Survival Sanitation: Disposing of Garbage Off-Grid

by Erich

This is the final post in a three-part series on survival sanitation.

In a SHTF situation, proper sanitation is of utmost importance if you want to keep your family from getting seriously sick. When you add to that a lack of medical facilities due to grid-down issues, staying healthy becomes even more crucial.

In this series I discuss the skills you need to avoid getting and spreading disease, and how to deal with waste and trash when your town and city services are no longer working.

In this article I take you step-by-step through the process of how you can properly deal with garbage in short and long-term grid-down situations.

One thing that is not commonly thought of when the grid goes down and services stop running is garbage collection.

If you are like most people who live in a western society, you probably have a garbage-disposal service that comes and collects your trash at specific times in the month. Well, if that service were no longer available, have you thought of what you’d do with the ever growing pile of trash?

Not only will the smell be increasingly offensive, rotting garbage is also a sanitation risk since it will attract insects and rodents who are carriers of disease. And if you have babies in the house with disposable diapers, you’ll only magnify the sanitation risk due to potential fecal-borne diseases.

How to Deal with Garbage in an Off-Grid World

If you know the grid is going to be down for only a few days or even up to a week or two, you will not need to handle your garbage any differently than you are doing now. I’m sure many of us have missed a pick-up date or two and had the trash sitting around for a bit without any issues. The problem is when it gets extended to a month or more.

In this case you’ll want to follow a simple, straightforward 5-step process:

Sort, Dump, Drain, Burn or Bury


If the grid goes down and you know it will be multiple weeks or more, some of your trash-disposal habits will likely need to change — sorting being one of them.

The first thing you’ll want to do is begin separating the trash (both the existing along with any new trash going forward) into 4 different groups:

  • those things that biodegrade quickly (plant & animal matter)
  • paper products
  • plastics and metals (should be flattened or crushed to reduce bulk) and
  • sanitary items (diapers, feminine hygiene products etc)


For the biodegradable waste, this can be dumped into a pile or a container away from your residence.

This will quickly begin to compost and can be used later for gardening.


After the initial sorting as well as any new trash going forward, you’ll want to drain off any liquids that are remaining in any containers.

For non-fat containing liquids, just pour them on the ground. For fatty liquids and oils, pour them in a small “cat-hole” dug from the ground and then cover it up with the dirt from the dig. This will prevent the attraction of animals and insects.

Keep in mind that it is not recommended to add fats and oils to any compost heaps you have set up from the “Dump” stage, as it can shut down the composting process.


Garbage that can be burned (like the paper products that were separated earlier) should be done so.

If you have the time or inclination, many paper products, like newspapers or junk mail, can be made into serviceable Paper Logs. These make good sources of fuel for cooking and heating when the grid is down.


For the remaining garbage like metal and plastic products and sanitary items, you’ll want to store these for as long as you can in doubled-up trash bags that are in a covered (preferably air-tight) container. However, if the grid is going to be down for a very long time, it may be necessary to bury these.

You’ll want to dig a trench or pit that is deep enough so that at least 1 1/2 feet (1/2 m) of compacted dirt will cover the trash (again, to prevent insects from breeding or animals digging it up). Also, be sure to keep this pit at least 100 feet from a water source (especially in the case of the sanitary products).

A Note on Fall-Out Shelters

If you are in a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, or Nuclear (CBRN) situation where you’re forced indoors, many of these outdoor trash disposal solutions will not work for you. In such cases you’ll need to bag and store the waste until you have the opportunity to bury it.

To bag the trash, it’s best to first drain off whatever liquid you can if possible. Then before bagging it, wrap the trash in some type of absorbent material like newspapers or old clothing.This will keep the stench down and hopefully bide you a bit of time before you can dispose of it outdoors.

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Comment by rich
2012-11-15 12:04:06

You left out glass. I’ve mostly figured what to do with my garbage. But with glass, I’m stumped. Glass doesn’t burn. Glass doesn’t rot. It just breaks. Unless I find out a way to melt it and to reuse the glass. My tenants are heavy beer drinkers. Luckily, some of that are aluminum cans, which I take to the salvage yard for cash.

Comment by Rebecca
2013-02-09 23:14:34

Glass is reusable, you don’t trash it. You save it. beer bottles can be reused to make juice or cidar, carry water, or even to edge out garden beds.

Comment by online toy stores
2013-02-19 02:19:29

I wanted to thank you for this good read!! I definitely loved every little bit of it.
I’ve got you book-marked to check out new stuff you post…

Comment by Krystal
2013-06-01 16:43:47

You can also reuse the oils or fats to make improvised lamps or torches. If using grease from cooking, you must be careful that the container is not dumped (Grease fires on the stove are scary enough). rethinking uses for containers is a good skill to have, but not to the extremes of keeping truely useless items, “Just in case”

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