being caused by tourists so that cash can be drawn from national coffers rather than the local purse.
Fair enough, septic tanks and Eco-Facilities should not be used by motorhomes using harsh chemicals. But normal sewers should be able to cope surely? Unless they are already in disrepair or not big enough.
Ah, such cynicism!
You see, as yet we have seen no concrete evidence that emptying a motorhome toilet cassette into a toilet with the usual sewer drainage system could block it. We have seen that local councils worry about it. We’ve read that motorhome users stand accused of causing the closure of public toilets. But no-one has, as yet, said why 17 litres of liquid would cause any problems.
And that is why motorhome users have to act responsibly – we are guilty until proven innocent. Headlines scream of us littering the countryside and blocking public toilets. Judgement is made by a hostile press who can influence the public.
And who is on the case for the defence? Just the individual van owner. After all, the biggest motorhome authorities run campsites don’t they! They want us corralled onto those sites. So we will continue to see sleeping spots withdrawn and barriers placed over car parks. And continue to be herded onto campsites!
So what can motorhomes do? The defence!
So having outlined all the “THOU SHALT NOT”s, let’s consider what the roaming motorhome can do?
- Firstly, applaud Scotland’s ideas for increasing the disposal network. Existing waste disposal points are on this map compiled by CAMPA. https://www.campa.org.uk/waste-disposal/ Please use them!
- Keep suggesting to councils all over the UK that they extend car parks that have toilet facilities so that motorhomes can park up. Most people in motorhomes are on holiday so they eat out, or use local shops. And having motorhomes and campervans in the car parks after dark tends to stem some of the tide of anti-social behaviour.
- Support venues which provide overnight parking such as those on Britstops and Park4Nite and Pub Stopovers etc. Give them a shout out and encourage others to become involved.
- You can approach camp sites (after the busy morning period) to ask if you may empty/fill. Many will allow it, some charge a fee.
- You can stay on a site as often as necessary to service the motorhome and enjoy putting the chairs and barbeque out.
- Carry a spare motorhome toilet cassette.
- Seek out disposal points in the rest of the UK. If we use them, more will follow. Keep campaigning for European type aires – our government will catch up eventually.
- Use appropriate chemicals and “agitate” your cassette – give it is good shake – before emptying.
- Never use an Eco Toilet for emptying.
- And be responsible! For every action that annoys people living in an area, an equal reaction will occur. The place will become unwelcoming to larger vehicles. Don’t wild camp in groups.
- Use a spray to flush the toilet and place toilet paper in a bin rather than the cassette. It will last longer between empties.
The case for the defence
In summing up, we can only repeat that we have yet to see any evidence that emptying a motorhome toilet cassette into a public toilet on a main sewer will cause that sewer to block. PROVIDED the correct chemical is used and NOTHING other than “ones, twos and a little toilet paper” has been placed in the cassette, it will be mainly liquid on exit.
But our advice is that you do not use public toilets if you can possibly avoid it. People have made up their minds, we are convicted without a fair trial. Again!
We received the following from a contact with van life experience:
…another thought as to why some communities might get upset is if they discover a lot of splashing and mess. It’s actually quite hard to empty a cassette into standing water – i.e. a toilet bowl – without splashing the bowl, the floor and you! That’s why most CDPs are just a long drop.
The trick is to flush the toilet and pour slowly into the flushing water, which disturbs the surface tension and prevents splash back. Don’t try to empty it all at once and be prepared to take several flushes to fully empty a cassette, though you could be there some time waiting for the slower rural cisterns to refill.
This was after noting that he has never used a public toilet for emptying; he has always finds a chemical toilet disposal point. Thanks Kev!
What is your experience?
Is there anything we have missed? Leave us a comment below!
Do YOU have the evidence that emptying motorhome toilet cassettes blocks sewers? Do you live in an area where public toilets are closed…and do you blame motorhomes? Have you any method of emptying the cassette that we have not mentioned?
As we said to the Scots people who contacted us, we do not want to cause any locality problems. We want a welcome!
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