Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Skinny on Soap

We often receive questions about soap use in the outdoors, more specifically, how damaging or not “biodegradable" or castile soap is to the environment.Our take on the situation is as follows:
Generally speaking, getting any soap in a water source is not acceptable or recommended. The soap can cause all sorts of issues from increased nitrogen to actually causing significant harm to aquatic inhabitants.

Regarding acceptable Leave No Trace protocols, it’s important to stress that there are still significant impacts from supposedly “completely biodegradable” products. We’ve encountered folks washing dishes with that product in a lake, claiming that it was a safe and acceptable practice. Unfortunately this is not the case, and the manufacturer says as much, and now commonly includes advice to use it 200 feet from water and to dispose it in a cathole. We generally believe that pouring dirty dishwater (which generally contains food smells and fragrances) into the soil will lessen the attraction of wildlife – as compared to the broadcast method, which also broadcasts the smells.

If safety/health issues are a concern—for example, an extended trip or trip involving youth—remember, a little goes a long way. Using hand sanitizer or hand wipes beforehand can also minimize the chance of spreading illness.

Remember, safety and fun are key components to Leave No Trace. Thank you for helping minimize impacts on our public lands!


Kristen said...

I had a great suggestion from a workshop participant... baking soda as an all-purpose cleanser. Seems like that would be better than soaps and you brush your teeth, wash dishes, etc. with it. Thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Baking Soda is an alkaline (base) and could present disposal issues in an acidic environment (e.g. coniferous forest)...

Marj said...

Is Leave No Trace now advocating going back to disposing of strained dishwater in cat holes rather than broadcasting 200 feet from water and campsite? Or is this the soap manufactures suggestion?

BadVooDooDaddy said...

I generally use the sand method for cleaning my pots and pans. It cleans them and uses no soap. When it comes to bowls and spork I get my bandanna wet and wipe them down with that and it has always seemed to work great.

Education Department said...

Hi all - Education Department here. Thanks for the discussion around this topic and sorry for any confusion.

Scattering strained greywater or digging a cathole ("sumping") strained greywater are both acceptable methods of disposal.

In general, scattering is more widely practiced because you are diluting the impact (as opposed to concentrating it in a hole). Some important things to consider are:

1) Doing this 200 ft away from camp, trails and water sources
2)Trying to do this in an open area that receives sunlight, as the sunlight will help evaporate the water and, to a degree, get rid of the odor

However, in places where wildlife is more of a concern - i.e. bear country - "sumping" may be a better method for disguising the odor.

A couple of things to keep in mind with this method:

1) Doing this 200 ft away from camp, trails and water sources
2) Using the same technique as you would when digging a cathole in terms of location, depth, and renaturalization of the area.

Hope this helps! Please don't hesitate to contact us if there are additional questions.


Alan said...

Comment on broadcast vs. sump:

It seems to me that sumping dishwater creates a "point source" that is more likely to draw in wildlife who will dig it up. Broadcasting may broadcast the odors in the short term, but they will be more diffuse and quicker to break down.

I guess there is an unavoidable trade-off...