Dumping Dilemmas

Kath Heiman — 21 February 2019
While the self-sufficiency of owning a portable toilet might be appealing, the go-anywhere dunny can have a dark side too.

I’ve never travelled with a portable toilet. I know that many people have an issue with ‘getting back to basics’ with a toilet roll in one hand, a shovel in the other, and a dense patch of scrub nearby. But I’m not one of them.  

I have to say though, that on a recent trip to Tassie, I was struck by how many free camps were available to those travellers who were ‘self-sufficient’ when it came to managing their toilet waste. Indeed, there were several memorable camp spots that we weren’t able to use on account of the fact that we don’t travel with a portaloo.  

It made me wonder whether it was time to join the ranks of portable toilet owners. I mean, I’m happy to admit that I don’t enjoy traipsing across a holiday park to the public amenities on a cold evening. Equally, a night-time foray into the scrub with a head torch ‘when nature calls’ is not my idea of a good time. With a portaloo on-board, I could stay closer to camp.

With these thoughts in my head, it’s not surprising that I became more aware than usual of the trappings of mobile toilet ownership. And while I was a little envious of some of the free camps where we didn’t stay, I must say that I also became mindful of the portaloo’s dark side.   

For one thing, I’m not sure that I want to begin a long-term relationship with the nation’s dump points. There are enough images on social media of badly maintained dump points, some overflowing with human waste, to make me pretty wary. 

And even where local councils and holiday park owners keep on top of the obvious issues, the risk remains that campers fail to maintain adequate standards of personal hygiene when using them. After all, I doubt many users practice ‘proper’ handwashing when handling their toilet cassettes, by using running water and soap, lathering and rinsing. I’ve got no desire to repeat a dose of gastro that I recently contracted on account of other travellers failing to wash their hands properly between toilet visits.

Beyond this, I was concerned when I saw campers using portaloos in ways that clearly showed that they placed their convenience at a higher priority than the health and safety of their fellow campers. Specifically, on several occasions inside commercial holiday parks, I saw campers wash out their porta-potty canisters at the water points on vacant sites. The first time I saw it happen I was so surprised that I could do little more than raise my eyebrows and mutter ‘yuck’. But once I’d had my attention piqued, I became more vigilant of my fellow campers.  

So it was, early one morning, that I spied a bloke heading out of his caravan, loo-cassette in hand, making a beeline for a water tap located on an unoccupied site 30 metres away from where his rig was parked. Now, I don’t know whether he was emptying the canister of one night’s pee – or several nights’ worth. Either way, it looked pretty gross as the water sloshed through the toilet, pouring black water onto the ground surrounding the water point and splashing against the tap stand.

So I politely asked him whether it’s usual practice for travellers carrying portaloos to rinse them out at other campers’ taps; shouldn’t he be using the dump point? His first answer, “there’s no dump point here”, was blatantly wrong. I’d already seen it the previous day – 75 metres in the opposite direction from where he was currently draining pee onto the grass. And his second answer, “it’s only urine”, spoke of wilful ignorance or sheer laziness. Either way, he wasn’t convincing.

Urine, fresh from a healthy human, may contain relatively few bacteria, but it can populate with bacteria exponentially once it’s outside the body. And if this bloke was regularly using his portaloo for number twos, he was probably also contaminating the site with faecal matter. As such, he was potentially exposing the next site user to the risk of bacterial-borne infections, leading to diarrhoea, a range of viral infections associated with gastro, or worse. 

As I left, I asked the bloke to spare a thought in future for fellow campers who use these water points for gathering water to drink and wash their dishes. But I doubt I made an impact. He obviously didn’t give a crap.

And with role models like him, I have to say that my position on portable toilet ownership is now firm. It’s not happening. While I may be destined to miss out on some memorable free camps, I reckon I’ll stick with my shovel, thanks.