Nowadays, we’re all hunting for ways to live a more sustainable vanlife. Small changes add up to big differences, so can having an eco-friendly campervan toilet help?
Now, we know it’s hard to be enthusiastic about toileting issues. But unlike in a fixed home, when you’re in a campervan you can’t just flush it and forget it!
At some point, you’re going to have to come face to face with the contents of your campervan toilet, so how do we make that as eco friendly as possible?
Alternatively, if you don’t have a fixed loo, you need to know the best ways (environmentally speaking) to deal with your number ones and twos!
We’ll discuss different types of campervan toilets (both fixed and unfixed ) and the positive choices you can make in your journey to having an eco-friendly campervan toilet.
But we’re not here to tell you what to do! Rather, our aim is to show you that living sustainably is a delicate balancing act. Every choice we make has an environmental impact and there’s no “right” or “wrong” way.
Just a quick note: the regulations discussed in this post are based on UK rules. Although a lot of the information will apply in other countries, there may be some differences.
So, let’s see if we can save the world, one toilet trip at a time!
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Table of Contents:
Campervan Composting Toilets
Goodbye toxic chemicals, plastic bottles and sludge! Composting toilets are hailed as THE eco-friendly campervan toilet. But are they really better for the environment?
How it works:
A urine diverter separates solids and liquids. Solids go into one container where they mix with a “substrate” (a compostable material that kick-starts the composting process), while pee goes into another.
Separating waste is important because:
When the urine container is full you can dilute it (diluted urine is a fantastic source of nitrogen) and feed it to some plants – they’ll love it! Alternatively, empty it into a toilet.
Put a layer of biodegradable “substrate” into the solids container to boost the composting process. It supposedly takes about a month (with 2 adults using the loo full time) until the solids container is full.
During this time, bacteria break down the solids, leaving a compost-type soil. However!
Pathogens can live on in your poo! The compost needs to reach 42-120 degrees Celsius to kill it all off. After just a month, some pathogens may remain, so this compost-type soil is not safe to handle or use as compost.
It takes 6-12 months for your “humanure” to break down completely and be safe to use on a garden or veggie patch. But if you have to empty your compost loo once a month, what do you do for the other 5-11 months?!
Compost Toilet Emptying
And here we have our first campervan composting conundrum! When you empty your compost toilet, what do you do with this compost-type soil?
Bag It And Bin It
Although this gets rid of waste quickly and easily, you’re consigning it to a landfill.
Even though the compostable bag will degrade, you’re still taking up space in a landfill site where it can release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, along with all the other rubbish.
However, many landfill sites now harvest these gases and put them to use, running their sites or powering local villages. So, throwing it away isn’t too bad.
Bag It And Bury It
Your waste will then become a super fertiliser for nearby plants and trees! The bacteria in your compost campervan toilet will have killed most pathogens by the time you empty your loo.
However, as some pathogens may not be dead yet, it is NOT safe to bury anywhere near fruits or vegetables intended for human consumption or any freshwater.
Nature will take care of breaking it all down further, similarly to how it takes care of all the poop and pathogens from wild (and not so wild) animals.
Obviously, this is not a great option if you’re in the middle of a town; someone might start asking questions! But it’s a good option if you’re out in the wild.
However, dig the hole deep enough so forest creatures won’t uncover it . About 6-8 inches deep will do it!
If you’re a weekend warrior, then this is ideal for you! It’s the perfect way to have a totally eco-friendly campervan toilet!
The obvious downside is that if you’re permanently living in your van, you’re unlikely to have a compost heap/bin.
You could opt to have a second container onboard for additional composting. However, this would take up space and add weight to your camper, which in turn increases the amount of fuel you’re using.
Alternatively, you could try and find a farm that would accept your compost, but finding a farm willing to take it could potentially be a long process, and making a special journey to it will add to fuel emissions.
Compost Toilet Substrates
So, you’ve emptied your compost loo, and you’ve either binned, buried or continued to compost your “humanure”. After a good clean, it needs the substrate put in before it goes back in your camper.
The substrate is a compostable, water controlling material that mixes with your solid waste (and toilet paper) transforming your solid waste into compost.
But what substrate is best to use in your eco-friendly campervan toilet?
Peat Moss/Sphagnum Peat Moss
Now, the already eco-conscious among you may already be emphatically shaking your heads at us. But because peat moss is referred to as a good cover material, we should talk about it.
Decomposed plants in a bog form peat moss, (AKA sphagnum peat moss). Because the plants decompose underwater, the carbon (that would otherwise release into the atmosphere) is trapped underwater.
It’s so effective that the peat bogs in the UK store more carbon than all of Europe’s forests. But mining the peat bogs releases these huge stores of carbon into the atmosphere.
Also, bogs form so slowly that it takes thousands of years for them to replenish fully. So, the general consensus is that peat moss = environmental disaster.
However, the UK’s horticultural peat (and the peat used for compost toilets!) accounts for less than 1% of the yearly peat harvest. Agriculture and forestry use the other 99%.
You can purchase peat moss as 100% dried peat moss (which looks like soil) or buy it pre-mixed with other compost materials. Either will work as a substrate.
However, a lot of composting companies are trying to reduce their peat moss usage, because of the controversy surrounding mining for peat and fewer and fewer companies are producing 100% peat moss compost.
Peat moss’ “sustainable” rival is coconut coir. The thinking goes that coconut coir is a waste product and is, therefore, an environmentally friendly solution. Now, we hate to be the ones to burst your eco-bubble, but that’s not the case.
Coconut coir is made from the outer husks of coconuts. But it’s far from being a waste product. Separating the coir is an intensive process that takes months; it must be aged and repeatedly washed, treated and rinsed.
Processing 1 cubic meter of coir uses 300-600 litres of water, and it is often produced in countries with water shortages. Not only is this a huge waste of water, but it also results in polluted wastewater that harms the local environment.
The process causes water, marine, soil and air pollution and produces greenhouse gases.
Additionally, coconut plantations are thousands of miles away, so transporting the coconuts and coir creates transport emissions. However, coconut products are transported on ships (which have a relatively low environmental impact).
Historically, the coconut husks would have re-fertilised the soil after the coconut trees had diminished soil nutrients. But because the husks are now being processed into coir, coconut plantations ship chemical fertilisers in, further adding to emissions.
Some independent coconut plantations keep the coir to fertilise their soil rather than sell it as a by-product. Still, these small companies are becoming rarer as larger, more profitable companies monopolise the coconut market.
And, if all that wasn’t enough, the process of treating coir is dusty work that’s hazardous to human health. And the reason it’s so cheap is that the workers are paid sub-standard wages.
Okay, so coconut coir is NOT the sustainable product it’s made out to be! But before you start despairing about the state of the world, hemp is here to save the day!
Hemp, bless it, is often stigmatised for being part of the cannabis family. So much so that the government still considers industrial hemp as a “controlled drug” in the UK.
This is ridiculous because hemp could literally save the world! It is used to make building materials, clothes and could completely replace plastics.
Hemp is one of the most sustainable and eco-friendly materials out there. It grows densely and doesn’t need any toxic chemicals, pesticides, or fertilisers to grow.
Unlike other crops, which deplete soil nutrients, hemp returns 70% of nutrients to the soil, and its deep roots prevent soil erosion. It proliferates at such a speed that it renews up to 3 times a year.
Compare that with peat moss, which takes thousands of years to renew! Hemp is our wonder crop! But the UK government makes it super tricky (and not cost-effective) for farmers to grow it.
There are currently only 20 or so UK hemp farms, and most of their products are expensive. But fear not! For the purposes of eco-friendly toilets, we don’t have to worry about this.
Instead, you can use hemp bedding that can be found in pet shops or equestrian shops, which is sold for a very reasonable price.
Sawdust Or Wood Shavings
Unlike coconut coir, this truly is a bi-product of any woodworking and would often just go to waste if it wasn’t put to better use.
You can usually pick up free sawdust from furniture makers, wood carving shops, home improvement warehouses, construction sites, lumber yards, or sites like Gumtree.
If you’re collecting wood chips, make sure they’re tiny. If they’re in big chunks, more oxygen will circulate, meaning the compost will take much longer to break down or may not break down at all.
To prevent harming bacteria in your compost loo, be mindful not to collect sawdust from anywhere that chemically treats the wood. You need plain wood shavings or sawdust to protect the delicate ecosystem in your loo!
Alternatively, you could pick some up at your local pet shop, which is guaranteed to not be chemically treated.
And that’s nearly it for our composting corner!
If you choose eco friendly substrates, and if you put the waste to continue composting, it’s a totally eco-friendly campervan toilet.
On the other hand, throwing away your compost at the end of each month means it won’t be as good for the environment, but the environmental impact is still small.
However, as we’ve seen, your choices may be having a huge environmental impact when it comes to your choice of substrate!
But composting loos are only one possibility when it comes to eco-friendly campervan toilets. So let’s see how they stand up against other toilet options.
Separett have recently released the Separett Tiny; a very good-looking toilet (something we never thought we’d say!) for a campervan.
It works similarly to a composting toilet but doesn’t compost. Like a composting loo, it has a urine diverter to avoid making black water, and the solids fall into a separate container which has an inbuilt fan to eliminate smells.
However, instead of mixing solids with a cover material in the solids compartment, you simply attach a compostable bag, which you just tie up and throw out when it needs emptying.
Cassette toilets are not generally what you’d expect to see in a post about your eco-friendly campervan toilet-ing. But are they really all that bad? Could they be made better? Should you just trade in your cassette toilet for a composting one?
Well, if the toilet works fine, then NO. Getting rid of something that’s in working order just to buy something new isn’t good for the environment. It’s much better to carry on using what you have until it needs replacing.
Unlike composting loos, cassette toilets don’t have a urine diverter; everything goes down the same hole into the waste tank.
Here, the chemicals whose job is to disguise your waste, break down any solids, and replace the black water stink with a “lovely fragrance”.
But anyone who’s emptied a cassette toilet or been downwind of one being emptied knows that dumping the waste is a pretty harrowing experience.
So, what are your options when it comes to these chemicals and what’s their environmental impact?
Cassette Toilet Fluids
Blue Cassette Fluid
Originally, all “blue” cassette fluids contained formaldehyde, a toxic and carcinogenic biocide also used for embalming (preserving deceased persons!).
It was popular because it was darn good at its job. It broke down solid waste quickly and did a fairly good job of masking the smell.
However, the biocides in formaldehyde also kill any beneficial bacteria that naturally break down faecal waste.
Campsites with septic tanks ban the use of “blue” fluids, as the bacteria responsible for breaking down poop (vital in a septic tank) is killed off by the biocides.
Formaldehyde in cassette fluid was also raising concerns elsewhere. The environmentally conscious worried about its effect on the environment, while others questioned the safety of having carcinogenic chemicals sloshing around inside a camper.
Some “blue” cassette fluids now proudly claim to be formaldehyde-free. However, many of these crafty devils just use other biocides that are just as toxic.
Blue fluids definitely aren’t in the lead if you want an eco-friendly campervan toilet.
Green Cassette Fluid
“Green” cassette fluids use enzymes and (supposedly) natural substances to break down the waste. It’s called “green” because it’s more biological than chemical, which is better for the environment, not because it’s necessarily the colour green. In fact, some “green” cassette fluids are blue.
However, some “green” products still contain toxic biocides. But they can market themselves as green because they use a natural fragrance.
We know, sneaky, right?
So, buying “green” fluid isn’t necessarily doing the environment any favours! So, keep an eye on ingredients and make sure they say they’re safe for septic tanks.
Whichever cassette fluid you use, they usually come in plastic bottles. Plastic pollution is obviously a huge problem. Even when people think they are recycling, much of that is just dumped in a landfill in another country.
Many companies are now producing “super concentrated” varieties or dissolvable crystals in a packet to reduce plastic pollution in an attempt to be better for the environment.
So, some varieties of “green” fluids are trying hard to be more environmentally friendly, but it’s difficult to know for certain which “green” fluids are truly better for the environment.
So, if blue or “green” cassette fluids don’t seem like they’re going to help you achieve an eco-friendly campervan toilet, then what are your other options?
One company that we can wholeheartedly recommend is Solbio. They are currently the only company that sells 100% natural toilet fluid. Their ingredients are organic and totally environmentally friendly while also being pet and child safe.
Solbio can be used in the wastewater tank to break down waste or flush instead of the pink solution. Additionally, it can also be used to clean the toilet bowl of your cassette toilet.
Its formula is supposedly just as effective as other chemical cleaners, and they have thousands of positive reviews. Instead of being packaged in a plastic bottle, it comes in a plastic pouch.
It is a highly concentrated formula that you mix with water. Each pouch has 40 doses, equivalent to five 1-litre bottles of fluid from the leading competitors.
Now, the jury is still out on this one, so don’t get mad at us if it doesn’t work! On quite a few forums, we’ve read that some vanlifers who want an eco-friendly campervan toilet mix sodium percarbonate with water.
Sodium percarbonate is an oxidising agent used in many home and laundry cleaning products. Some folks buy a laundry detergent, while others buy pure sodium percarbonate and mix it themselves.
Obviously, this is only as eco-conscious as the product you buy. A cleaner in a cardboard box is more eco friendly than something in a plastic tub. Also, look for products that don’t test on animals.
Similarly, a product from an independent company will most likely be better for the planet than a mainstream brand whose parent company is a multinational company that tests on animals, uses palm oil and pays substandard wages.
Some people advise adding some (biodegradable!) washing up liquid to prevent solids from building up in the bowl.
Now, we don’t have a cassette toilet to test this one out, so you’ll have to let us know how it goes! We’re guessing, though, that the people who swear by it just have a slightly higher tolerance for dealing with poop.
The brand pictured is in a plastic pot and tests on animals, but rather than buying an eco product that we’d never use, we just snapped a picture at the supermarket!
Bio-D Laundry Bleach is in a carboard box, as well as being: vegan, free from animal testing, uses sustainable palm oil, septic tank safe, allergy UK certified, AND it’s an ethical consumer best buy.
If you start using sodium percarbonate, you may start to develop a build-up of limescale.
To tackle this, use a cassette cleaner a couple of times a year, even though this means using a chemical product in a plastic bottle. After all, sporadically using chemical cleaners is better for the environment than using them all the time.
Instead of using blue or “green” fluids, you could just use water. Alternatively, add a squirt of biodegradable washing up liquid, a few drops of essential oil (something strong-smelling, like lavender), or a cup of distilled white vinegar.
Using water is best if you only use your cassette toilet for pees and save your poops for public loos or “cat holes” (more on these later.)
You can, however, use water for number twos as well, but the water won’t break down the solids or control the bacteria that lead to smells.
So, if you’re using water, you’ll need to empty your cassette much more frequently. Still, you won’t be restricted to chemical disposal points, as your cassette won’t contain chemicals. We’ll discuss alternative emptying options later.
And although emptying more often does mean using more water, you’ll be eliminating the use of plastic bottles and toxic chemicals.
If you can cope with your waste being untreated, then using water in a cassette loo would be a perfect way to have an eco-friendly campervan toilet!
Cassette Toilet Emptying: Chemical Disposal Point
At a campsite, a chemical disposal point (CDP) AKA Elsan Point will be marked clearly, and black waste should be emptied here and NOT into a grey water tank.
The black water point is usually separate from the greywater and fresh drinking water point, so there is no contamination of the freshwater.
A campsite’s CDP point will go into one of 4 places:
Basically, a sealed underground holding tank is used when a CDP can’t be connected to the main sewerage network. The black water from chemical toilets sits in this tank until it is emptied by a professional company.
Then, the company will empty the cesspool and transport the waste to either a large or small scale sewage treatment plant.
Like cesspools, septic tanks are used when it’s not possible to connect to the main sewage network.
However, they’re more complex than cesspools because they clean and break down the waste rather than just leaving it to sit in a tank. They’re also much larger.
Bacteria in septic tanks (like the bacteria in composting loos) break down the solid waste and deal with most pathogens. “Sludge” (all solid waste that can’t be broken down) eventually forms in the bottom of a septic tank. This is then emptied by professional companies and taken to large or small scale sewage plants.
Unfortunately, the biocides in blue (and potentially some hidden in “green”) chemical fluids kill off the good bacteria that break down waste in septic tanks.
This is the main reason why many campsites ban blue fluids. Because if the bacteria in the septic tanks die, then the tank becomes “bad”, meaning nothing can be broken down. If this happens, the tank fills with waste and can potentially overflow.
This would be a disaster for the local environment, the groundwater and any poor soul who has to deal with the mess!
Sewage Processing Plant
This can either be a large or small scale processing plant. The largest sewage plants are the final destinations of all the sewage networks and deal with waste on a huge scale, while smaller ones deal with local waste.
However, there are also smaller ones that can be connected to up to five properties. These are essentially the same as septic tanks, but they’re much more efficient.
While the effluent (processed water released into the ground) in septic tanks often releases contaminated water into the environment, smaller sewage treatment plants are far more effective at dealing with waste.
Some CDPs link straight up with the sewer network and the chemical waste will be taken, along with all the other sewage, to large or small scale sewage plants.
But if all the waste ends up at a sewage treatment plant, why is there a distinction between where you empty greywater and blackwater?
Short answer: hygiene.
Although everything may eventually end up in the same place, it’s more hygienic and safer for human health to keep emptying points and drinking water points separate.
We spoke to several cesspool and septic tank disposal companies and did A LOT of research about where waste from campsites ends up.
However, we can’t guarantee that every single campsite disposes of their wastewater in the same way.
So just make sure you’re always being a good camper and disposing of waste in the designated place!
Cassette Toilet Emptying: Alternatives
What about if the campsite doesn’t have a CDP?
In this case, it is possible to empty a cassette toilet in a regular toilet, or even dig a hole and bury your waste.
However, there are different things to be mindful of, depending on what fluid you have in the wastewater compartment.
Blue Or Green Fluids
Chemical toilet fluids must not be buried, even if the formula says it’s “green” or organic. It can, however, be flushed down a toilet.
Now, we know this seems like it’s not the best idea. But like we said earlier, (as far as we’ve found out!) black water waste eventually ends up at a sewage plant. Still, you need to be careful when tipping chemicals down a toilet.
The blue or “green” fluid can potentially damage the porcelain bowl and/or the pipes connecting it to a sewage network. Also, the chemicals present in the fluid could also react with other substances in and around your pipes, resulting in potentially hazardous gases being released.
Additionally, the pipes that run to the sewage treatment plants may have some damage, meaning your waste and toilet chemicals can leak out into the surrounding ecosystems.
However, this is also true when washing any toxic chemicals (like bleach and other household cleaners) down the drain. Also, if there’s a (small) leak, then the surrounding ground will do a good job of safely dispersing the contaminated water.
However, to live a more eco-friendly way, you should refrain from tipping any toxic chemicals down the toilet or drains, we don’t know how effective the sewage plants are at extracting chemicals from the wastewater before it’s put back into freshwater.
But if you have to resort to tipping your chemical fluids down a loo, then do it at home!
Because if a campsite specifies that “blue” chemicals can’t be emptied at the CDP (meaning they’ve most likely got a septic tank), then the entire site is probably linked to the septic tank, not just the CDP.
Some blogs say to never tip green or blue cassette chemicals into the toilet because they add chemicals to the sewage plant’s water.
However, as far as we can tell, the blackwater (and the chemicals) all end up at the same place anyway, along with chemicals and bleaches people tip down their toilets and sinks at home. Saying that, it’s unclear whether processes at the sewage plant can totally eliminate these chemicals before the water returns to UK rivers.
Additionally, some blogs say that the waste from CDPs is taken to special chemical waste plants, but as far as we’ve found out, this isn’t true. Because the chemicals have faecal matter in them, they need to be dealt with at a sewage plant.
As this is a product used in many laundry detergents and home cleaners, it is safe to flush it down the toilet along with your black water.
This could be a public toilet or at home. Be mindful, though, unlike proper cassette toilet chemicals, the sodium percarbonate won’t kill any harmful bacteria in your waste.
Just make sure it doesn’t splash too much and clean it up if it does!
Sodium Percarbonate, in its pure form, is non-toxic and biodegradable. If the sodium percarbonate you’ve used is pure or states that it’s biodegradable, then it’s safe to bury 6-8 inches deep, away from freshwater and crops.
However, if sodium percarbonate is one ingredient in a list of other things, and doesn’t specify about being biodegradable, then you can’t bury it, as it would cause environmental damage.
If you have just been using water (with a mix of white vinegar, washing up liquid or essential oils), this is also safe to put down any toilet.
However, similarly to sodium percarbonate, water can’t break down the pathogens in your solid waste, so take care not to splash.
Alternatively, you could dig a hole and tip the wastewater in it. Although, if you’ve also used washing up liquid, the washing up liquid must be biodegradable and environmentally safe.
Dig the hole 6-8 inches deep, and ensure that the hole is in a natural place, away from freshwater and growing fruits or vegetables.
As Solbio contains only natural ingredients and essential oils, it is perfectly fine to dispose of it in any toilet. You could also dig a hole and bury your waste.
But, again, make sure you’re away from your own (and other people’s) camp, fresh water and fresh fruit or veggies.
No Fixed Campervan Toilet
All of the above is all well and good if you’ve got a fixed toilet in your campervan, but what do you do if you don’t have one? Can you have an eco-friendly campervan toilet without actually having a fixed toilet?!
Portable toilets work in precisely the same way as a chemical toilet, only they’re not a permanent fixture in your campervan. This means you can still have a “proper” toilet on board even if you don’t have room for a cubicle.
As with cassette toilets, whether portable toilets make a good eco-friendly campervan toilet depends on what goes in them and where you empty them.
You can fill the waste unit with all the same things that can go in a cassette toilet; chemical fluids, sodium percarbonate, water or Solbio. Similarly, you can empty it in the same places too.
Now, this may seem like a no-brainer. Still, in a post about eco-friendly ways to go to the toilet, we have to talk about how wasteful traditional flushing toilets are!
The average UK toilet uses a whopping 9 litres of water with every flush! To put that in context, between the two of us, we use about 20 litres of water per day while we’re travelling. So, that’s just over two flushes worth!
If you can’t imagine doing a number two anywhere but a toilet, that’s fair enough. But you should really be considering doing more wild wees when travelling, to save all that unnecessary flushing.
Alternatively, keep a wide-mouthed can (easier than a bottle if you don’t have a penis!) in your van. When you need to pee, just hide in your van with your can, then tip it away in some soil.
However, empty in a different spot each time or the ammonia smell will build up. Additionally, dispose of your toilet paper in a bin!
Maybe, the most eco-friendly way to go to the loo is to skip the toilet altogether and just go in the wild!
Think of all the wild animals of the world who poop outside. Like human poo, all animal faeces contain certain levels of pathogens and potential diseases.
But mother nature is an expert at handling waste. She’s been doing it for millions of years! Granted, due to our diets (and the antibiotics we ingest), our faeces contains more (potentially) harmful pathogens and heavy metals.
Therefore, we need to take more care than animals. First, you need to be around 200 feet (approximately 70 big steps) away from water sources, pathways, your own (or anyone else’s) camp and crops.
Next, dig a “cat hole” around 6-8 inches deep and do your business. Now, we’ll discuss toilet paper more in a moment, but generally speaking, don’t bury it along with your poop, but bag it up and dispose of it in a bin.
Alternatively, instead of using loo roll, you could learn which plants are safe to use as toilet paper!
Emergency Bucket Or Khazi Portable Toilet
A Khazi portable toilet is a super simple camping toilet, with just a bucket underneath to catch your waste. It only has a basic cover, so you definitely don’t want to drive around if there’s anything in there!
Although we don’t recommend using chemicals (as they’d be very close to your bum!) you could opt for any “alternative options” for cassette toilet fluids.
The benefit to a khazi toilet is still feeling as though you’re sitting on a toilet.
Alternatively, you can skip the loo seat (and the unnecessary plastic!) and just have an emergency bucket that works precisely the same way. You’ve got two options here:
Toilet Bucket With Lid
A lo-fi version of a portable/khazi toilet. You can just “go” directly into the bucket and opt for any “alternative options” for cassette toilet fluids. However, to prevent smells, the bucket would need emptying at least every couple of days.
Small Toilet Bucket
Our go-to if we’re really stuck! We use a small, collapsible gardening bucket
Line a bucket with a compostable bag. Pack out the bottom with compostable food waste, dead leaves, or sand, then do your business. Cover your poop over with more compostable waste or whatever, and tie it up straight away.
You can then either bury the bag (6-8 inches deep) or throw it in a dog poo bin or in general waste. Obviously, burying the bag is preferable, as the compostable waste will help to quickly break down your solids.
This option is much the same as pooping in the wild, but you don’t have to squat over a hole. However, disposing of your waste in the bin or a dog poo bin means that you’re consigning waste to a landfill site.
Eco-Friendly Clean Up
And to go that extra mile to save the planet, can the way you (ahem) “clean yourself up” become more eco friendly?
What extra steps could you take to live a more sustainable vanlife?
The problem with toilet paper
Nowadays, a lot of people choose to have double quilted extra comfort toilet paper. However, when pooping while travelling, this stuff is a nightmare! Plus it costs far more than thin sheets.
Compost toilets: Thick toilet paper will quickly fill up your solid waste container and take a long time to break down.
Cassette toilets: The toilet paper could cause blockages in the system and then will take a long time to break down once you’ve emptied your cassette.
Public toilet: Thick toilet paper causes blockages. Public toilets obviously have a higher footfall than your loo at home, so blockages are already more likely to happen. The reason that public toilet paper is so thin is that it’s easy to flush. So, if possible, use what’s provided!
Wild Poop: As we said before, you can’t bury this toilet paper along with your waste, as it takes too long to break down.
So, using lots of luxury toilet paper creates all sorts of problems in all sorts of places. But what are the alternatives?
Bamboo Toilet Paper
Bamboo toilet paper is the saviour here. As it’s technically a grass, bamboo toilet paper is tree-free.
Bamboo is the fastest-growing plant in the world and can grow up to 1.5 inches per hour. That’s 30 times faster than most trees!
Like hemp, bamboo is kind to the soil it grows in and gives back nutrients rather than depleting them. The main issue is shipping the bamboo from far away, although that doesn’t have a huge environmental impact.
Bamboo toilet paper breaks down much quicker than ordinary toilet paper and much MUCH quicker than double quilted stuff. And it manages to do this while retaining softness.
When doing a wild poop, if you only use a couple of squares it’s fine to bury it with your waste. Any more than a few sheets, though, and you’ll need to dispose of it in a bin.
We buy our bamboo toilet paper from Who Gives A Crap. They donate half their profits to build toilets and improve sanitation in the developing world and their loo paper is super soft.
Recycled Toilet Paper
Recycled paper also breaks down quicker than regular toilet paper, but not always quite as well as bamboo.
It is much better for the environment than standard, unrecycled (AKA virgin) loo roll. But be aware that some brands are only 30-40% recycled, while the rest will be virgin. Look for toilet paper that is 100% recycled.
Like bamboo paper, a couple of squares can be buried with your waste in a wild poop situation, as recycled paper breaks down faster than a thick loo roll.
Another option is to reduce your toilet paper use with a portable bidet. Instead of relying on toilet paper to clean up, use water instead.
Use water in the bidet for the major clean up, then use a bit of loo roll to dry! Just remember to give your hands a super good clean with a lovely (environmentally friendly) bar of soap.
If you’re on a hike, you’ll definitely need to keep some antibacterial hand gel with you! Although this contributes to the plastic problem, you should use anti-bac after going to the toilet on a hike anyway.
The big downside to portable bidets is that you’re buying something plastic. So, (if you’re able) spend a little more money to opt for a good quality one that’ll last a long time.
Also, trying to find one online anywhere other than Amazon requires a bit of digging. (Although Amazon is currently making a big show of becoming a net-zero carbon company, they have a mega poor sustainability record. So far, they don’t seem to give two hoots about their social and environmental impact.)
We bought ours from eBay, but it came in Amazon packaging in an Amazon truck. Super sad face.
There’s no way we could finish up this post about eco-friendly poops without mentioning your diet! If you want your waste to be eco-friendly, then you need to think about where the waste begins.
Eating more (if not all!) plant-based foods significantly reduces your impact on the environment. Moving away from animal-based foods could increase the global food supply by nearly 50% without expanding croplands. Additionally, it would significantly reduce carbon emissions and water pollution.
But just being plant-based isn’t the only consideration.
In an average, healthy person, if what they’re putting in is wholesome, healthy and full of fibre (yay for fibre!), then what comes out will be “healthier” too.
Healthier eating leads to healthier poops, which require less clean up (and therefore less toilet paper or water!).
And that’s it for our post about all things toilet-related. We’re very proud of ourselves for getting through the whole thing without making any poop-related puns.
Of course, anyone living in a campervan doesn’t have the option to just flush their waste and forget about it. But how far are you willing to go to make your poop more eco friendly?
We hope this post has given you a lot to think about, and helped you understand the environmental impact of the choices we make.
As we said before, we’re not here to tell you what to do, and there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to live a more sustainable vanlife.
Every little step towards having an eco-friendly campervan toilet is a step in the right direction!