When Nature Calls... Properly Dispose of Human Waste
Tent at a campsite with trees and mountains in the background.

Properly disposing of human waste is important to avoid polluting water sources, minimizing the chances of spreading disease and maximizing the rate of decomposition.

 

When Nature Calls...

In forest locations, burying human feces may be the correct manner to dispose of your human waste. However, desert and alpine areas will require visitors to pack out human waste and toilet paper in a Waste Alleviation and Gelling (WAG) bag or other portable toilet equipment that safely holds waste until it can be disposed of properly. Solid human waste must always be packed out from areas like narrow river canyons.

 

Gotta Go Tips 

Check out these tips to keep public lands and water resources healthy and beautiful. Learn more about properly disposing of human waste by visiting the Gotta Go Utah website

 Know Before You Go 

For many recreational activities, visitors can bury human waste in a 6- to 8-inch cat hole, but some locations may require special equipment or different methods to properly disposing of human waste. Know before you go by researching the area and visiting our website for details about the recreation site.  

 Be Prepared

Before heading out, determine how you will properly dispose of your waste during or after your trip. Be prepared by bringing the proper equipment, toilet paper, and a Waste Alleviation and Gelling (WAG) bag if you are visiting a location that requires you to pack out your waste like desert and alpine areas. 

 Go Before You Go 

Go to the bathroom before you head out on your adventure! Some recreation areas may have toilets or outhouses available that you can use before you start a recreational activity. Please respect these restroom facilities and help them stay open for public use. Visitors are reminded to never put trash into the toilets, as this can cause significant damage to the restroom and make it difficult to empty the septic tank. 

 

River Rules

As a part of the guidelines in river permits issued by the Bureau of Land Management, a toilet system is required. Visitors will need to have a washable, leak-proof toilet system that allows for the carry-out and disposal of solid human body waste in a responsible and lawful manner. The system must be adequate for the size of the group and length of the trip, and must be accessible during the daytime. Bag systems are acceptable if they are part of a specifically engineered bag waste containment system containing enzymes and polymers to treat human solid waste. All solid human waste, including bags, must be contained in a leak-proof, animal-proof, hard-sided container with a screw-on or ratchet-locking lid. Leaving solid human waste on public lands or dumping it into vault toilets at Bureau of Land Management facilities is prohibited.

 

Frequently Asked Questions 

What is the BLM's recommended means of taking care of human waste when vault toilets are not available?

The BLM recommends planning ahead and learning if there are area-specific recommendations for where you plan to visit. Visitors should bring either a pack out system (“wag bag”), or plan on burying waste in a cat hole if the soil type allows.

Are there specific scenarios where using a wag bag is preferred versus digging a cat hole?  

A pack out system, or wag bag, is recommended wherever soil is not available, such as a slot canyon, rock climbing ledge, winter environment i.e. frozen ground, a popular trail, or a narrow river canyon where you cannot travel the recommended 200 feet away to bury waste. Land management agencies have designated areas where packing human waste out is required, and it is best to know before you visit a new area if you will be required to pack out human waste. 

How long does it take for human waste and toilet paper to decompose in Utah's desert areas?

Human waste decomposes best when it is buried in soil with organic material. Organic soil is usually rich and darker in color. Forested areas have better soil that aids in decomposition. Desert areas do not have as much organic material as alpine/wooded environments, therefore decomposition takes longer. In some arid environments human waste will not break down for over a year. In desert environments it is recommended that you bury waste in a cat hole 4-6 inches in an elevated sunny environment. The heat from the sun will help to break down the waste. Avoid sloped areas or washes, where water will potentially flow, even if they are dry. We also recommend that recreators bring a “wag bag” to contain and pack human waste out with them for high use desert areas without public restroom facilities. 

Why is it necessary to be prepared to take care of your own human waste when you head into the backcountry, i.e. what are the dangers of not properly disposing of human waste on public lands?

You should have a small trowel, and there are lightweight options that will fit in a day pack. Visitors can also bring a “wag bag” or pack out system designed for safely containing and packing out human waste.  Pack out systems have crystal chemicals that render human waste inert, they can then be tossed into a regular garbage can. Human waste in the backcountry can negatively impact water sources, ecosystems, and other visitor’s experiences and is considered a hazardous material. By containing our human waste we preserve clean environments and the water resources for wildlife, livestock, neighboring communities and ensure that natural resources do not become degraded and recreation areas remain open. 

Additionally, please be aware that river recreators should follow best practices for disposing of human waste along waterways. River recreators should bring a washable, leak-proof toilet system that allows for the carry-out and disposal of solid human body waste in a responsible and lawful manner. The system must be adequate for the size of the group and length of the trip, and must be accessible during the daytime. Bag systems are acceptable if they are part of a specifically engineered bag waste containment system containing enzymes and polymers to treat human solid waste. All solid human waste, including bags, must be contained in a leak-proof, animal-proof, hard-sided container with a screw-on or ratchet-locking lid. Leaving solid human waste on Public Land or dumping it into vault toilets at BLM facilities is prohibited. 

Do you have any suggestions for homemade ways to make receptacles for taking your and your dogs waste out of the backcountry? 

We recommend using a commercially available pack out system, since it renders the waste inert and does not lead to the spread of disease or damage to resources. Most systems are double bagged and have chemicals to reduce odors, and can go directly into a pack. Human waste should never be placed in a trash receptacle. Most outdoor retailers sell wag bags online and in-store. Visitors should always plan ahead and prepare to ensure that they are not in a situation where they do not know how to dispose properly of their human waste. Consider carrying a wag bag at all times in case a restroom facility or appropriate organic soils for burying waste are not available.

Should I throw human waste in a vault toilet? 

No - visitors should not throw pack out systems or bagged dog waste into the vault toilet. A good rule is to not out anything into a vault toilet that you would not put in your toilet at home, including litter. Vault toilets are pumped and then trucked to waste treatment facilities in the nearby communities. Anything that would damage the equipment that the pumping companies use to pump out the vaults. We have pulled tents, trash bags full of garbage, laptops, and all kinds of things out of vault toilets. We also ask that visitors not stand on toilet seats as the full weight of a human can break the seat structure. 
 
Any kind of toilet paper is fine in a vault toilet. However, in a cat hole it is recommended that you pack out your used toilet paper, especially in arid desert environments.  

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