How to Deal with Trash While Camping and Hiking

As camping and hiking are becoming more popular ways to enjoy the outdoors and experience our natural areas, it is incredibly important to be aware of the impact humans can have on the environment.

Although it may not seem like a big deal to leave behind a scrap, a cigarette butt, or a bit of toilet paper, these things accumulate over time and can take hundreds of years to break down. Not only that, but they can make the local wildlife very sick.

To protect the environment, wildlife, and keep our natural areas “natural”—as a camper or a hiker, you must take steps to properly dispose of your trash and waste. Read on for tips on how to properly dispose of trash and waste while camping and hiking!

Prepare Ahead of Time

The best way to deal with garbage and waste while spending time outdoors is before the trip even begins—planning and preparation.

Eliminate as much potential waste as possible before the trip by removing wrappers and tags from food and gear.

Storing food in freezer bags eliminates waste in the form of food wrappers and the freezer bag can be re-used for trash and scraps. Freezer bags are also flexible and easier to pack than bulky, awkward containers.

Other methods include packing all ingredients for one meal in one container, or using dishes to hold food to eat later on. Getting creative with food storage can eliminate waste.

Food Scraps

Food scraps should never be left out in the wild. While food scraps are biodegradable, it takes a long time for them to break down.

Not only does it take a long time to break down, they will attract wildlife to areas that humans frequent. Eating foods outside of their natural diets can make animals sick, and can also lead to them associating humans with food.

When animals lose their fear of humans and start to associate humans with food, it can present a variety of dangers for the wildlife and humans alike.

Pack out food scraps with the rest of your garbage in sealed bags or containers. If you use freezer bags to bring your food in, use them again to store your food waste and pack it out until you reach a trailhead with dumpsters or another place to dispose of trash properly.

If the idea of stuffing freezer bags full of trash and food scraps into your pack doesn’t excite you, bring along a stuff sack to keep all of your garbage in.

Wrappers and Containers

Keep your wrappers and disposable container use to a minimum by preparing your food items before you head out on your trip. Pack your food items in freezer bags or reusable containers.

If you have any plastic wrappers or containers leftover, put them in sealable bags to pack out just as you did with your food waste. Freezer bags are also great for this purpose because they are flexible. If they are going in your regular pack, they are less likely to tear holes and spill trash.

Never put any plastic, glass or foil into a campfire. Plastic, glass, and foil do not break down or burn down in fire. These items create hazards for future campers and hikers as well as wildlife.

Dishes and Dishwashers

Eliminate garbage from dishes by using reusable camp dishes and cookware.

If you must bring and use disposable dishes, be sure to properly dispose of them by packing them in your waste sack as well. Do not burn these items in a campfire, even if they’re made from paper or cardboard.

Paper and cardboard dishware are coated in wax and other chemicals. Burning these items releases toxins into the air and the soil.

Wash dishes with hot water and a scrubber or brush at least 200 feet away from any water sources, campsites, or trails. Most cleaning does not require soap.

If you must use soap, use biodegradable soap created specifically for the outdoors—free of harsh chemicals, dyes or fragrances.

Dispose of your dishwater by dispersing it in as large of an area as possible and be sure there are no large food scraps.


Toothpaste should be disposed of with your food scraps or other trash in a sealed container or bag.

Toothpaste attracts animals and insects and isn’t intended to be ingested by them. Brush your teeth away from trails, water sources, and campsites, and properly dispose of used toothpaste.

Human Waste

Unless you’re at a developed campground, you’re going to have to find a place to dispose of your bodily waste. It is important to consider where and how you dispose of this kind of waste to protect water sources and other people.

Urine is generally considered sterile and in most places it is fine to urinate directly onto the ground, away from any water sources, trails, and campsites. The smell of urine can attract wildlife, so be sure to do this away from any areas that humans will be hanging out.

If you have to go #2, there is a different procedure for properly disposing of this waste.

Depending on what kind of region you’re in, the procedure for disposing of feces varies.

In most cases, digging a hole with a hand shovel at least 6 inches deep and burying it is acceptable. Make sure this is far from any water sources or areas of human activity.

If you’re in an alpine region where you cannot dig a hole, dispose of feces in a plastic bag. Similar to picking up after a dog, if you cannot bury your human waste you will need to pack it out with the rest of your trash.

For wiping, whether you use wipes or paper material, you should put this in a sealable bag to dispose of with the rest of your trash and food scraps. Even if a wipe says it is biodegradable, they often contain chemicals and take a very long time to break down in the natural environment. The same goes for feminine hygiene products.

A little preparation goes a long way in minimizing your impact on the natural environment when you are enjoying a camping or hiking trip with family and friends.

In nature, leave everything better than you found it for the enjoyment of other humans, the safety of wildlife, and the benefit of the environment!

If you have room, always be sure to pick up and properly dispose of trash you find in the wild, even if it didn’t come from you!

Do you have any other tips for disposing of waste while camping and hiking? Leave them in the comments below!

How to deal with trash while camping and hiking

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