Leave No Trace:  Principle 3 - Dispose of Waste Properly

Leave No Trace: Principle 3 - Dispose of Waste Properly

Author: Tina Eckerlin

We are on week 3 of 7 of our focused blog series exploring the 7 Leave No Trace Principles. We wanted to start 2023 off right by improving our Leave No Trace (LNT) practices.

Terrain UL's mission is to educate, empower and support our local and outdoor communities to ensure the outdoors are kept wild for everyone. We are a proud partner of Leave No Trace Canada. In our partnership, we have promised to help promote, educate and advocate for good land stewardship and LNT practices!

Leave No Trace Principles are for everyone! Whether you are new to the backcountry or a seasoned explorer, there are always new things to learn and old habits to break.

The beautiful thing is the 7 Principles are simple to learn and implement. Also, new research, technology and gear have changed the ways that we approach LNT; integrating the 7 Leave No Trace Principles into our adventures is easier than ever!

If you are just catching up, check out our last blogpost Principle 2 - Travel & Camp On Durable Surfaces!


Leave No Trace - Principle 3

Dispose of Waste Properly

This is one of our favorite Principles. Human waste is a real problem in the backcountry. It is more than just garbage, but it is a great place to start!

Pack it In, Pack it Out

  • Pack out whatever you pack in! This means that you are required to carry out not only your garbage, but all of your items. Did your gear break? Pack it out. Did you cook too much food? Pack it out...
  • Carefully plan and test your gear
  • Repackage items and food at home so excess packaging can be properly disposed of or recycled
  • Have a check list that you can use each time you leave a campsite to make sure you don't leave items behind

Separate Waste from Hazardous Waste

  • When packing out trash, make sure to separate hazardous waste from regular garbage. These could be items such as: fuel cannisters, aerosol products and batteries. Many park systems have disposal sites for hazardous waste collection like fuel cannisters. Otherwise, dispose of according to directions
  • Try to choose gear that has less of an impact, such as different fuel systems, pumps and squeeze containers and rechargeable batteries
  • Consider using natural fire starters instead of products like lighter fluid which releases toxic compounds into the atmosphere

Before heading out, revisit Principle 1 - Plan Ahead & Prepare! Choose your gear, food and other items carefully to avoid the pollution and contamination of our natural areas.

Do Not Burn Waste

  • Burning waste in a campfire is not an acceptable solution

Many years ago, burning garbage was the standard practice. Unfortunately, this has led to many forest fires. Burning food can actually attract animals, and if not fully incinerated it can attract wildlife to popular campsites.

Most people are aware that burning things like chemicals, batteries, plastics, rubber and other synthetic materials are harmful to themselves and the environment. 

Unfortunately, some adventurers still burn their cardboard and food containers. A lot of packaging appears to be paper based, but has been treated with chemicals, coatings, and inks that are harmful to the environment when burnt. 

Besides the risks of inhalation, some toxins can be absorbed through the skin. Furthermore, toxins can remain in the soil which can expose wildlife and waterways to contaminants. 

Check Campsite For Waste

  • Thoroughly inspect picnic areas and campsites for trash, food scraps, cigarette butts and other micro-waste

Inspect area for trash especially food waste. Micro-waste can attract unwanted critters, and micro-plastics eventually end up in our watersheds.

Try to leave a campsite cleaner than you found it! 

Human Feces

If the park system provides privy boxes, outhouses or other toilet facilities, use them! These are often found in high used sites, even in the backcountry.

Always check with park systems for guidelines. Some parks require explorers to use WAG bags and pack out their waste. 

When nature calls and there are no facilities, common practice is to dig what is known as a cathole. 

  • Deposit human feces in a hole dug more than 60 m (or about 70 adult footsteps) from water sources, trails and campsites. Digging the sanitary hole in organic soil 15 to 20 cm deep and digging and camouflaging after each use
  • Pack-out the toilet paper or put it in the sanitary hole. Burning toilet paper is no longer considered a good LNT practice
  • For feminine hygiene practices and menstruation products check out Women in the Backcountry - Period for full details
  • You can lessen your impact by using reusable pee cloths and a backcountry bidet

To learn more about how to dig a cathole, watch this video!

Dishes & Bathing

Did you dirty some dishes when you made supper or did you apply sunscreen and insect repellant? You better think twice before washing up in the lake!
  • Bathe and wash dishes more than 60 m away from waterways. Using a minimum amount of biodegradable soap. No soaps should ever be used in waterways, even if they are called camp soaps!
  • Spread soiled water in large streams through vegetation 60 m away from waterways. Ideally, this should be done in a large open area with with high wind and sun exposure to help quickly dissipate odours
  • In areas with higher bear populations, it is advised to dig a a hole similar to a cathole, pour waste-water in the hole, allow to drain and bury
  • Filter food debris through a sieve or even a cloth, and place it with the waste to be packed-out before spreading the dishwater to accumulate all the food waste particulates

Food, body products and soaps affect water chemistry, and can have severe and negative impacts on the fish and aquatic wildlife. Never use soap at a waterway, even if it is says it is safe, organic, biodegradable and made with unicorn tears.

Some examples of contaminants in products are items such as DEET, that are toxic to fish and insects. Sunscreens contain oxybenzone that is harmful to coral reefs. Something as simple as a bar of soap can alter pH, and many have added toxic surfactants that reduce surface area increasing the wetting areas. These can break a lakes surface area tension and prohibit small insects from skimming the surface. 

If that is not enough to make you think twice about washing up lakeside, consider what you plan on filtering and drinking on your adventure! 

Follow us on Instagram for Leave No Trace Thursday's for weekly tips and tricks!

7 Principles of Leave No Trace

Let us know in the comments below!



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