19

In the backcountry, we should bury solid human waste (i.e. poop), and we are told to carry out toilet paper. According to this answer on tissues, for some kinds of waste the ecological impact is small, but we should still leave no trace for social reasons.

If I bury my poop and bury (biodegradable) toilet paper along with it, what is the harm done? The ecological impact should be small, and it is unlikely another hiker will see my toilet paper. Then why do we need to pack it out?

Note: I am assuming areas where burying human waste is considered good practice in the first place, thus excluding areas where visitors are required to carry out solid human waste.

  • 1
    the hole maybe? You could argue this is a "trace" but it's a case of degree's I'd argue and the trace in this instance is potentially quite small, depending where and how it is buried – user2766 Mar 14 '16 at 14:22
  • 1
    Related: outdoors.stackexchange.com/a/6380/8060 – OddDeer Mar 14 '16 at 14:24
  • 1
    I've seen toilet paper dug up (and half chewed) by animals, and right next to the campsite too... – Erik vanDoren Mar 14 '16 at 16:30
  • Why the downvote? – gerrit Jul 9 '18 at 7:58
8

The answer is the same for burying toilet paper as it is for burying poop:

see: When is it not OK to leave feces behind?

Burying toilet paper with your poop is acceptable in areas where it can break down and decompose. If you are in arid dirt that doesn't get much moisture, or in rocks or sand, then it is not acceptable to bury toilet paper. Paper is considered compost, but just make sure it's properly buried with your stool, and that your stool is in itself properly buried in accordance with leave no trace ethics:

Toilet Paper:
Use toilet paper sparingly and use only plain, white, non-perfumed brands. Toilet paper must be disposed of properly! It should either be thoroughly buried in a cathole or placed in plastic bags and packed out. Natural toilet paper has been used by many campers for years. When done correctly, this method is as sanitary as regular toilet paper, but without the impact problems. Popular types of natural toilet paper include stones, vegetation and snow. Obviously, some experimentation is necessary to make this practice work for you, but it is worth a try! Burning toilet paper in a cathole is not generally recommended.

  • 3
    Burning it was the done thing on a desert hiking trip (in Egypt) I did about 20 years ago. – Chris H Mar 14 '16 at 21:14
  • The problem with burning isn't in the burning per-se. The problem is that so many people fail to completely fun things so you get fire pits with bits of trash that are partially burned. When people see that they go to burn more stuff, not all of it paper. – Russell Steen Mar 15 '16 at 11:36
  • 2
    You don't need a proper fire. On my treks I just keep a lighter with the roll of toilet paper. After being done, I light up the small crumple of used paper which normally burns completely, leaving only ash. – fgysin Mar 16 '16 at 10:41
  • 1
    Standard advice for the UK seems to be that burying TP isn't acceptable (e.g. Scottish Canoe Association guidelines - "Burning toilet paper is not recommended as it is difficult to get it all to burn, plus it is a fire hazard. Burying it is not an option.") But nowhere have I found any explanation why. – aucuparia Jul 4 '17 at 16:59
  • Not burying TP is also a condition of getting a wilderness permit in Yosemite: nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wildregs.htm – aucuparia Jul 4 '17 at 17:10
3

If you can leave your crap there, you can leave the toilet paper too. Both will degrade fairly rapidly.

Much of this is aesthetics rather than impact. No one wants to find tufts of toilet paper scattered about a portage landing, but the presence of the paper will have minimal impact on the local life forms.

Crap: Depending on where you are, there are several ways that I consider acceptable:

A: Buried in the active top soil, 50 meters away from nearest water. This can be as simple, as lifting a slab of moss, doing your business, and replacing the moss. Going a couple inches deeper is better form. Try to avoid making your personal pit in a runoff channel or hollow. More likely to have seepage into nearby water.

B: Move a log or rock. Do your business. Put hte rock back. Talked to one ecologist who was working in a subalpine meadow. He advocated leaving a corner of your toilet paper to poke out from under the rock. By the time the paper disintegrates, the rock is ready for reuse.

C: Smear your crap thinly on a large rock. This exposes it to bright sun which will destroy most of the microbial life. The sun rapidly dries the crap, and it gets redistributed by the wind. This method requires separate disposal of TP.

Methods for getting rid of TP:

A: Dispose of it with the crap. (All but C above)

B: Carry a lighter. Burn the toilet paper, waiting until it is out completely.

C: Bring back to the fire for disposal.


Caveats:

I see this as mostly a non-issue.

The only places I've heard of that this is such a major problem that the above strategies are unworkable is on river rafting trips where there is repeated camp use, and very little room to go elsewhere, and on very heavily used trails that have designated camp spots and toilet facilities, and on that oddball combination of a major trailhead that doesn't have installed latrines.

If a region is sufficiently crowded that I have to take more than the above precautions for crap, or cannot build a fire, then my inclination is to go elsewhere. (Ok: If I meet someone else on a trip it's too crowded..)(Those of you looking for such places, I suggest Willmore wilderness in Alberta; and for paddlers, the MacFarlane river in Saskatchewan.)

Note: Alpine environments are very slow, and very fragile. The rush of nutrients from your crap will have an effect on the local environment. But: Use your head: The local wildlife is also producing crap, about the same amount as you on a pound for pound basis. If the people density (tons per square mile) is larger than the animal density, then you are a major factor in the local environment. A case can be made for either camping below tree line (better shelter from weather, more active local ecology) or above grass line. (rocks don't really care about crap.) (But moss is much better on your bum than scree)

Jasper Park's Skyline trail is a good case in point: This is a beautiful trail ranging between treeline and alpine levels. Camping is at designated spots only. Each has primitive toilet facilities and they helicopter the residue out each fall. But this trail has an average of 1 hiking group every 15 minutes for two months every summer.

Compare to Willmore Wilderness, a provincial park just to the north. This park allows hunting in fall, and is open to horse packing but not motor vehicles. My usual experience there: On normal weekends you will find groups up to 5 miles from the trailhead on Saturday Night. On long weekends increase that to 8 miles. Most years when I've done a 1 week trip in there, I saw no one at all once away from the trailhead, and often didn't see anyone at the trailhead if I arrived on a weekday.

2

Marine grade TP is a good choice for hiking. It is made to dissolve in water rapidly and contains little or no chemicals. Bury in soil and water if possible with stream water... this will also help keep from being tracked by predatory animals.

  • 4
    Don't bury your waste ANYWHERE near a watercourse. Dissolved doesn't mean gone, someone could still bottle that dirty TP downstream, drink it, and get sick because it was laced with human fecal matter. Bury your waste at least 60m away from any stress creeks or watercourses of any kind. – ShemSeger Mar 15 '16 at 19:49
  • 7
    @ShemSeger I think the OP was advising pouring stream/river/lake/puddle water into the hole with the feces before/after you fill it in. I don't think they were suggesting people poop in the water and/or toss TP into running water. At least that is what I hope they were suggesting.... – Erik Mar 15 '16 at 21:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.