Let's see...where were we? Ahhh yes, this message is about Properly Dispose of What You Can't Pack Out (a.k.a. the "Wuss Principle"). This one (and fires!) always gets a LOT of discussion!
As I said in "Pack It In, Pack It Out," I firmly believe that NOTHING we take into the backcountry is good for the backcountry. Virtually everything brought in by humans does some level of damage to one or more of the various backcountry ecosystems.
At some point the many many small damages add up to a major damage that goes way beyond the ability of the ecosystem to self-repair. Our LNT goal should always be to keep all backcountry ecosystems from getting damaged past that point of no (self-repair) return. Not an easy task...we rarely have sufficient data to be able to accurately predict the "straw that breaks the ecosystems back." For me, the safest course of action (by far!) is to always be as gentle to the backcountry as possible...trying hard to NOT add that critical straw!
But...I gotta fess up...sometimes I too am a wuss. There just doesn't seem to be ANY really good way to take care of all those obnoxious wastes that we humans find so easy to generate. What DO we do if we can't find a backcountry disposal method that does no damage...and removal looks to be as bad or worse?
I agree with Popeye... "I yam what I yam...I does what I can!"
Dish/bath water -
No soaps are good for the backcountry...some are just "less bad" than others. At best, they add unnatural levels of fertilizer (distorting natural growth patterns) and at worst they poison critters or veggies they come into contact with (our water supply seems especially vulnerable). Soap residue sours (stinks) when we allow it to concentrate over time. As far as I have been able to find out, detergents are MUCH worse than soap in all areas of impact!
One way to minimize the impact of our clean-up is to use as little as possible of as benign a soap as possible...and then to widely distribute the gray water over a "safe" area (sloshes from the cleanup activity and the disposal area should be WELL away from an active watershed...at least 200' from any water source). The object is to introduce as little soap into the ecosystem as possible and to distribute that little bit as widely and safely as possible (more "pollution by dilution").
I always have to remind myself...when I finally find that perfectly safe place to wash up and to dispose of the gray water - I have quite probably found the exact same place that a LOT of other folks have used (and a LOT of other folks will be using in the future!). I just can't get away from that "incremental damage" clause in my Thru-hiker Contract.
Dishwater has an additional impact that (most) bath water doesn't...bits of garbage. Wet soapy garbage is at least as bad for the backcountry as any other kind.
I teach my Scouts to strain their dishwater (bandanna, little piece of screen, some of that fine-mesh nylon net, etc.) and to put the food scraps into their "yum-yum" bag along with all other garbage...and then to pack it out.
When I am backpacking with adults (or solo), I choose to leave the soap at home (or in my bounce box). I do a LOT of rinsing (my bod and my clothing) and clean my pot/spoon with spoon-scraping, licking, and boiling water.
I also rarely carry toothpaste...that way I don't have to bother with finding a good way to dispose of mouthfulls of toothpaste glop. If I do carry Crest, I use just a match-head sized dab and then I swallow the foam (very easy disposal...and it makes for minty smelling poots.
I have never heard of any good way to dispose of it in the backcountry. Grease pits ALWAYS get dug up and we wind up with a sour stinking mess left for the next folks who come to camp in that area. A small fire rarely burns it all and a big fire has its own LNT problems (more later!). I suppose we could carry a leak-proof container and pack it out (I will let YOU sleep with it in bear country...WAY away from me). I opt out on this one...I never pack in any type of food that might produce grease.
Garbage (leftover or ruined foodstuffs) -
I only know of three good options: don't make any, pack it out, or let a thru-hiker yogi it away from you.
Items soaked with blood (tampons, pads, bandages, etc.) -
Triple bagging in plastic bags and packing it out is one choice (I am told that crushed aspirin or used teabags will help keep the odor down). If there is ANY chance that critters (bears, feral dogs, etc.) might be a bigger problem than bear-bagging (or bear canisters) can handle, we might want to consider burning the bloody items. It takes a pretty big fire and a lot of attention (stirring, flipping, etc.) to completely burn any moist object...but sometimes the downside of that fire impact (more later!) is outweighed by very immediate safety considerations. We don't want to attract really bad critters to our camp and we certainly don't want to habituate them to human blood... I am told that careful bear-protection (hanging, canisters, separation from camp area, etc.) will work for black bears. If we are going into griz or polar bear country, it certainly pays to keep up with the most current research on this subject!
Not too big a deal. I am told that it isn't much of a medical problem because urine is almost sterile when it comes out of our bodies. I do know that urine is a big social problem...it stinks big time! Allowing it to concentrate attracts critters who are after the salt deposits...they will chew up any veggies we urinate on and we might not want them hanging around camp (porkies, skunks, etc.). We can pee on the rocks (no problem getting them chewed up, but it often makes a concentrated stink) or we can distribute our urine widely (avoiding all but the smallest chew-tolerant veggies). In some river canyons we are taught to pee into the river, instead of anywhere in the very scarce (confined) beach camping areas. The only time I usually pack urine out is on caving trips. Remember to respect everybody's privacy needs. I teach my Scouts to get well off the trail or well out of camp (no fair going into the next guy's camp site!)...and then to write their name as they take a whiz. If they have a long name, they need to drink a LOT of water.
Dead horse -
One suggested solution is...no kidding...dynamite!
This one is so important that I think it deserves its own posting.
I will meet you at "LNT 9- Shinola"
- Charlie Thorpe
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