Updated 16 October 2013

How to go in the Great Outdoors

Human waste in wilderness areas can be a health hazard, not to mention a real aesthetic blight, if it isn't dealt with properly.

When you're camping or hiking and there's no formal facility available, digging a "cat hole" is a pretty good method, though certainly not the only one.

It's useful to carry a small garden trowel for this purpose: make your cat hole 15-20 cm deep and 10-15 cm in diameter, and at least 60 m (about 70 steps) from water sources, paths, campsites and other cat holes. Several small cat holes spaced far apart allow for faster decomposition than one large pit latrine.

If possible, choose an elevated site where water is unlikely to flow or pool. The faeces should percolate gradually down through the soil, but at a slow enough pace that maximum decomposition occurs before a water source like a river is reached.

Darker, loamy soil with high organic contact is better for decomposition than sandy soil. Ideally you also want a spot where the sun reaches, because heat and sunlight aids in breaking down and disinfecting waste. In dry sandy areas, where soil is low in organic content and decomposer micro-organisms, make your cat hole shallower (10-15cm deep) to allow sun to penetrate.

Turn the cat hole into a mini-composting pile: break up the waste with a stick, and mix and cover it with leaf litter, or failing that, with soil. Finally cover the spot with a neat pile of stones.

- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor

Got a good green tip to share? Email me at or post on the EnviroHealth Forum if it's a planet-saver, we'll publish it.

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