No. It is not legal.
Composted toilet waste is technically not “compost” simply because it takes at least 120 days or more to completely compost and destroy all deadly pathogens. No composting toilet is capable of holding poop for that long of a time, without adding new poop to it.
Moreover, all of the major brands of composting toilets warn against dumping waste from a composting toilet on public lands. They instead instruct you to move that waste to an outdoor composting bin where it can fully, and completely compost into a usable form.
Is It Legal to Dump Composting Toilet Waste on the Ground?
First, all six of the federal land management agencies have rules against dumping human poop on their lands.
While it is true that these agencies have advised campers bury their poop into a hole at least six inches deep, and completely cover it up, this advice was intended for squatting on the ground for a single poop. It was not intended for a composting toilet bag large enough for 2-3 weeks worth of raw sewage.
They instead require such package be dumped into a vault toilet or other receptacle intended for that purpose…
- Bureau of Land Management – under § 8365.1-1 Sanitation, “On all public lands, no person shall, unless otherwise authorized: (3) Drain sewage or petroleum products or dump refuse or waste other than wash water from any trailer or other vehicle except in places or receptacles provided for that purpose;“
- U.S. Forest Service – under § 261.11 Sanitation, “The following are prohibited: (a) Depositing in any toilet, toilet vault, or plumbing fixture any substance which could damage or interfere with the operation or maintenance of the fixture. (b) Possessing or leaving refuse, debris, or litter in an exposed or unsanitary condition. (c) Placing in or near a stream, lake, or other water any substance which does or may pollute a stream, lake, or other water. (d) Failing to dispose of all garbage, including any paper, can, bottle, sewage, waste water or material, or rubbish either by removal from the site or area, or by depositing it into receptacles or at places provided for such purposes.“
- National Park Service – under § 2.14 Sanitation and refuse, “The following are prohibited: (1) Disposing of refuse in other than refuse receptacles. (6) Polluting or contaminating park area waters or water courses. (8) In developed areas, the disposal of human body waste, except at designated locations or in fixtures provided for that purpose. (9) In nondeveloped areas, the disposal of human body waste within 100 feet of a water source, high water mark of a body of water, or a campsite, or within sight of a trail, except as otherwise designated.“
- Army Corps of Engineers – under § 327.9 Sanitation, “(a) Garbage, trash, rubbish, litter, gray water, or any other waste material or waste liquid generated on the project and incidental to authorized recreational activities shall be either removed from the project or deposited in receptacles provided for that purpose. The improper disposal of such wastes, human and animal waste included, on the project is prohibited.“
- Bureau of Reclamation – under § 423.34 Sanitation, “(a) You must not bring or improperly dispose of refuse on Reclamation facilities, lands, and waterbodies. Both the owner and the person bringing or disposing refuse may be issued a citation for violating this provision.“
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service – under § 27.94 Disposal of waste, “(a) The littering, disposing, or dumping in any manner of garbage, refuse sewage, sludge, earth, rocks, or other debris on any national wildlife refuge except at points or locations designated by the refuge manager, or the draining or dumping of oil, acids, pesticide wastes, poisons, or any other types of chemical wastes in, or otherwise polluting any waters, water holes, streams or other areas within any national wildlife refuge is prohibited.“
It is Also a Violation of State Dumping Laws
Every State addresses the issue of illegal dumping, which includes raw human excrement.
The definition of “dumping” varies from state to state. One of the criteria that differentiates “dumping” from “littering” is if the waste is hazardous to public health. If you are caught dumping 2-3 weeks worth of human poop on the ground or into a hole, you could face larger fines for “dumping”, and more likely be sentenced to community service. See, “Illegal Dumping Laws & Penalties“.
Even though you may be camping on federally owned lands, all federal land management agencies (except for the National Park Service) allow State laws to apply.
Is Composting Toilet Waste Safe for Dumping on the Ground?
It takes at least 120 days to convert a large bin of human poop into a composted form safe for use as a fertilizer, or safe for mixing into the soil. These are large bins, typically 50 gallons in size, are big enough to generate about 160 degrees F of heat on their own. This heat is needed needed to kill off deadly bacteria. No composting toilet can reach that temperature, nor can it store human waste for that long of a period.
If you were to throw a bag of composting toilet waste on the ground, you’re effectively throwing a bag of deadly bacteria that will leach into the ground and potentially kill anyone who draws well water from the area.
But Everyone Says that Composting Toilet Waste is Safe to Dump on the Ground
They are wrong.
What they are actually saying is that they’ve never been caught.
Boondockers typically camp in places where law enforcement officers rarely patrol, or don’t patrol very often. It’s easy to get caught up in the myth that composting toilet waste is safe for the environment. But, if they were caught doing it by a Forest Ranger or a BLM ranger, they will get stuck with very heavy fines.
Composting Toilet Brands Do Not Advise Dumping on the Ground
Nature’s Head, the most popular brand of composting toilets, warns against dumping poop from their toilets on to the ground…
“The recommended procedure for disposing of the contents of the solid waste tank is placing it in a proper composting bin to allow it to fully decompose. When traveling in a boat or RV, this may not be practical. The contents of the solid waste tank may be safely placed into a conventional dumpster if it has been allowed to compost fully.“
Obviously, if you are camping in an RV, you don’t have the proper outdoor composting bin with you.
Then What Good Are Composting Toilets?
Composting toilets were originally intended to help gardeners (home owners) save their own poop for fertilizer purposes. It created a way to capture poop into a temporary storage bin and be able to easily transfer it to a larger, outdoor composting bin.
They became popular with tiny house dwellers because most tiny houses don’t come with black tanks. Composting toilets became popular in small RVs and vans that don’t have a fresh water tank, or have too small of a fresh water tank.
But if your van or RV has a fresh water tank of at least 25 gallons, there’s really no need for a composting toilet. You can get by with a standard flush-toilet just fine. Even a black tank the size of 25 gallons is enough to last 14 days, which is what most people get with a composting toilet.
There are also some RVers who are just frightened about draining a black tank, and somehow believe that emptying a composting toilet is more pleasant.
You can always pee outside if you want to make your black tank last longer.
Is it Legal to Throw Poop into the Garbage?
Yes, but it depends.
The management of waste in landfills is generally addressed at the county level. Each County has its own ordinances on whether or not human poop can be dumped into a garbage bin destined for a landfill.
Generally, most counties permit human poop to be deposited into a landfill. However, almost all counties require it be contained within a plastic bag and be tied off. Some counties will require the bag be mixed with a powdered absorbent or bacterial enzymes to break down poop and render it inert. If you can do with this with your composting toilet contents, you’re generally fine to toss it into a garbage bin, whichever county you are in.
You can not just throw it on the ground, or bury it yourself.