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Because of the intimacy and comfort of the modern toilets we are used to, this is a difficult subject to tackle... especially when it comes to the terminology! But let's not kid ourselves, this is part of the natural course of life, and every hiker has already been or will be confronted with this problem.
WE WILL THEREFORE TRY TO SHED SOME LIGHT ON THIS UNIVERSAL PROBLEM: HOW TO RELIEVE YOURSELF IN AN ECO-FRIENDLY WAY?
Human excrement takes at least one year to decompose.
This mark varies significantly over time and depends on the nature of the soil, the exposure to the elements, and the animal and bacterial population, etc.
20 years ago, the only question you would ask yourself before drinking water from a stream was whether there was a herd grazing upstream. The risk being that a lost sheep could have fallen into the stream and its carcass could have contaminated the water...
Today, new diseases are emerging or spreading. An example of this is giardia: infection from the eponymous parasite which spreads by faecal/oral transmission. Contamination is easily prevented by careful hand washing. In nature, the problem is that the water can be contaminated: in lake or river water, parasites can survive for several months!
When we relieve ourselves in the middle of nature, the rainwater run-off can therefore carry bacteria from our ad hoc toilets to the streams! (This problem does not occur with urine, which is sterile – except in rare cases of bladder disease – and evaporates easily.) This is also a problem for those people who live at altitude and collect spring water for their homes. During thunderstorms, the cow "dung" can get carried away by the heavy rain towards the streams, in which case they need a supply of mineral water.
If you are staying several days in the same place, you should know that the method of digging communal latrines makes the excrement more difficult to eliminate, because of the quantity.
Some will opt for the "take it all" strategy and use special containers. In this case, here are three words of advice:
Test it beforehand using water to check the seal. Use steel and aluminium, which is easier to clean and which will cope with exposure to the sun better (without going into details, the decomposition process produces ethane which can cause "explosions"). However, they are not so good at retaining odours. Finally, take everything with you and do not wash your containers in the surrounding rivers or lakes.
Despite all these precautions, going to the toilet in the woods will always be more enjoyable than searching for a clean public toilet in the city! And one well-informed hiker is worth two;)