Trash and Human Waste
This page describes how to deal with trash and human waste when visiting in canyon country.
The easiest rule to remember is that, If you pack it in, pack it out. Carry out all trash, including cigarette butts and all organic material, such as orange peels and eggshells. These substances take years to decompose in the desert environment. Food scraps and grease increase fly, ant, and rodent populations. Report inappropriate behavior to the proper authorities.
Pack out everything you brought in. Remember, it's the little things that count: pop-tops, cigarette butts, food scraps, tissues, etc. Don't bury your waste—garbage pits are often dug up by animals or exposed by weather. If you are scrupulously careful, no one will know you were there. And go one step further; carry out trash that less thoughtful people have left behind.
- Carry out all trash, even cigarette butts.
- Use trash receptacles when available. In most parks and monuments garbage cans are plentiful. Keep our open spaces beautiful by using them.
- When fish are cleaned, the unwanted parts must be placed in garbage cans. Fish are not to be cleaned at fountains.
- See Storing Food in Bear Country.
Take time to repackage your food before your trip. This will reduce bulkiness and litter to be carried out. Plan rations carefully to avoid leftovers. Food is heavy after it has been cooked, but uneaten food must still be packed out because it is not a natural part of the desert ecosystem.
The absolutely worst evidence of your presence here is your name, initials, other words, designs, or scratches on rocks, trees, and other natural features. Less obvious, but also very damaging, are the oils, salts, and acids deposited on ancient rock artwork by people touching them. Resist the urge. The pigments and even the rock surfaces are gradually being destroyed by what is called "innocent vandalism."
Desert soils have few microorganisms to help break down human feces. Instead, heat and sunlight are the most important factors promoting decomposition. Sanitation practices require extra attention to maximize decomposition and to avoid polluting water sources.
Choose a site that is at least 200 to 300 feet away from trails, campsites, and water. The locations should have maximum exposure to direct sunlight or be in an area of organic matter, such as bushes or trees. Because the Sun's heat penetrates desert soils, shallow burial (no more than four to six inches deep) is usually more appropriate than surface deposition.
Burn toilet paper or carry it out and dispose of it properly—toilet paper takes surprisingly long to decompose. An alternative is to use leaves or other natural substitutes.
Unless you are camped near a rest room, you will be required to have some type of porta-pottie or chemical toilet in your vehicle when camping in many places in the backcountry or along river ways. Basically, a portable toilet is any sealable container that can be emptied directly into a sewer service.
- Feces decomposes very slowly in the relatively sterile desert soil.
- Solid human waste will have to be transported to a sewer service of some kind.
- If you walk into the backcountry, your must dig a hole at least six to eight inches deep and at least 200 to 300 feet from any water source (preferably above the high water mark), trail, or campsite.
- Since animals will often dig up cat holes and scatter the toilet paper, it is preferred that you pack out any toilet paper used. If you must leave toilet paper, use a minimal amount and bury it with at least six inches of soil or carefully burn it in the hole. Do not burn toilet paper if a fire hazard exists.
- Back-fill the hole with the soil you removed.
- Do not let your waste contribute to surface water pollution.
- It is unlawful to dump or drain waste water from campers or trailers onto the ground.
- Dishes are to be washed at campsite. Water fountains or spigots are not to be used.
- All wastewater must be dumped into camper service sinks located at comfort stations or at the disposal station at the entrance to major campgrounds.
- Drain buckets must be used on all drain hoses.
- When backpacking, scatter wastewater more than 200 feet from any watercourse.
Camping without a bathroom.
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