Activity Plan 2 for Dispose of Waste Properly

Exploring Disposal of Human Waste

This activity should take approximately 30 to 45 minutes.

What Your Group Will Learn

After participating in this activity plan, which is designed to help participants learn about backcountry waste disposal, participants will be able to

  • Describe why catholes are a good way to dispose of human feces.
  • Select an appropriate cathole site.
  • Dig a cathole of the proper dimension.

Participants will explore the effects of improper disposal of human waste and ways to properly dispose of human waste.

Materials and Preparation


  • Jar of soil
  • Jar of decaying grass, leaves, etc.
  • Toilet paper
  • Small rocks for paperweights
  • Information sheet “Catholes: Proper Disposal of Human Waste”
  • Small garden trowel (preferably one for every two participants)
  • Optional: box of sand at least 8 to 10 inches deep


  • Read the entire activity plan and the Background on the Principles of Leave No Trace thoroughly.
  • Copy the information sheet “Catholes: Proper Disposal of Human Waste,” one for each participant.
  • At least two weeks prior to your meeting, place small amounts of soil, decaying leaves, or grass clippings in a jar. Warning: Do not tightly seal the jar. Gases created during decomposition could cause a sealed jar to explode.

Grabbing Your Group’s Attention (5 minutes)

Bring in your two jars, one containing just mineral soil and the other containing humus-organic soil and decaying leaves, or grass clippings. Allow the participants to look at the jars. Discuss what the jars demonstrate about the natural process of decomposition. Explain that although this process can take days, weeks, months, or even years, organic materials such as food, leaves, grass clippings, and feces eventually decompose into the soil. Explain that the concept of decomposition will be explored again later in the activity.

Note: It is possible to conduct this activity without using the jar of decaying material. If necessary, the activity can begin with the next step.

Next, ask the group members if they would use their yard as a bathroom. Why or why not? The following activity will help answer those questions.

Steps for Teaching the Activity (20 minutes)

The Paper Chase

Distribute toilet paper and have participants tear it into individual squares. If you conduct this activity outdoors, also distribute small rocks for paperweights. Have the participants scatter their pieces of paper around the area in which they are gathered, making sure the paper is visible. Have them stand back and view the area. Tell the participants that each piece of paper represents used toilet paper or the deposit of human waste along a trail on the perimeter of a campsite.

A thorough reading of the Background on the Principles of Leave No Trace will help facilitate the following discussion.

Ask participants the following: What is your reaction to this scene and why? What can people do to dispose of their toilet paper and human waste in a less visible and more sanitary manner? Participants should understand that they should pack out toilet paper and human waste or bury it in a cathole.


Explain to the group that digging a cathole is one way of properly disposing of human waste. Distribute and discuss the information sheet “Catholes: Proper at the end of this activity plan. Practice digging a cathole.

Note: Before conducting this activity, find a spot for digging that will not be harmed, such as a sandbox, sand play lot, or a box of sand 12 inches deep.
  • Have one group member demonstrate digging a cathole using a garden trowel while others watch.
  • Have participants break into pairs to practice digging a cathole.

Ask participants: What if a garden trowel isn’t available? What other tools could you use to dig a cathole? Brainstorm other ways to dig a hole. Use a rock, a stick, or a boot heel. Practice using these tools to dig a hole. Are they effective? Why or why not? Always carry a trowel.

Other Important Options

There are other ways to get rid of toilet paper without burying it or leaving it in the backcountry. Have group members create a plan for how their group will dispose of toilet paper in the backcountry. Burning it with a lighter right after use is not an option; this could cause a fire, and the paper rarely burns completely. One option is to deposit the toilet paper in a small sealable plastic bag and pack it out with the other camp garbage. A small disposal sponge soaked with ammonia helps reduce the smell. Some areas may require that all feces and toilet paper be packed out. Always check with the land management agency if there is a question. Refer to the Background on the Principles of Leave No Trace for details.

Wrapping Up the Activity (10 minutes)

What is human waste and how do we usually dispose of it? In the backcountry, it’s not so easy. We need to be prepared to dispose of it each day using the techniques we’ve talked about. Disposal of human waste is a challenge for outdoor visitors—and it can be a personal and sensitive matter—but it is important. How well has your group learned to properly dispose of human waste?

Have group members brainstorm why proper disposal of human waste in the backcountry is important. The leader should add ideas from the Background on the Principles of Leave No Trace not mentioned by the group. Discussion should center around decomposition, pollution of water sources, spread of disease, disruption of wildlife, and negative implications of someone finding human waste.

Congratulations on conducting a well-prepared meeting for your group!