‘Worst work in the world’: US park rangers grapple with tide of human waste

At national parks across the US, from the peaks of Denali in Alaska to desert backpacking destinations in Utah and Arizona, managers have struggled to deal with this inevitable byproduct of people eager to get outdoors, a desire that continues amid the pandemic. Unlike a discarded Clif Bar wrapper, human waste carries a slew of bacteria and pathogens when left unbagged or otherwise unaddressed.

Colorado’s Rocky Mountain national park has been hit especially hard. There, a surge in visitors meant toilet paper became a more common sight in wilderness areas. But the park is now known nationally for pioneering a solution used at other sites, including Mt Rainier.

Between 2016 and 2019, the 265,000-acre park near Denver saw a 40% increase in visitors hiking and climbing its woods and jagged peaks. In 2019, it was the third-most visited national park in the US.

Rangers were trekking to the toilets and finding repulsive conditions. At its worst, the solid matter would freeze and thaw repeatedly and rise above the seat. Rangers would have to dig the material from the chamber and load it into a five-gallon bucket, place the cargo on to a pack animal and ride down.

Park chiefs poured time and resources into a solution. They settled on a nifty toilet product called ToiletTech. The system separates urine from solid waste, which creates cleaner excrement – and less work for rangers. Beneath the toilet seat, excrement lands on a small conveyor belt, while urine flows through a separate pipe and into a septic field.

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