Normally urine does not contain disease, the main concerns with urine is a social impact. Either walking through the bush and finding someone mid stream, or simply the strong smell that can follow. Sometimes urine can contain disease in particular a fungal infection, but these will typically die quickly with exposure to sunlight. Short of very large amounts of urine in one place the only know real impact to the environment is that salt deprived animals may defoliate plants whilst licking salt residue off leaves that have been urinated on.
So generally it is agreed upon that it is best to urinate on hard and durable surfaces that will get sunlight during the day and away from campsites and where other people may find you.
There is some debate over the “on track or off track” concept. Tracks are a hard and durable surface so some people suggest that urinating on the track is a good place, the main risk is been caught out. There is also the other social issues such as finding the yellow puddle and the potential smell. Watering down the urine will reduce the smell. The off track argument suggests that it is better to find a hard surface where others will not find you. One problem with off track weeing is the extra small tracks that can be formed. So it is important to make a decision depending on where you are and who else is around, or will soon be around.
Faeces contains a lot of pathogens that are harmful to both humans and native environments. That is why the least impact option is to carry the faeces out, but this is not something that most people like the idea of. So the option is to leave it behind, the main risk is the potential contamination of water sources. There are obvious other social issues similar to urinating.
The faeces is buried in a pit 15cm deep primarily to prevent animals digging it up, but to also allow it to decompose. The poo would usually degrade quicker on the surface, but this carries with it not only the social risks, but also increases the risk of the contaminating the water supplies. So by burring the waste it will degrade and the pathogens will dye off.
The need for the distance from water sources and campsites is to prevent contamination from leaching during rain. Faeces may carry personal infections such as hep A and always carries bugs that can cause Gastroenteritis. These diseases will dye off if buried, but if they make their way to a water source they can reproduce and contaminate for years.
Gastric upsets in the bush are not only very uncomfortable but can be very high impact. If severe enough a rescue may be necessary but in most cases the need to dig several holes urgently to bury vomit or diarrhoea often leads to badly placed catholes. If you or someone in your group is feeling sick, please pre-dig holes and let them know exactly where they are.
The toilet paper
There is again mixed feeling with this. There are three main options;
- Bury with the poo
- Easy, but runs the risk of been dug up and scattered by animals
- Burn in the hole
- Gets rid of most of it, but runs the risk of starting a bushfire
- Bag it and carry out
- Least impact option, but not very popular
Slowing growing in popularity and there are several commercial options available. This is obviously the least impact choice to the area that you are travelling through. The old dolphin torch or seal-able lunch boxes have been a popular choice in caves and canyons for years and work well for short term storage for those emergencies. For storage over days and several uses these are not great options, gas build ups and explosions in you pack are not pleasant.
Cave environments do not get the heat, sunlight, air flow or bacteria to break down the faeces, meaning that is will stay and stink out the cave for a long time. Canyons and narrow gorges do not provide a place to get 100m from the water, burying in such places is likely to lead to the contamination of the creek.
Commercial products do not have the explosion problems and are easy to use multiple times.
Tampons and pads are very slow to degrade so they can't be buried, the smell also attracts animals and they are likely to be dug up.
Many acute gastrointestinal illness related to people not washing their hands properly. Often gastroenteritis is caused by the transfer of pathogens through the “feacal oral route”, if this name is not enough to convince you, then probably nothing will. Toilet paper is not perfect, bugs do get through and onto your hands, washing your hands will destroy many of them and your immune system will hopefully look after the rest. So wash your hands after every visit to the toilet and after handling the trowel. This will minimise the amount of bugs been spread around. Also always wash your hands before handling and food.
There are a few methods to wash your hands;
- wipe them on your shirt
- Not effective, All this does is transfers some bugs to your shirt, but most stay on your hands
- Use soap and water
- Some what effective, but since this can't be done near water sources you run a great risk of contaminating your water bottle and you use up a lot of water that may not be available. Effectiveness is reduced when compared to at home due to difficult to lather, wash under water and rinse.
- Use treated wipes
- Somewhat effective, but these are bulky, heavy and generate a lot of rubbish
- Use an alcohol based gel
- The lowest impact option, you only need to use a small amount of gel to kill most bugs, there is no need to use water at all. Small containers are available so each person can carry their own. Please be aware that some people (not many) can have a reaction to these produces mostly due to the alcohol, best to use at home a few times before taking it on camp.
All soaps and detergents not only destroy the water tension but also introduce nutrients. This can seriously upset the balance of life in the water ways particularly for insects and microbial life. So if you have to use detergents use them a long way from the water on a exposed hard surface so that the sun and soil can degrade the material before it leaches to the water. Please use very sparingly if at all. Biodegradable soaps and so called earth friendly soaps still have similar effects.
If going for a dip in the water please rinse yourself down will a billy of water first. This will wash off any loose residue such as sunscreen, insect repellent, deodorants, dirt and seeds. By doing this away from the water it reduces the amount that ends up in the water.
Avoid small water sources all together, you will have a much larger impact on small bodies of water, and these are likely an important source for local animals (or yourself).
Toothpaste is particularly sweet smelling to animals who are likely to come looking for it. In doing so they expose themselves to predators and run the risk of contracted disease. By dispersing the toothpaste over a wide sun exposed area, it will hopefully breakdown quickly and reduce the risk of effecting the locals. Best not to use toothpaste at all, just brush with water, or use a kids toothpaste that can be swallowed (plus they come in small tubes), but still use sparingly. If you are a mad tooth brusher and just have to brush with your own toothpaste consider digging a hole as you would for the toilet and spit into it.