A New Zealand A law that allows people to poop in public – as long as they don’t think they’re being watched – should be tougher, the Freedom Camping Association says, amid years of accusations that campers are responsible for most human waste in the natural environment.

It is currently an offense to defecate or urinate in a public place (other than a public toilet), but if a person can show they had reasonable grounds to believe they were not being watched, they can avoid a $200 fine.

Association of Responsible Campers Inc. argues that the law should also require people to show that they ran their business at least 50 meters from a waterway and that waste was buried at least 15cm.

“The concern is not so much the action as the visible consequences,” said Bob Osborne, a spokesman for the group.

The group began in 2017 advocating for the freedom of campers – people who live on public land for free – on the grounds that the target should not be the camping regime, but people who misbehave.

Freedom Campground has made national headlines in recent years due to concerns about its environmental impact, especially when it comes to the personal waste of tourists.

There are regular reports in the local media linking the freedom campers with an increase in numbers excrement and toilet paper clogging up popular tourist spots, while some local councils have chosen to do so ban campers from hotspots in general.

Controversy between holidaymakers, locals and the government came to a head in late 2020, when Tourism Minister Stuart Nash told national broadcaster RNZ that freedom holidaymakers in non-autonomous vehicles were “going to the side of the road and … crap in our waterways”.

But Osborne said it was unfair to blame campers for the country’s public poo problems. “There is no evidence linking any particular group to this unwanted practice which affects travelers across New Zealand every day,” he said.

The group believes that minimizing “more unintended consequences” would be the most appropriate way to solve the problem in the short term, but that more toilets for travelers would be the best long-term solution.

Free camping reached its peak in 2019, just before the country closed its borders for Covid-19. Government figures recorded approximately 245,000 freedom campers that year, and of these, 91,000 were New Zealanders.

In 2021, Nash announced that the government would crack down on free camping, including tougher fines for those who misbehave and tighter restrictions on where tourists can park.

The rules are set to be tabled in parliament this year, just in time for what could be the country’s busiest summer season in more than two years, when borders are fully opened to tourists.

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