Survival Sanitation: How to Deal with Human Waste

This is the second 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.

When the grid goes down it doesn’t take long for serious sanitation problems to erupt. Take Auckland New Zealand for example:

In 1998, Auckland suffered a 5-week long power outage that halted water supplies, causing a large part of the city’s apartment dwellers and office workers to lose the ability to flush. Since the average person did not know how to properly deal with human waste, after only three days the resulting lack of wastewater services quickly escalated into a sanitation nightmare.

Here are two accounts of that time (please see footnotes for full articles):

Since water and sewage rely on electrically-driven pumps to get them into office blocks and towers, these services often aren’t available either. What little power is available is being used by emergency and civil services as far as possible, with other services like traffic lights being run if there’s anything to spare. Many office blocks have no power, water, or sewage services available. Combine the lack of sanitation with abscence of airconditioning and you can imagine what conditions are like in parts of these buildings.[1]

And here is an account from someone who was tasked in writing up a white paper for the New Zealand government on the effects caused by no running water:

People in general are not smart. Rather than try and conserve or make a plan once the water stopped flowing, they would flush their toilets. Without power from the force of water pressure the tank doesn’t refill. The domino effect is not only gross but staggering, what human beings that have never lived beyond modern conveniences will do is unimaginable.

What I researched and wrote about blew my own mind…when people were actually confronted with such a situation, they went where ever they could – they filled the toilet, the toilet tank, the tub, the shower, the sink – when the bathrooms became uninhabitable, they went in corners, boxes, bags, closets…most however left by the time they were using the tub. Guess how long that took? That’s right, three days!.[2]

How to Dispose of Human Waste in a Grid-Down Situation

If you’re in a situation where the grid goes down and the water stops flowing, you’ll want to be sure you’re correctly dealing with human waste.

Here’s how:

If You Have a Septic System

First off, if you have your own septic system, you’re in a better spot over others connected to a town/city sewer line. With a septic system, as long as you have availability to water (from storage or any grey water source), you’ll still be able to flush.

How to Flush without Running Water

To flush, you can fill up the back tank until the water reaches the float and then hit the flush lever, or…
If you have a big enough bucket (at least 2 gallons), quickly pour the bucket of water directly in the bowl which…
will trigger the siphoning action and cause it to flush on it’s own.

If you’re short on water, then I recommend you follow the same procedures as those who are connected to town/city sewer lines:

If you are on Town/City Sewer Lines

If you’re connected to a town or city sewer line then the the absolute first step is:

Make sure the sewer main is not down!

If the sewer main is down, don’t flush the toilet. Not flushing will prevent your lines from mixing with neighborhood crap and backing up into your plumbing (not just the toilets but the sink and tub too).

If you’re absolutely sure there is no issue with the sewer lines, then you can follow the same method as someone on a septic system. Just be sure you have enough water for drinking, cleaning and cooking.

Non-Water Dependant Methods of Waste Disposal

Before I get into some of the non-water dependent methods of waste removal, there are three things you need to be mindful of: flies, pests and pets. These guys would like nothing more than to chow down on your business and in some way come into contact with you or your living space.

Flies especially are notorious for landing on your food and plates while eating, and wouldn’t think twice about doing that after having just enjoyed a fecal feast at your expense. And what will soon follow is a fecal-borne pathogen’s ultimate fantasy — amounting to a health nightmare for you and your loved ones.

Given that, you want to do everything in your power to prevent them from coming into contact with your excrement by keeping it covered and clean (more details to follow).

Waste Disposal in a Rural Area

If you live in the boonies or a semi-rural area but are still connected to the grid, consider yourself lucky. For you guys, it’s just a matter of doing your business outside.

The Cat Hole

In a short-term emergency, a few cat holes is all you need. Just take a garden trowel, a small shovel, or a post digger and make a hole about 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 inches in diameter. Do your business in the hole, wipe, throw the toilet paper (or leaves :)) in there too, and cover it up with the dirt you took out.

Although this is an easy method, here are a few rules you’ll want to abide by:

  • Place your cat-hole site is at least 200 feet from any source of water
  • Don’t dig in an area where water visibly flows (rain water run-off etc)
  • Disperse the cat holes over a wide area if possible
  • If possible, setup your cat hole in an area that gets a lot of sunlight (this will aid decomposition)
  • Again, remember water runoff. Your every thought should be on preventing feces from reaching any water source — be it underground well water, your water table, rivers, lakes, springs, and creeks.

The Trench Latrine

For a longer-term sanitation solution, you’ll want to build yourself a trench latrine.

A trench latrine is basically an oversized cat hole that is used multiple times. With the exception of dispersing it over a wide area, the same rules above apply to trench latrines as well.

The minimal recommended dimensions are around 1.5 feet (.45 m) wide x 1 foot (.3 m) deep and 2 feet (.6 m) long.

It’s also recommended that you build some type of privacy partition. An emergency situation is stressful enough. You don’t need to give anyone the added pressures of becoming a peep show. For example, a simple partition can be built with a few stakes in the ground with blankets, sheets or tarps stretched between them.

Since it is a multi-use station, you’ll also want to prevent any flies and pests from coming into contact with the exposed excrement. To do this, after each use cover your business with some wood ash, quick lime, or a few inches of the dirt that came out of the ground when making the pit.

Waste Disposal in a City

The average person produces around 2-3 pints of urine and 1 pound of poop a day. Multiply that by the number of people in your family and in a short time you can only imagine the amount of crap that would pile up in an extended grid-down situation in the city.

In most cases, city dwellers (and many suburbanites) do not have access to land where they can safely dig a trench latrine or cat holes. If you are one of these unlucky folk you’ll need to consider other options. Here are two possibilities that you could use:

Use Your Existing Toilet

Even if the sewage lines are down or if you’re short on water, it’s still possible to use your existing toilet:

First, remove as much water as you can from the bowl.
Second, tape a doubled-up trash bag to the underside of the toilet seat and let the bag fill the cavity of the bowl.
Have a pail of wood ash, quicklime, kitty litter or sawdust available so that after each duty is done, the offender can sprinkle a liberal amount over it. This will keep the stench down.
Finally, when the bag is filled up 2/3 the volume of the bowl, add a good amount of quicklime, wood ash or other disinfectant. If you do not have any of these things, you can use dirt with a little bit of a chlorine solution sprayed in it.

After the addition of the disinfectant, securely tie up the bag and place it in a temporary, sealable container (like a 5-gallon bucket or trash container). Keep it in there until you can find a good time and place to dispose of it.

Use a 5-Gallon Bucket

A 5-gallon bucket can be used in a similar way to the toilet as explained above.

Like the toilet-method above, you’ll want to line it with a double-bagged layer of trash bags (heavy duty are highly recommended). For a seat, you can either sit on the rim of the bucket directly (it’s actually not as uncomfortable as you’d think), place your existing toilet seat on it, or place a couple of 2x4s or other similar objects on the rim to fabricate a makeshift seat:

If you feel like spending a little money you can pick up a toilet seat cover made for a 5-gallon bucket.

I’ve also seen them sell bags that are made for these 5-gallon expedient toilets as well as toilet deodorants that control the smell and are made for these types of portable toilets. I don’t have any experience with these but they seem to get good reviews in Amazon (click on an image to see the product and reviews):

For those of you with a bit more money in your pockets, they sell non-electric composting toilets that are completely off-grid, require no water, and supposedly convert human waste into usable compost without odor.

If any of you have these types of toilets, I’d love to hear from your experiences. That may be something that an apartment/city dweller could use in a SHTF situation.

Conclusion

I hope you come out of this post realizing how important the safe disposal of human waste is and how you can properly take care of you and your families waste if times get bad.

In the next and final article in this series I’ll be covering how you can properly dispose of garbage in a grid-down scenario.

Resources

  1. Auckland’s Power Outage
  2. Sanitation in Grid Down Situations

Copyright © 2014 Tactical Intelligence. All Rights Reserved

RSS feed| Trackback URI

49 Comments»

Comment by Lindsay
2011-08-22 19:37:00

Nowhere is this article does it mention the ability to shut off the sewer line. Is there a method, whether makeshift or a kit, that allows you to completely shutdown the outside sewer line within your basement so that my stupid neighbors don’t flush their toilets and have the backflow come into my house?

I have a 5 gal. bucket with a seat, and plenty of enzyme 300 for such emergencies and have read quite a bit concerning sanitation. Unfortunately I doubt any of my neighbors are prepping or are aware of how to manage on their own if an emergency occured.

I would appreciate any feedback on this sewer shutoff question.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2011-08-22 23:00:11

Hi Lindsay,

The only thing I know of is a backflow prevention valve that either you or someone else can install in the sewer traps. I’m not sure (other than stuffing a nerf football in the trap) if there are any other DIY “hacks” you could do to prevent that.

I’d love to hear any comments from the other readers.

- Erich

 
 
Comment by Scout48
2011-08-23 09:31:30

For those of you not on septic, you can always install an inline ball valve in the main sewage line going to the city’s service. This would not be automatic like a back-flow preventer valve, but PVC ball valves are EXTREMELY affordable, like 200 bucks for 6 inch ball valve and 3000 for a double check valve back-flow preventer. The drawback is that you have to crawl under your house and turn the valve. For apartment dwellers, either install small valves under each sink and and cram a Nerf ball or silicone saturated rag in the tubs and toilets, or just do the balls and rags on everything. I suppose you could also unhook the traps and lift off the toilets and use those rubber plugs with a washer on either side and a bolt through the middle. When you tighten the bolt the rubber is squeezed. They usually make for a pretty good seal, but it is a lot of effort.

Hope I didn’t ramble on too much. I guess my point is that there are a lot of options. Weigh costs and benefits vs risk.

2011-08-23 13:29:23

Scout,

Great comments and advice. I was hoping someone with more experience than me (I’ve been on septic my whole life) could weigh in. Again, much appreciated…

 
 
Comment by DPM
2011-08-27 12:04:21

I love my septic system…I love my septic system…I love my septic system…

As long as gravity still works, and I keep a supply of leach-field filters on hand, I’m good to go with waste. The well is another issue. Getting water out is no problem as long as the power is up, or as long as I can keep gas in the genny (and fight off the zombie hordes), but after that, it’s all manual work. Luckily I have a plan for that, too.

Looks like I might get a chance to try some of this stuff out tomorrow – the latest forecast has Irene tracking directly over my house!! Luckily I’m well inland, but I’m still likely to get pretty fierce winds, and the grid is stupid-fragile here, so it’ll be lights out for sure.

2011-08-27 16:22:37

I hear ya DPM. Irene’s will be over my house this evening. It’s nice not to have to worry about rushing to the already-cleared-out stores for food, water and emergency supplies.

 
 
Comment by Reina G
2011-10-14 11:19:14

There is some excellent information in this post. I work in the human waste industry and it’s always surprising to me that people don’t give more thought about handling human waste in emergency and disaster situations. Katrina and the tsunami in Japan are excellent examples of disasters leaving people without waste management systems.

Cleanwaste has a Go Anywhere Toilet system that includes waste kits that are pre-loaded with a super absorbent powder that gels and encapsulates waste. Between this and its thick outer disposal bag, the waste kits are 99.9% effective against the spread of disease. The bags are biodegradable and can be disposed of in normal, household trash.

2011-10-14 15:34:04

Reina,

Thanks for the good tip. The GO anywhere Toilet System looks to be a pretty good product. I like the backpack version they have.

 
 
Comment by Emergency!!
2012-05-04 22:51:57

Our toilet keeps plugging up because we have been using these so called “flushable wipes”. Obviously, step one would be get rid of these wipes but I gotta tell ya first, there’s nothing like the squeaky clean feeling you get after wiping #2 with a wet wipe so, that’s out of the question.

My question is, what would be proper procedure for discarding used butt wipes if we cannot flush them? Is it sanitary/safe to put them in a trash bag and once about full, take out to the street and expect the city trash collectors to take it? I always thought you had to be very particular about disposing human feces or toilet items.

On the edge of my seat waiting for your reply!!!

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2012-05-05 10:55:07

I don’t think there’s any issues with disposing of the used wipes in the trash since there is no special procedure that people use for soiled baby diapers (at least in my state) and some of those get pretty nasty.

 
 
Comment by Daeyel
2012-06-05 16:42:30

One thing completely unmentioned is toilet paper. On various barter item lists I run across on the internet, Good ole TP is listed in the top 25. So, if you have a supply when TSHTF, people want this stuff!

Me? I’m male, I have no use for it. For women, however, it may be a bit of dearly prized civilized normalcy. Remember also, TP is not just for rear ends. Women need absorbents for their monthly period, so guys, if you have some, save it for their needs.

Yup, it sounds hilarious, but what else will you use to wipe your hangers-on? Don’t want to use your hands, because then you have to wash them. clean water comes at a premium. Soap is way too hard to make the ‘pioneer way’ to use it for disinfectant purposes after every #2.
Leaves and rocks will run out pretty quick, and are quite gross and scratchy. Leaves can tear, leaving you with needing clean water and sanitizer all over again. Plus, leaves and rocks may introduce germs, bacteria and biting pests to a sensitive region. Didn’t see that tick on the rock, did you?

What I’ll do, and what I advise everyone else to do, is grab the knife and a piece of wood, and carve a butt wiper. Simple, reusable, and very easy to clean. (If using catholes, use it to prepare the next one. Cleans it right away and preps you for an urgent emergency that will not wait for a cathole to be dug.)
I do recommend a different one for each family member.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2012-06-05 22:37:16

Daeyel,

Thanks for the great suggestions and comments!

Hygiene products would indeed make great barter items. It’s those little comforts we take for granted that will be sorely missed if we all of a sudden are deprived of them.

 
 
Comment by Sharon
2012-10-27 13:18:12

What is the point to all this? To save a water bill or are people just that nasty? I doubt that I’m going to save a tree by not flushing the toliet

 
Comment by Sarah
2012-10-31 01:47:20

Sharon, this is in case of power failure, like during a hurricane. If there’s no water or power, you can’t flush.

 
Comment by Ace
2012-11-15 01:10:01

Do what the climbers do. Recycle your water/Gatorade bottles. Milk jugs would work too. Women can use a funnel if the neck is narrow. Write a big XXXX on the bottle with a Sharpie or stick on some flagging tape so nobody makes a very bad mistake. And for #2, just use those cheap little doggie poop bags that cost like $1 for 100 per pack at the dollar store. They come in nice colors like blue, black and gray so you don’t have to see what’s inside.

 
Comment by rich
2012-11-15 11:46:08

Nowhere have I seen anything about rainwater harvesting. One side of my house has a 30-gallon garbage can to collect rain water while on the other side of my house the roof drains onto a garden. I use the 30 gallon water drum for whatever purpose at hand: gardening, shower, cooking, put out fire, etc. and there’s also an outside tap and sink draining into a container, where I wash my hands, dishes, etc. The sink also captures food particles from cleaning dishes and washing hands after eating. Food particles and water go to the garden for watering and fertilization.

 
Comment by rich
2012-11-15 11:53:04

You can use your poop as fertilizer for a tree. Check out the “Arborloo”. http://aquamor.tripod.com/ArborLoo2.HTM

 
Comment by rich
2012-11-15 11:55:20

As for the urine, it’s usually sterile. Dilute it 10:1 and your plants will grow like crazy.

 
Comment by Ecomum
2012-11-15 15:21:01

My daughter lives off-grid and with composting toilets. One of the things you learn very quickly is to keep urine separate from solid waste. It cuts down the smell, is easier to keep covered with woodash, etc, and makes it simpler to carry away the can for emptying, (and you don’t need to do it so often). She’s made her compost toilet with a pee-catcher that syphons it out into a separate bucket.
Full containers have a close-fitting lid attached and are then stored for 2-3 years in an out-of-the-way area, then used on non-food areas of the garden. By then it looks just like compost/soil and there’s no smell.

 
Comment by Rosie
2012-11-26 02:08:04

We used leaves when we kids needed to go out in the forest (there and then it was no problem to wander off into the wild w/o adults as there weren’t human or animal predators around). I was a girl and I tell you, leaves are OK for wiping #1 and #2 (you learn not to take the scratchy ones). Harder to deal with periods later-on in life. Small, non applicator tampons, but there are also reusable options available.

 
Comment by styopa
2012-12-16 10:24:07

Certainly, it’s a great fertilizer. However, just don’t EVER use human waste to fertilize something that may be consumed by humans. Scat from any meat eater, in fact, is too dangerous to use as fertilizer around any consumables.

 
Comment by Catherine
2012-12-18 11:34:42

I have used one of those composting toilets for years at the cottage exactly like the one you have pictured. They work GREAT!

 
Comment by Jill
2012-12-29 02:00:07

I’ve been researching rain barrels quite a bit this week & due to the stuff like chemicals & bird doo on your roof. it’s not recommended to use this water on yourself, your pets, livestock, food or gardens. There are some ridiculous amount of steps that you can do to filter and purify it though. I had planned to use this type of water for the toilets before reading this article but I guess that’s out of the question now too

 
Comment by Ozzie
2013-01-07 09:42:24

I have used self composting toilets in national parks in Australia. The ones they use are hooked up to a battery with solar panels to recharge them. To use they look like the old school pit toilets but amazingly they had NO SMELL at all. They convert everything into usable compost and are very reliable as they are placed in areas with minimal access (and no water). Very cool!!!

 
Comment by TC
2013-01-13 00:39:31

Google diva cup (various brand choices). It’s like a reusable tampon. Great modern solution for most women!

 
Comment by Randall
2013-01-14 20:07:34

This method would work best:

http://youtu.be/0Y0nXUzieqs

 
Comment by Randall
2013-01-14 20:13:40

Here is a market solution regarding your comment:

http://earthquakeassurance.com

 
Comment by iris
2013-02-23 12:45:40

I’m still saving for land. But, I have an idea of how I would build a septic tank with walls of stone/clay/wood but in such a way that the water coming to the top would flow off into a separate septic tank which when heated mite produce fumes wherein the methane gases could drop off into a third tank which hopefully could be useful as a gas? The feces I would like to dry out as feces are also known to catch on fire…rite? Plus, mixed with dirt/sand would be a good fertilizer but I am not sure if one would need to heat it up to disinfect it? I’m storing some coffee cans to be used for a sewer line as they are lite and easy to carry. Now, all I need is the land and a hillside.

 
Comment by Misty
2013-03-15 12:36:05

How do you know if the sewer main is down?

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2013-03-17 20:19:17

You’ll either be notified by your local authorities or when you flush or send water down the drain it comes back up.

 
 
Comment by Ben
2013-04-05 05:02:43

Where should these wastes to be disposed from septic tank either any ponds or wat???

 
Comment by Spencer
2013-04-16 17:24:01

In the 5 gallon bucket section of the City Dwellers section, you mention that when your bucket is 2/3 full and you need to replace it, you should add quicklime, ash, etc, to disinfect it before storage. As an apartment dweller, I don’t have easy access to either of those things, or even the dirt listed as an alternative. However, if you had kitty litter around, would that work as a disinfectant? Or, if not, could you apply the chlorine solution to it as you would with dirt, to allow it to act as a disinfectant?

Thanks for the help! :)

 
2013-04-18 18:49:27

Hi Spencer,

Kitty litter is a great option. I don’t recommend Bleach since it will kill the good bacteria that will help break down the feces.

 
Comment by mike
2013-04-19 02:07:13

Just look up Humanure. The book is free on the Net and purchasable at Amazon

 
Comment by larry
2013-04-19 03:09:14

In the military sanitation was a bigger problem than the enemy. Bad sanitation was a major problem in both my tours in Vietnam and Afghanistan. i.e. At Baghram in the British section in 2002 several soldiers died of food poisoning from poor sanitation. The Viets used human waste to fertilize rice and the Afghans would deposit solid waste in ditches and streams that were used as drinking and irrigation water down stream. When on combat bases for extended periods of months or more, where no facilities are available, we used metal 50+ gallon barrels cut down to slide under a seat. The barrels would be filled partially with diesel fuel to cover the solid waste to keep the flies from landing. Soldiers would deposit solid waste in the barrel. Tissue, toilet paper, and whips would be deposited in a plastic bag. The solid waste would be burned to get rid of it. We would have to add something to the diesel to get it going because it is not easy to start. We would also burn the tissue bag separately. For males we had urine tubes. We dug holes about 6 feet deep and a plastic pipe or tube 4 or 5 inches in diameter and 8 feet long. The pipe had holes drilled in the side on the bottom 4 feet. We also put a screen about 6 inches into the pipe to keep flies out and urine splash in the tube. we Filled the hole with 4 feet of large gravel, covered with cheese cloth, then 2 feet of pea gravel (pun intended) until we were at ground level. The cheese cloth is to stop the pea gravel from filling in the holes between the larger gravel but allow water to pass for poor aim and rain. I only had 1 to 3 females on the base so they used the barrels for the solid waste. but if i had a larger number of females i would have set up a barrel for urine only. it the urine barrel was not satisfactory we would experiment with different types of barrels with drainage tubes going into the ground like the male tubes. This worked because we had diesel, we had about 100 soldiers. Because we were rocketed several times a week we put these facilities in several locations away from living areas. This meant if one was hit by a rocket they were not all destroyed, the explosion would not throw human waste with the schrapnal into living areas, and not less chance of a person being at the one destroyed. None of the articles i have read seem to want to deal with getting rid of the human solid waste except in a septic tank. i am going to do some more study to find other ways to get rid of the waste in a sanitary way in urban and suburban areas.
If they are any ideas on getting rid of solid waste i would be interested. I do not believe burying is a long term solution it seems to always find a way to get to the water.

 
Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2013-04-19 12:34:07

Larry,

Great comments. Thanks for your insights and experience.

 
Comment by Boris
2013-07-16 22:17:17

I’m really enjoying the design and layout of your website. It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more pleasant
for me to come here and visit more often. Did you hire
out a designer to create your theme? Superb work!
Many thanks!

 
Comment by kevin
2013-12-20 22:32:53

So, Just spitballing here, MAKE your own wind turbines that can feed your water pump, I am pretty confident that you’d pull enough electricity to work your water pump.. Another thought would be to have a tank for storing water when you think you might be out of power for a bit.

 
Comment by JayJay
2014-01-13 19:11:23

If the situation is that bad, will you have sanitation workers??
Just in a shtf scenario?

 
Comment by DaveP
2014-03-19 21:55:59

Re: rainwater from rooftops – I have read this as well…I’ve read that if you discard the first several gallons of water that contain the jet exhaust particles, bird poop, etc it helps a lot – take a PVC pipe, cap the bottom end, drill a small drip hole (so that it drains for the next rain) and have a overflow pipe at the top so that when it fills up with the dirty water the cleaner water can run into your water storage.

And, I don’t think using even the dirty water will hurt for flushing…that water is dirty anyway, no? :)

 
Name (required)
E-mail (required - never shown publicly)
URI
Your Comment (smaller size | larger size)
You may use <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> in your comment.
*

Trackback responses to this post