Dispose of Waste Properly
In the Backcountry
Everybody poops, and very close to everyboday wastes. In the backcountry, the philosophy of “pack it in, pack it out” has become nearly ubiquitous throughout all forms of recreation.. Here’s a few ways to do our duty (hehe) to mother nature while in the backcountry:
- Dig a cathole to bury your poop, then bury it with what you dug out and cover that with some natural material like leaves or pine needles. Try to choose a site where no one will step on it later, like near a fallen tree or in thick undergrowth. Natural materials like leaves, rocks, or snow, can save you from having to bury any toilet paper, but by far my personal favorite method is the backcountry bidet.
- Pack out your poop and your TP. “Wag bags” are a lightweight and sanitary option for hikers and backpackers, and are required in some backcountry areas. I’ve found that a hard-sided container like a wide-mouth nalgene bottle works well for wag bag storage, for that extra assurance that it’s well sealed.
- The dryness of the desert means that options for “dropping the kids off at the pool” are limited, so ideally you should pack out all of your poop. If you must bury your poop, do it somewhere where no one will step on it, and bury it lightly so that it can dry out. But definitely pack out your toilet paper.
- Plan your meals ahead of time to minimize the amount of trash you bring into the backcountry in the first place.
- Don’t burn your trash. It usually doesn’t work that well, can still attract wildlife, and it just looks bad.
- Food waste is trash too. Pack it out. Don’t be the person who leaves the orange peel in the backcountry because “it’s natural, and it will decompose”. It is not natural to wherever you are, so that is not a valid excuse to leave your trash outside.
- Recycle your waste instead of stuffing it into the trash can. Or better yet, buy reusable bags and containers and avoid bringing any waste out into the backcountry in the first place. I use regular roll top stuff sacks for my food instead of ziplock bags, and I save time and plastic every time I go to the grocery store.
Yet again, Andrew Skurka posted a 4-part series on pooping in the outdoors, which is sometimes laughably descriptive, and highly informative. What do you do that is not to the max, Mr. Skurka?
Virtually everyone creates some type of waste. We may commonly refer to “throwing things away” but they do not simply go away. Nor do any of our forms of waste:
- Municipal Solid Waste
- Agricultural and Animal Waste
- Medical Waste
- Radioactive Waste
- Hazardous Waste
- Industrial Non-Hazardous Waste
- Construction and Demolition Debris
- Extraction and Mining Waste
- Oil and Gas Production Waste
- Fossil Fuel Combustion Waste
- Sewage Sludge
- Natural Disaster Cleanup
- Industrial Spills
Our waste is so all-pervading that each of the various form of waste represents an entire industry dedicated to the management and reclamation of that waste. The EPA has a treasure trove of information about the various types of waste we use, and they prioritize their Waste Management Heirarchy in the following hopefully somewhat familiar order:
- Reduce and Reuse
- Energy Recovery
- Treatment and Disposal
Contact for your local waste management agencies depending on your needs to find out how you can most effectively follow these universal priorities.
On the individual level
It is important to establish a baseline for the types and quantities of waste you are producing in order to start minimizing your impact. See the excel spreadsheet I’ve included below as a simple way to start measuring your consumption and waste production. There are many resources online and in print that can help guide you towards reducing your waste including, but certainly not limited to:
- The Going Zero Waste blog has a ton of resources you can use to start minimizing your waste, including quick tips, and more complete discussions about the how and why of “going zero waste”
- There are a ton of books on the topic of reducing our waste, so talk to your local librarian about what is available at your library and educate yourself!
- One book that really inspired me is Mark Sundeen’s “The Man Who Quit Money“, about a man named Daniel Suelo who lives around Moab and hasn’t spent money in 14 years. You can also watch his TedTalk here, and follow his blog here
The key is to actively engage is using less, and the results are compounding. It feels really good to have made a measurable difference in your own life, because it is truly quite easy and it almost always means you’re saving money. In the excitement of making change in your own life, be sure to share that excitement with friends and family. When they see how easy and economical it was for you, they can be inspired to make changes in their lives too.
To get a really solid baseline for how much I use and waste, especially while at the time of writing this I am still living the domestic life at a house in Moab, Utah, I’ve started compiling all of my usage into the spreadsheet template below, which you can download and adapt yourself here
Even while living at home, there are some things I just don’t use very much, like gas (I don’t have a car), or meat (I’m an almost-vegan vegetarian), but the goal here is to measure EVERYTHING as accurately as I can. I’ll add the first updated spreadsheet about my at-home resource usage on 11/23/19 after I’ve gathered data for a whole month. Within the first few days of my adventure, this usage will change dramatically. Over time, this spreadsheet will reflect weekly and monthly averages rather than individual days, and I’ll post graphs showing trends in my usage as I continue to gather data, all on its own dedicated page. For now, I’m sharing this as a way in which you can measure your own consumption and waste, which is really the first step in reducing your impacts.