Disposing of human waste where no toilets are provided

Proper disposal of human waste is important. Leaving human waste in natural areas can result in contaminated water supplies and soils, and lead to diseases such as Giardia.

Human faeces carry harmful micro-organisms that easily contaminate water sources. Cold climate areas in particular slow the decomposition process and accentuate the problems of human waste accumulation.

Giardia is a parasite which can survive in cold water and is spread as a result of poorly disposed toilet waste. It infects the intestines, causing chronic diarrhoea, nausea, stomach cramps, and dehydration. 

Toilets are provided at every DOC hut and formal backcountry campsite so please use them. If you have to ‘go’ in the bush and there are no toilets near by, there are two options:

  1. Carry out human waste in a container such as poo tube, pot or re-sealable bags
    This is the most sensible and environmentally friendly option in places such as caves, rocky areas, alpine areas and snow. 
  2. Dig a shallow hole in the ground making sure its well away from water courses and where others will not discover it.

Poo pot - developed in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.
Poo pot

Using a poo tube, pot or bags

There are different types of poo tubes, pots and bags. Some have a double bag system, others have a sealed base and screw lid fitted with a large ‘O-ring' seal to contain smells and liquid and minimise spills.

Carry and use a poo tube when tramping or camping in the snow, scree, rocky, swampy or general alpine areas, or when caving or rock climbing.

Disposing of waste

There are a number of techniques for getting human waste into (and out of) the poo tube without contaminating either the user or the poo-tube.

  • Use the 'fish & chip' method by depositing waste onto paper or in a biodegradable cornstarch bag then roll it up (like `fish & chips') and place it carefully in the pot.
  • Put toilet paper and feminine hygiene products in your poo tube.
  • Wash and disinfect your hands.
  • Carry enough poo pots, tubes or bags for your trip or to make it to the next hut toilet where biodegradable bags can be deposited in long drop toilets.
  • Keep in mind that your waste containers will get heavier from day to day as you add waste to them; so you may want to plan at least one hut visit in your trip.
  • On the last day of your trip put all the toilet waste you are carrying into a long drop toilet.

Please remember:

  • Don't carry your waste until the end of your trip as there are no suitable places to dispose of waste in the front country.
  • Don't dispose of bags in flush toilets and toilets with containment vaults - these are emptied with pumps, which get blocked by the bags. These toilets can look like pit toilets so before you go, ask the local DOC office about locations with toilets suitable for disposal of cornstarch bags.
  • Don't use motor-home dump stations as these are also emptied with pumps which are blocked by plastic and cornstarch bags.
  • You could progressively take your waste contents out of its bag and flush it in a domestic toilet in small quantities, however this option is not appealing for most people, and the waste bag still requires proper hygienic disposal.
  • It is not hygienic to bury human waste in your garden or to put it in rubbish bins.
  • When you get home wash and disinfect your poo pot for reuse.

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While carrying poo tubes may not sound that appealing, carrying out your waste can protect mountain water catchments against a lot of small points of contamination. It can also significantly reduce the overall volume of waste in remote and cold climate environments, where natural decomposition rates are slow.

For conscientious outdoors people, using a poo tube can engender a strong sense of personal responsibility for properly dealing with a controllable source of waste in the environment. They are a good practical minimal tool.

Make your own poo tube

Go to a plumbing or hardware shop for large diameter PVC pipe and ends. Attach screw caps to each end.  Glue one end shut and tape on some webbing for easy carrying. Use paper or other biodegradable material to wrap waste before depositing in tube. Your tube will be durable and reusable.

Buy a poo pot

Basic poo pots are available from DOC visitor centres (RRP is $5.00). Each pot comes with cornstarch bag liners, hand sanitizer and instructions for use. They are made from a number two plastic which is recyclable NZ wide (clean very thoroughly with disinfectant before recycling). Lids can sometimes come off so you may want to carry it inside plastic bags in case this happens.

Visitor centres often sell lightweight trowels for burying waste too.

Other types of poo tube or double seal bags are available from outdoor gear shops.

Shallow holes for human waste

Dig a shallow hole for human waste; but not just any hole, anywhere. Choose an appropriate place to dig the hole.

How to do it:

  • Keep human waste well away from waterways. Dig shallow holes at least 50 m from water, tracks and campsites.
  • Select a site where other people are not likely to walk or camp, such as next to thick undergrowth or near fallen timber. If possible also dig your hole where it will receive plenty of sunlight. Heat from the sun helps decomposition.
  • Use a trowel to dig a hole 150 - 200 mm deep (about the length of the trowel blade) and 100 -150 mm wide. Deposit your solid human waste. Then back fill the hole with dirt and disguise it with leaf litter or other natural materials.
  • If camping in an area for more than one night, or if camping with a large group, agree on a single toilet place and dig a hole deep enough for the group for the length of your stay.

Toilet paper

  • If you have to use paper, use only plain, unbleached, non-perfumed types.
  • Use toilet paper sparingly.
  • Do not burn toilet paper, as this can result in wildfires. Bury paper in your shallow hole or carry it out with you in a plastic bag. 
  • Try using natural materials such as bark or leaf vegetation (non-prickly!) or snow instead. Natural ‘toilet paper’ is as sanitary as processed toilet paper and blends back easily into the environment.

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