Dispose of Waste Properly

When you are recreating outdoors, you need to consider the impact you’re leaving behind. Disposing of your waste properly helps protect the water, the wildlife, and other people.

Human Waste

Disposing of human waste properly is vital to avoid negative impacts on the environment, such as pollution of water sources or spreading disease. There are easy-to-use, EPA-approved pack-out systems available that are sanitary for hikers and backpackers.

Typically, burying human feces is the best method. However, some places such as narrow river canyons require you to pack out human waste.

Check with land management agencies for specific rules in the area.

Cat Holes

Cat holes are a widely accepted method of waste disposal, follow these tips when using this method.

  • Take a small garden trowel and dig a hole 6-8 inches deep (4-6 inches in the desert, where there is less organic soil) and 4-6 inches in diameter.
  • Keep it at least 200 feet (70 adult paces) from water, trails, and campsites.
  • If there are multiple cat holes, be sure to disperse them.
  • Choose an elevated site so water is less likely to runoff through that area.
  • The best areas to dig your cat hole will have deep, organic soil that is likely to contain organisms that will help decompose the feces.
  • Sunlight can also help decomposition, so look for a sunny spot.
  • Cover it with organic soil when you leave the site and disguise it with natural materials from the area.


If you’re staying longer than a few nights or you have children with you, this is often the preferred method. Use similar criteria when selecting a location as you would with a cat hole (200 feet from water, trails, and campsites, elevated, in sunlight, cover with native materials).

Location is very important here because there will be a higher concentration of feces to decompose. To speed up decomposition and lessen odor, throw in some soil after each use. For latrine-building techniques, you’ll want to work with your land manager.

Toilet Paper

  • Use it sparingly and dispose of it properly by burying it in a cat hole or packing it out in plastic bags. (do not burn toilet paper in a cat hole).
  • Natural toilet paper has been used for years and can be as sanitary as regular toilet paper when done correctly. Popular types include stones, vegetation, and snow.
  • Only use non-perfumed brands that are plain and white.
  • For Arid Lands: Packing your toilet paper out as trash is the best way to Be Lengendary in a desert environment.
  • Do not burn toilet paper as this can cause wildfires.


Pack it out in plastic bags as they don’t decompose easily and animals can dig them up.


Urine can sometimes draw out wildlife attracted to the salts. Your best bet is to urinate on pine needles, rocks, and gravel to avoid attracting animals.

You can dilute it with water to help minimize negative effects.

Other Forms of Waste

Every person on recreation lands has a responsibility to “Pack it in, Pack it out” before they leave.

  • Inspect any rest areas or campsites for trash before leaving and pack out all of your garbage.
  • Plan meals to avoid smelly or messy trash.
  • It’s critical to pack out kitchen waste, such as leftovers or grease. Do not count on a fire for disposal.
  • Buried and partially burned garbage will still attract animals.
  • Carry plastic bags to haul your trash.


When you wash yourself or dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes. Strain your dishwater with a fine mesh strainer before scattering it broadly and do so away from camp (especially in bear country). Use a clean container to collect the water and take it to a wash site. This will help keep pollutants out of the water.

Soaps and Lotions

It’s best to minimize the use of soap, because it can affect the quality of nearby lakes and streams, even if it’s biodegradable. Always wash yourself away from the shoreline and rinse from carried water (typically in a jug or pot).

Think twice before you swim in creeks and potholes if you’ve used lotion, sunscreen, insect repellent, or body oils as these can contaminate the water source.

Read the full article by Leave No Trace >>

© 1999 by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org

In Partnership with Leave No Trace and the Colorado Office of Tourism / Care for Colorado program.