As an old farmer once remarked, when dealing with most living creatures, you feed one end and clean up after the other. Humans are no different from other vertebrates, therefore, part of camping is the necessity of developing a latrine or bathroom area so you need to learn how you can empty a portable toilet while camping.
It’s frequently considered a delicate subject and is often ignored in older literature. This was true as recently as the filming of episodes of the Star Trek Voyager, causing one fan to write a humorous song about trying to find a “place where a man can go”.
Yet, personal waste disposal is essential. Taking care of “personal business” without the benefit of a facility is known as “open defecation” and is considered to be a leading cause of spreading human diseases, especially in countries where it’s a common practice. Liquids from a flush toilet are referred to as “black water” waste.
There might be a number of reasons for open defecation. These might include mistrust of available facilities, broken facilities, getting “caught short” in an area where there are no toilets available, or simply liking the idea of taking a squat in the open air. As unlikely as that last might seem, there have even been instances of people deliberately choosing to poop in public, such as the “Mad Pooper” of Colorado.
Most of us, however, prefer to take care of our needs in privacy. If you’re tent camping, or even if you have an RV or camper, this can entail creating some sort of portable toilet. It can range from a simple arrangement such as a toilet ring and a bucket, or it can be a more elaborate composting or chemical toilet.
However, like the chamber pots or thunder mugs of yesteryear, after using your sanitary arrangement, you’re left with the question of what to do with its contents afterward.
Where to Dump Portable Toilet Waste
So, how to empty a portable toilet while camping? If taking care of personal business behind the closest bush is frowned upon, think how much worse it might be to take a walk around a campground and step where someone recently emptied their portable toilet. Talk about a major “EW!” factor!
Fortunately, most commercial campgrounds have a designated location or facility for emptying toilet waste. As soon as you set up your tent, or perhaps even before, take a walk around your campground and discover where it might be located.
You might even allow your choice of campsite to be influenced by how far you’re likely to have to carry the tank or bag from your port-a-potty. Or by how well maintained the dumping spot might be.
If you’re camping away from commercial facilities, you’ll still need to manage personal waste. If you’re using a composting toilet, you can treat it in the same manner as any camp latrine.
In a location that is about twenty feet from your tent and at least 200 yards away from any water source, dig a hole that’s at least ten inches deep. You can position a seat over this, or you can have a seat and container inside your tent.
A tight lid on the indoor facility, as well as frequent emptying, will help keep down odors and prevent flies or other insects walking around in it, then taking a stroll on your sandwich.
As for the outdoor facility, you can construct a screen around it to provide privacy. Inside the screen, keep a pail filled with ashes, sawdust, or earth to immediately cover up. Think of it as a human-sized cat box. The products from an indoor composting toilet can be captured in a biodegradable plastic liner for the catchment portion of the toilet and buried at least ten inches deep before you leave the campsite.
Alternatively, bagged compost waste can be placed in a dumpster if you’re at that sort of campground. Just make sure the bag is tightly closed and unlikely to spill. Again, think cat litter.
Chemical Toilet Camping
Disposing of waste from a chemical toilet is a little bit different from disposing of the waste from a composting or simple commode. While the chemicals help hold down the odor and partially sanitize the personal products therein, they can be environmentally harmful. Moreover, they don’t fully sanitize feces.
Therefore, a chemical toilet should never be emptied into a stream or lake. Even burying it is somewhat problematic as the chemicals can leach away from your latrine hole. If you’re using a chemical toilet, it’s a good idea to look for a campsite that has a properly prepared location for dumping black water waste.
Other options for disposal include septic standpipes or, in a pinch, pouring it down a house toilet. These facilities will usually take the wastes to a waste processing station.
However, it should be noted here that the chemicals used in a chemical toilet can be harmful to the eco-environment inside a septic tank. Septic tanks partially depend upon colonies of bacteria to break down the solids in the tank, thereby helping keep it from filling up too soon.
If you’re stopped at a public facility that has a pit-type outhouse facility, then it will probably be fine to empty the tank from your chemical toilet into it. These facilities aren’t composting toilets. Rather they are simply holding pits that will be pumped out at regular intervals.
Resources for Learning More About Human Waste Disposal
To learn more about disposing of human waste and how to empty a portable toilet while camping, you might enjoy reading the Humanure Handbook, by Joseph Jenkins, or Holy Shit! Managing Manure to Save Mankind, by Gene Logsdon and Brooke Budner.
The first book is a comprehensive examination of personal waste disposal, the second is a little more political in nature.
While we are about it, you might like The Toilet Papers, by Jaimie Engle, which is simply a collection of short fiction for reading while you are you-know-where.
Poo is a fantastic growing medium. However, it doesn’t discriminate when it comes to what it grows. So, from your biological by-product can grow roses or a whole host of disease-causing bacteria.
There might be some good bacteria in there, too, but see that statement about “lack of discrimination.” Properly cleaning up after yourself is part of good outdoor sportsmanship.