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What To Do With Used Food Bags During Backpacking


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Ursuline Brunk



When embarking on a backpacking adventure, it is crucial to be mindful of the impact we have on the environment. From choosing sustainable gear to practicing Leave No Trace principles, every decision we make can make a difference. One aspect that often gets overlooked is the proper disposal of used food bags.


Used food bags, whether they are plastic ziplock bags or foil pouches, can pose a challenge when it comes to finding a suitable way to dispose of them during a backpacking trip. As responsible adventurers, it’s essential to understand the importance of properly disposing of these bags to minimize our environmental footprint.


Improper disposal of used food bags can lead to a range of negative consequences. They can attract animals, disrupt ecosystems, and contribute to pollution. Additionally, leaving these bags in the wilderness can harm wildlife, as they may mistake them for food or become entangled in them.


In this article, we will explore various options for disposing of used food bags effectively and responsibly during backpacking trips. Each option has its own merits and considerations, so it’s essential to choose the best method based on the environment and regulations in the area you’re exploring.


Why proper disposal of used food bags is important during backpacking

Proper disposal of used food bags is of utmost importance during backpacking trips for several reasons:

  1. Preserving the environment: Backpacking takes us to breathtaking natural landscapes, and it’s our responsibility to preserve their beauty. Improperly discarded food bags can degrade the visual appeal of the surroundings and harm the delicate balance of ecosystems.
  2. Preventing wildlife disturbances: Leaving used food bags behind can attract animals to campsites, leading to potential conflicts. Animals may be lured by the aroma of leftover food, creating a dangerous situation for both humans and wildlife. By disposing of food bags properly, we can minimize these encounters and help protect the natural behavior of wildlife.
  3. Maintaining water sources: Many backpacking trails are near rivers, streams, and lakes. If food bags are not disposed of properly, they can contaminate these water sources. This pollution poses a threat to aquatic life and can impact the quality of water for drinking and recreation.
  4. Promoting a Leave No Trace ethic: Leave No Trace is a set of principles that guides outdoor enthusiasts in minimizing their impact on the environment. Proper disposal of food bags aligns with this ethic, ensuring that future backpackers and outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy pristine wilderness areas.

By recognizing the significance of proper food bag disposal, we can contribute to the conservation of natural areas, protect wildlife, and demonstrate responsible outdoor practices. With this understanding, let’s explore some options for disposing of used food bags during backpacking trips.


Options for disposal of used food bags

When it comes to disposing of used food bags during backpacking trips, there are several options available. Each option has its own considerations, so it’s important to choose the method that is most suitable for the specific environment and regulations of the area. Here are four common options for disposing of used food bags:

  1. Pack out the used food bags: One of the most effective methods is to pack out your used food bags. This means storing them in a designated waste bag or container and carrying them with you until you can properly dispose of them in a trash bin or recycling facility. This option ensures that no trace of your food bags is left behind, minimizing the impact on the environment and wildlife.
  2. Burn the used food bags: In certain situations, where campfires are permitted and safe, burning the used food bags can be an option. However, it’s crucial to follow fire regulations and guidelines to prevent wildfires. Make sure to burn the bags completely and safely, ensuring that no plastic residue or harmful substances are released into the air.
  3. Bury the used food bags: If you are in an area where burying waste is allowed, you can consider burying the used food bags. Dig a hole at least 6 to 8 inches deep, away from water sources, campsites, and trails. Place the bags in the hole, cover them with soil, and pack it down firmly. However, it is important to check local regulations and ensure that burying waste is permitted in the specific area you are backpacking.
  4. Repurpose the used food bags: Another option is to find creative ways to repurpose your used food bags. Before disposing of them, consider washing and drying them, and they can be reused multiple times for storing small items, organizing gear, or even as waterproof liners for backpack pockets. By repurposing these bags, you can reduce waste and give them a second life.

Remember, whatever method you choose for disposing of used food bags, it’s important to prioritize Leave No Trace principles and be respectful of the environment. Always follow local regulations, respect fire restrictions, and consider the impact of your actions on the natural surroundings.


Now that we have explored the options for disposing of used food bags, let’s conclude our discussion.


Pack out the used food bags

Packing out used food bags is one of the most responsible and effective methods for disposal during backpacking trips. By carrying your used food bags with you until you reach a proper trash bin or recycling facility, you ensure that no trace is left behind in the wilderness.


Here are a few tips for packing out your used food bags:

  1. Carry a designated waste bag: Use a reusable and waterproof waste bag specifically designed for backpacking trips. This bag should be strong enough to contain any odors and prevent leakage or tearing.
  2. Seal the used food bags securely: Before placing the used food bags into the waste bag, make sure they are properly sealed to avoid any leakage or odor. Double-bagging or using airtight containers can provide extra protection.
  3. Store the waste bag away from your food and gear: Keep the waste bag separate from your food and camping gear to avoid contamination. Place it in a designated compartment of your backpack, away from items that could be affected by odors or spills.
  4. Dispose of the waste bag properly: Once you’ve completed your backpacking trip, ensure that you dispose of the waste bag in an appropriate manner. Look for designated trash bins or recycling facilities in nearby towns or trailheads. If facilities are unavailable, carry the waste bag with you until you can properly dispose of it.

Packing out your used food bags may require some extra effort, but it is a crucial step in practicing Leave No Trace principles and preserving the natural environment. By taking responsibility for your waste, you are ensuring that future generations can enjoy the wilderness as much as you did.


Now, let’s move on to explore the next disposal option: burning the used food bags.


Burn the used food bags

Burning used food bags can be a viable option for disposal during backpacking trips, particularly in areas where campfires are allowed and safe to build. However, it’s important to remember that fire regulations and guidelines must be followed to prevent wildfires and minimize environmental impact.


If you decide to burn your used food bags, here are some important considerations:

  1. Check fire regulations: Before lighting a fire, check the specific regulations and guidelines for the area you are in. Some locations may have restrictions on open fires, especially during dry seasons or in areas prone to wildfires. Respect these regulations and prioritize the safety of yourself and the surrounding environment.
  2. Choose a suitable location: Select a designated fire pit or an area away from flammable materials, such as dry grass or overhanging tree branches. Ensure that the fire will not spread and cause any damage to the surroundings.
  3. Use proper fire-starting techniques: Follow the Leave No Trace principles for starting and maintaining a fire. Use small, dry twigs and branches to build a starter fire, gradually adding larger pieces of wood for a sustained burn. Avoid using accelerants or other harmful substances that can release toxic fumes.
  4. Burn the bags completely: When burning the used food bags, make sure to burn them completely. Ensure that no plastic residues or harmful substances are left behind. Plastic is toxic when burned and can release pollutants into the air.
  5. Dispose of ashes properly: Once the fire has burned out completely, allow the ashes to cool down. Collect the ashes and any remaining debris in a bag or container and pack them out. Do not scatter the ashes on the ground as they can smolder and potentially cause fires.

Remember, burning used food bags should only be done when it is safe and allowed. If you are unsure or there are fire restrictions in place, it is best to choose an alternative method for disposal.


Now, let’s move on to explore the next disposal option: burying the used food bags.


Bury the used food bags

Burying used food bags can be a suitable disposal option during backpacking trips, especially in areas where burying waste is allowed and following Leave No Trace principles. However, it’s important to check local regulations and guidelines to ensure that burying waste is permitted in the specific area you’re exploring.


If burying the used food bags is a viable option, here’s how you can do it properly:

  1. Choose an appropriate location: Select a spot at least 200 feet (about 70 large steps) away from water sources, campsites, and trails. This helps minimize the risk of contamination and ensures that the buried waste won’t be easily discovered by animals or other hikers.
  2. Dig a hole: Using a trowel or small shovel, dig a hole that is at least 6 to 8 inches deep. The hole should be wide enough to comfortably accommodate the used food bags.
  3. Place the bags in the hole: Place the used food bags into the hole, making sure they are securely placed inside. You may want to double-bag the food bags or wrap them in biodegradable materials to further minimize any potential impacts.
  4. Cover and pack the hole: After placing the used food bags in the hole, cover them completely with soil. Pack the soil down firmly to ensure that the bags are securely buried and won’t resurface. This helps prevent animals from digging up the waste and reduces the likelihood of any environmental impacts.
  5. Leave no trace: Once you’ve packed the hole, make sure to remove any visible signs of disturbance. Smooth out the surface and scatter natural materials such as leaves or small rocks to conceal the site from wildlife or other hikers.

It’s important to note that burying waste may not be suitable in all environments. In some areas, the soil might not effectively decompose the waste or may have specific regulations against burying. Always check the local guidelines and use your best judgment to ensure that burying used food bags is an appropriate option in the area you’re backpacking.


Now, let’s move on to explore the next disposal option: repurposing the used food bags.


Repurpose the used food bags

Repurposing used food bags is a creative and environmentally-friendly way to give them a second life before disposing of them. By finding alternative uses for these bags, you can reduce waste and minimize your environmental impact during backpacking trips.


Here are some ideas for repurposing used food bags:

  1. Storage and organization: Clean and dry the used food bags, and they can be used to store and organize small items in your backpack. They are lightweight and can help keep your gear organized and easily accessible, such as separating toiletries, electronics, or food items.
  2. Waterproofing: Used food bags can serve as makeshift waterproof liners for certain items in your backpack. Simply place items such as electronics, maps, or important documents inside the bags before packing them in your backpack. This can provide an extra layer of protection in case of rain or accidental spills.
  3. Trash or waste containment: If you have any wet or damp items that you need to carry, such as used wet wipes, you can use a used food bag as a temporary containment until you can properly dispose of them. This helps prevent any leakage or odor from affecting other items in your backpack.
  4. Craft projects: Get creative and use the used food bags for various craft projects. They can be transformed into waterproof pouches, coin purses, or even woven together to create unique designs. This not only repurposes the bags but also adds a touch of personalization to your backpacking experience.
  5. Donate or share: If you have gently used food bags that are still in good condition, consider donating them to local organizations or other backpackers who may find them useful. Sharing and recycling resources within the outdoor community can help extend the lifespan of these bags and reduce waste.

Remember, repurposing used food bags should only be considered if the bags are clean and free from any residual food or liquids. Properly cleaning and drying the bags before reusing them is essential to maintain hygiene and prevent contamination.


By repurposing your used food bags, you can reduce waste, promote sustainability, and add a touch of creativity to your backpacking adventures.


Now that we have explored all the disposal options, let’s conclude our discussion.



Proper disposal of used food bags is a crucial aspect of responsible backpacking. By understanding the importance of this issue and choosing the most suitable disposal method, we can minimize our impact on the environment and ensure the preservation of natural landscapes for future generations of outdoor enthusiasts.


Throughout this article, we have explored several options for disposing of used food bags during backpacking trips. Packing out the bags is the most effective method, ensuring no trace is left behind. Burning the bags can be an option where campfires are permitted and safe. Burying the bags may be suitable in certain environments, following local regulations. Repurposing the bags provides a creative and sustainable alternative before disposal.


It’s important to note that the best disposal option may vary depending on the specific area you are exploring, local regulations, and Leave No Trace principles. Always prioritize safety, respect fire restrictions, and be mindful of the impact your actions may have on the environment and wildlife.


By consciously practicing proper disposal methods for used food bags, we contribute to the preservation of pristine wilderness areas, mitigate wildlife disturbances, and promote sustainable outdoor practices. Let’s continue to be stewards of the outdoors and inspire others to do the same.