Yosemite Warns Campers Why They Should Never Bury Toilet Paper

Toilet paper pollution has become a big problem in some popular camping areas.

Lauren Wellbank - Author

Jul. 10 2024, Published 1:47 p.m. ET

Two photos of toilet paper rolls and balled-up toilet paper at Yosemite National Park
Source: yosemitenps/Instagram

Yosemite National Park shared photos of toilet paper discarded near Rancheria Falls in July 2024.

Those who frequently hike or camp are likely familiar with the saying "leave it better than you found it," which is a quaint way of reminding folks not to litter while visiting the great outdoors. But those who need to answer the call of nature while they're hiking or camping may wonder if this motto applies to used toilet paper as well.

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Many people believe that as long as they've done their due diligence and covered their tracks so to speak, they can leave the spent paper behind to biodegrade. But, can you bury toilet paper? According to those in the know: it's complicated. Continue reading to learn why.

Woman relaxing in a hammock at a campsite
Source: Getty Images
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Yosemite has warned people not to bury their toilet paper when they visit the park.

Unfortunately for both the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) and visitors to the country's famed Yosemite National Park, the sight of used toilet paper is becoming an all too common one. In fact, things are getting so out of hand at the country's parks that the NPS has taken to calling campers out over social media about the problem.

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In July 2024, the official Instagram page for Yosemite National Park shared photos of some of the gross litter, explaining how officials found the stash of used TP by Rancheria Falls. After writing about just how big of a deal this has become, they offered some advice for what campers could do instead of leaving their spent toilet paper behind.

"If you bring toilet paper out on your trips, please pack it out too," the post read in part. "You can bring a sealable plastic baggie to stash it in, and even cover the bag in tape so you don't have to look at it. Because really, nobody wants to stumble upon a surprise package left behind by an anonymous outdoor enthusiast."

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The post went on to explain why burying used toilet paper wasn't a good alternative, sharing how things like curious animals, weather, and even erosion could cause that TP to resurface, allowing it to litter the otherwise pristine landscape of the parks, or else end up used as nesting material by some unsuspecting critter.

A closeup of a woman holding a roll of toilet paper
Source: Getty Images
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Can you ever bury toilet paper?

While it's not generally recommended to bury toilet paper, the Forest Service says that you can bury toilet paper in a pinch. But to do so, you'll need to follow instructions for building a "cathole," which is one of two ways the government agency says you can handle going No. 2 while you're camping.

Catholes should be at least 200 feet (or 70 steps) away from any water source, common area, or trail, and they should be located in an area that gets a lot of sun and is free from debris that will make digging harder.

Once you've found your spot, you'll need to use something to dig a hole — they recommend bringing your own shovel or using a rock or good stick — which they explain needs to be between 6 and 8 inches deep and 4 to 6 inches wide. Once you've finished going to the bathroom, you can bury your business and your toilet paper in the hole. Afterwards, you should cover it with some nearby debris, like leaves and sticks, to protect the newly disturbed soil.

Of course, even if you follow those instructions, your spot could still get dug up by a curious animal (or uncovered by another camper), which is why the preferred method of dealing with those potty breaks involves using a pack out kit to take everything back out of the park with you when you leave. You can then either throw the bag of toilet paper in the trash, or open it up and flush the TP down the toilet.

No matter how gross you may think it will be to carry your used toilet paper out of the park with you, it will always be grosser to stumble across somebody else's used TP!

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