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“Worst job on the planet”: US park rangers grapple with the flood of human waste

Posted by Jeff on Dec 4th 2020 at 6:12 am in Conservation | 0 comments | Last change: December 3, 2020

In national parks across the United States, from the peaks of Denali in Alaska to desert backpacking destinations in Utah and Arizona, managers struggle to deal with this inevitable byproduct of people eager to go outdoors, a desire that continues amid the pandemic . Unlike a discarded Clif Bar sleeve, if left untreated or otherwise treated, human waste will contain a wide variety of bacteria and pathogens.

Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park has been hit particularly hard. An increase in visitor numbers there meant that toilet paper was more common in wilderness areas. Today the park is known nationwide for pioneering a solution that will be deployed in other locations, including Mt. Rainier.

Between 2016 and 2019, the 265,000-acre park near Denver saw a 40% increase in the number of visitors, hiking and climbing through forests and rugged peaks. In 2019, it was the third most popular national park in the US.

Rangers wandered to the toilets and found the conditions appalling. In the worst case, the solid would repeatedly freeze and thaw and rise above the seat. Rangers had to dig the material out of the chamber and load it into a 5-gallon bucket, place the load on a pack animal, and ride it downstairs.

Park managers have invested time and resources in a solution. They decided on a fancy toilet product called ToiletTech. The system separates urine from solid waste, creating cleaner excrement – and less work for rangers. Excrement ends up on a small conveyor belt under the toilet seat, while urine flows through a separate pipe into a clarification field.

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