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NOLS courses create very little trash when they’re in the field. The in-town support for those courses, however, can create quite a lot of waste. Rations bags, paper towels, office trash, and discarded long underwear are just some of the common waste products of a NOLS course.

Minimizing waste is an important part of the NOLS experience. Whether you’re on a mountaintop or at a NOLS base, resources are limited and reducing, reusing, and recycling are practices vital to the success of any expedition.


Almost all NOLS locations including AK, MX, RM, HQ, and PNW use composting as a method of reducing waste. Grounds waste, kitchen scraps, coffee grounds and filters, and returned field rations are turned into nutrient-rich soil used to fertilize our gardens and landscaping. Here are a few examples of our most in-depth projects:

  • NOLS Mexico has composting toilets! Human waste goes into a composting bin below the toilets that is periodically raked to create optimum oxygenation of the human waste. Once broken down, the material is quite harmless, emitting almost no smells, and is used for fertilizer for the plants around the grounds.
  • An institutional-size composter from Green Mountain Technologies serves the NOLS facilities in Lander, Wyoming. Materials are collected from NOLS Rocky Mountain, NOLS Headquarters, and the Noble Hotel. Since composting began, we estimate a garbage collection savings of $2,500 annually. Even more, we’ve cut our trash collection by 66% and use far fewer trash bags!


Due to economic feasibility, there are large differences in what any one city will recycle—some take all recyclables, some take only aluminum, some don’t take glass, some have special programs for electronics. Although they vary widely in scope, almost all NOLS facilities have some sort of recycling program. Here are a few highlights:

  • At NOLS Patagonia and NOLS Mexico, the nearest recycling facilities are hours away in Santiago and Loreto (respectively) but the staff makes sure that the recyclables get there. They also feed their food scraps to chickens and pigs, which serve as an end-of-the season meal.
  • Used oil from NOLS Mexico vehicles is taken to La Paz (seven hours south) to be recycled by the oil company.
  • The Information Systems Department (IS) at NOLS Headquarters manages the electronics recycling program, contracting a Cheyenne company for proper disposal of computers, printers, and other electronic devices.


Whether it’s buying drinks in glass bottles that can be reused for other beverages or creating buildings out of salvaged materials, reuse helps reduce the number of new products we consume and is one more way we can minimize our impact.

  • At the NOLS Noble Hotel, staff created reusable grocery bags out of materials and clothes from local thrift shops.
  • NOLS Rocky Mountain and NOLS Teton Valley hold yard sales each season and NOLS Teton Valley sells used gear through a local outdoor secondhand store.
  • The staff housing at the NOLS Rocky Mountain river base in Vernal, Utah, was built with lumber and fixtures purchased at the local Habitat ReStore, beetle-killed logs sourced from the Utah area, and a water heater from a staff member’s house.
  • NOLS Mexico saves toilet paper tubes for kindergarten students in Mulegé who use them for art projects.
Grounds waste, kitchen scraps, coffee grounds and filters, and returned field rations are turned into nutrient-rich soil used to fertilize our gardens and landscaping.
Photo: Lara McCluskey
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