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Where to Dump Trash & Garbage When Boondocking

Where to Dump Trash & Garbage When Boondocking


Most people we’ve met dump their trash and garbage from boondocking at highway rest areas. They also rely on trash dumpsters located in forest campgrounds. Many boondockers will also rely on smaller trash cans found next to fuel pumps at gas stations.

where to dump trash when boondocking
Picnic Area along I-8 Westbound, west of Stanfield, AZ

Where to Dump Trash & Garbage When Boondocking

Probably the most common way for people to dump their trash & garbage from boondocking is to stop at a highway rest area and dump it there. Many rest areas offer one or more large dumpsters. But, if a rest area offers only smaller-sized trash cans, you can divide up the trash across multiple cans.

We’ve met a lot of full time boondockers over our years of camping, and here’s a list of places they frequent dump trash…

  • Highway Rest Areas – Which we’ve already mentioned above. Most rest areas have full sized dumpsters for public use.
  • Government Run Campgrounds – These all have either large trash dumpsters or bear-proof trash containers, and are open to the public. Because boondocking is so popular on national forest lands, you can always find a developed campground nearby to dump trash. BLM campgrounds and Army COE campgrounds almost all have dumpsters.
  • Government Run Day-Use Areas – Both the BLM and USFS operate day use areas, which are often trail head parking lots, picnic areas, boat launches, view points, and visitor centers. These places all have trash cans and dumpsters that you can use for free.
  • Shopping Centers – Look for a larger shopping center with a fast-food restaurant off to the side. That restaurant will have one or more full sized trash dumpsters, and half the time the employees leave it unlocked. You only need enough to time to toss the trash and drive away.
  • Apartment Complexes – You may have to unhitch your trailer to get into an apartment complex, but you’ll find that they all leave their dumpsters unlocked.
  • Walmart Parking Lots – Almost all Walmarts have trash cans located right next to shopping cart return stalls. You will want to keep your trash bags small enough to fit into these cans.
  • RV Parks – Most RV parks will let you use their trash dumpsters if you also pay to dump your sewage tanks. You may actually find several RV parks that don’t monitor who comes in and who leaves, and you could easily dump your trash and run.
  • Gas Stations & Truck Stops – These usually have small trash cans located next to fuel pumps. We’ve not typically seen any with full-size dumpsters for public use, and they seem to do a good job of keeping their dumpsters locked.
  • Landfills, Transfer Stations, Garbage Dumps – These are all county-run facilities where people go to dump large volumes of trash. They usually have dumpsters set aside where you can drive up and toss bags. Many counties offer the dumpsters for free, but some will charge anywhere from $1.00 up to $10.00. To find one, you’ll have to go to Google Maps and search for, “landfill”, “transfer station” or “garbage dump”.

Burn Your Trash

Most full time boondockers burn as much of their trash as they can. The more you can burn, the less you have to dispose of elsewhere.

Keep a “burn box” inside your RV and toss burnable trash into it. Stuff like paper towels, cardboard boxes, pamphlets, toilet paper, can all get burned. You can even burn plastic, though we recommend only small, thin pieces of plastic like plastic wrap, potato chip bags, etc, because the smoke from larger pieces can get nasty.

Burning leftover food (and cooking grease) in a campfire is a great way to dispose of food to avoid attracting raccoons and bears.

Don’t Buy Food in Glass Containers

Glass bottles and jars are the bane of boondockers. Glass cannot be burned, nor can it be crushed to make smaller. When you purchase beer, soda, or other food items, look for something in cans, plastic, or even paper. You can now buy in soup in cardboard boxes.

Glass containers are a problem for boondockers because when glass breaks outside, it’s difficult to pick up all the tiny shards. Your dog or cat will step in it, and it ruins the experience for the next people to camp there too.

Also, glass does not decay and disintegrate. At least cans and paper will eventually decay and disintegrate into the Earth. Not that it’s okay to toss this stuff on the ground, but glass litter remains an eyesore virtually forever.

How To Minimize Trash Accumulation

Read our previous article, “How to Minimize Trash Accumulation While Boondocking“.

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3 thoughts on “Where to Dump Trash & Garbage When Boondocking”

  1. Some good info here, but I need to disagree with some of it too. First off, too many people abuse the trash cans at gas stations and retail outlets by stuffing all of their camp trash into them. This means the next person to come along has nowhere to put their non-camping trash, which can lead to resentment of boondockers, especially on the parts of the retailers. I’ve seen a definite correlation at WalMarts, for example: The more boondockers in the area, the fewer trash cans in the parking lot. I’m also not an advocate of stealth dump-and-runs in places like apartment complexes and other unlocked dumpsters. It’s practices like this that can give boondockers a bad rep.

    If you boondock, I hope you care for the environment! And if you do, you should understand that the worst thing you can do with (most of) your camp trash – other than just leaving on the ground – is burn it, especially plastics. This from the UN Environment Programme:
    “The burning of plastics releases toxic gases like dioxins, furans, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (better known as BCPs) into the atmosphere, and poses a threat to vegetation, and human and animal health.”

    I would like to suggest that folks use landfills and transfer stations where possible, and a group that I admin is assembling an interactive map of landfill locations and fees for the desert southwest, where so many of us spend our winters. In my research I’ve found that sites can run as high as $60 for a single bag! On the other hand, many are free or just $1 per bag.

    It’s hoped that this interactive map will be widely used. It will make life easier for boondockers, and hopefully go a long way in keeping our beloved camp spots clean!

  2. Great reply! I totally agree that more people need to dump their garbage responsibly. I try to pick up stuff I find when I’m walking but unless I can find a location to dump at a reasonable cost I won’t pick up alit of other people’s trash. It makes me sad that there is so much of it.

  3. I totally agree with David. Burning plastic is definitely a No-No. Stealth dumping of trash into dumpsters at apartment complexes, etc. is also a No-No in my opinion. Those places pay to have their trash taken away. They shouldn’t have to pay for your trash, too. Glass is recyclable, so using glass shouldn’t be an issue if you plan wisely. Glass containers can also be used to store food items in your fridge or cupboards (think canning jars), and can be used over & over – which results in less waste overall. I wish more people considered the environment and ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Don’t give Boondockers a bad reputation. Be responsible.


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