Out of Sight, but Not out of Mind

July 12, 2017

You read the sign but think, “Oh, it’s just one little piece of garbage, no one will notice.” You crumple up your trash and toss it down the privy. Too gross to hike out. Walk away. Out of sight and out of mind. No longer my problem.

But it’s someone’s problem. We find it. We sort it. We bag it. We hike it out. Your wet wipes do not disappear.

Meet the backcountry caretakers of the White Mountains.

It’s not an easy job, but somebody has to do it. Last season we had over 16,000 people spend a night at AMC sites. With all those campers come all kinds of things you wouldn’t even imagine. Most of the time people hike out what they hike in. But some people, without fail, use the privy as a public trash can.

Last season, we saved all of the trash we pulled out of just one of our privies. Just one. The following photo of that trash speaks for itself.

Most commonly found items in the privy:

  • wet wipes

  • feminine hygiene products

  • men’s underwear

  • plastic bags
  • last night’s dinner packaging

When we find trash in our collector bins, we don’t just pick it out right then and there. We send it through “the system.” It goes through the heating process two or three times heating up to 140 degrees for days at a time with each flip of the bin (check out exactly how the system works: https://www.outdoors.org/articles/blogs/after-we-close-the-lid/).

But the more trash in the bin, the harder it is to reach the necessary temperatures. Whatever it may be, by the end of this cycle it is pathogen free and no longer toxic. But it’s still there. Waiting. Waiting to be picked out. Picked out and bagged up. Hiked out on the backs of the caretaker.

(Although not provided, toilet paper is totally fine to throw into the privy — it is small and thin enough to decompose in the system.)

So next time you stop and use a privy in the backcountry, take a second to think long and hard about what you let pass through that toilet seat. Somebody, some steward of the land, is going to be dealing with whatever it is you decide to put down there.

Thank you, and happy trails.

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Joe Roman

AMC Outdoors, the magazine of the Appalachian Mountain Club, inspires readers to get outside and get engaged. Learn more.