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Natural Awakenings Westchester / Putnam / Dutchess New York

Burying Human Waste in the Wilderness Deemed Unsustainable

Person holding out bag of waste

Anna Shvets/

When pathogens in buried poop from campers and hikers leach into the soil, they can spread into waterways or become integrated into an ecosystem, reproducing and living on after the feces have decomposed. Modern-day dung is also likely to contain chemicals, birth control hormones and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Laura Scott, a geneticist with the U.S. Geological Survey, found antibiotic-resistant bacteria in soil and water at all 10 national parks she sampled in 2016, with the abundance of such bacteria increasing along with human activity. The authors of a 40-year-old Montana study concluded, “The idea that shallow burial renders feces harmless in a short time is fallacious.”

No longer is it safe to bury waste in a “cat hole” that is six inches deep and at least 200 feet from any water, as formerly believed. The solution is to use a Waste Alleviation and Gelling (WAG) bag, double-layered with chemical powder to render feces inert. Attach the bag to the outside of a backpack and deposit it in the trash on the way home. They are inexpensive and available at major retail outlets nationwide. If there are multiple WAG bags, collect them in a lightweight, dry bag.