Camping & Pollution Prevention

county of san diego watershed protection program


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Camping & Pollution Prevention

You’ve probably heard the saying “pack it in, pack it out,” meaning you should take any trash with you when you leave your campsite. But that concept applies to much more than just trash. There are other items you should be packing out after your time in the great outdoors. Trash, pet waste, and other pollutants generated from camping can end up leaching into the soil or flowing into our waterways from rain runoff, which ultimately impacts water quality. Here are some ways you can help to protect our environment and enjoy your camping experience at the same time.

  • Trash – Secure your trash at your campsite to prevent critters from getting it and don’t leave trash behind! Pack your trash out, or properly sort out the recyclables from the non-recyclables and dispose of them in designated campground dumpsters.
  • RV wastewater – Wastewater generated from an RVs facilities including sinks and showers contains harmful bacteria. If black and grey water are not properly disposed of at a dump station it can harm our creeks, rivers, and the ocean. Get tips on how to properly dispose of RV waste through the County’s RV Users Guide and find dump station locations through its interactive map. For information on household wastewater pollutants, see the County’s bulletin on Wastewater/Septic Waste Tips for Cleaner Waterways.
  • Food/packaging waste – Food scraps and leftovers should be packed out. That includes biodegradable trash, such as fruit peels and coffee grounds. Transport your food scraps home and either compost or recycle them in your curbside organics/green waste recycling bin. Food packaging and single-use containers are better left at home – even something as simple as a plastic 6-pack holder will take five centuries to decompose and can easily strangle small animals. Use as few disposable products as possible opting for reusable containers, bottles, and bags, and leave excess packaging at home.
  • Soaps/other chemicals – Soap, shampoo, and other common camping products are harmful if they get in our waterways. Do all washing, bathing, or cleaning at least 200 feet from any natural water sources to prevent chemicals from leaching into the water and poisoning animals that live or drink from it. Use non-toxic cleaning alternatives whenever possible and only a small amount of biodegradable and phosphate-free soap if necessary. Even bug spray and sunscreen can be environmentally harmful as chemicals from lotions can wash off into the water and kill marine life. Try to use non-chemical bug sprays and sunscreens and allow them to dry before going swimming.
  • Pet/human waste – Our pets love to camp too – but remember to scoop up your dog’s poop! Their waste is full of bacteria and excess nutrients that will contaminate local waterways if not disposed of properly. Pack extra bags with you on your camping trip, bag the waste, and place in a campground dumpster or pet waste disposal containers. 

For other resources and tips to protect our environment and local waterways, visit our Watershed Protection Program webpage.

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New Project Clean Water

Project Clean Water efforts are focused on providing a centralized point of access to water quality information and resources for San Diego County Watersheds. Click HERE to visit Project Clean Water’s website. 

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