How to dispose of human waste (poop and pee) after a disaster

May 13, 2017

After a major catastrophe hits an area, of the things that people often overlook is what to do with human excrement. It’s easy to get focused on stocking food and water but if you live an urban or suburban environment in a relatively high population density, this can become a huge problem. This is a very important discussion as diseases like Cholera or Dysentery can quickly spread through a community leading to severe illnesses or even death. Would you know what would you do if a catastrophe prevented you from being able to use your toilets and sewage?

Here’s what we’ll cover in this article regarding handling feces and urine in an urban environment after a catastrophe:

  • Considerations in an urban environment
  • Sanitation and disease
  • Existing options for waste disposal
  • How to build your own disaster toilet now for cheap
  • How to properly use your disaster toilet
  • Other options on the market

So what do we need to consider in an urban environment?

In this article, we’ll discuss how to dispose of your excrement in an Urban/Suburban environment where options like digging a hole or burning it probably won’t be a good idea or even possible. If you live in the country and have a septic tank that’s not reliant upon the grid being operational, well, you’re lucky. For the rest of us, with a little planning which we’ll cover, you’ll be just fine.

The typical person on a daily basis outputs about 2 to 3 pints of urine and about 1 pound of excrement. Now if you do the math for your family, you’ll quickly realize that a typical family of 4 is barely producing more crap than a U.S. Congressman does within 1 hour. Since most people living in an urban or suburban environment are producing this amount of excrement, they’ll need to quickly dispose of it if the sewage stops working or big problems will start happening quickly. Imagine if your toilet won’t flush and you only have a few thousand square feet of land in your yard. Simply digging a hole and doing your business will be problematic as you start running out of places to dig holes and in addition, having excrement that close to your house raises severe sanitation problems. And an even bigger problem comes up if you live in an apartment or in an intercity environment where simply digging a hole is not an option.

We also have to consider proper sanitation and the issues of diseases

Failure to properly dispose of human waste leads to epidemics such as typhoid, dysentery, cholera and diarrhea. Diseases like Cholera were so rampant in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquakes due primarily due to sanitation issues. When most people in the prepping community consider the aftermath of a prolonged grid down scenario, they often prepare for water, food, and security. But you’re far more likely to die from germs due to improper sanitation than a gun fight or confrontation. It’s important that we keep our human waste away from our food and water as well as ensuring we’re keeping our hands clean after using the bathroom. Nothing would be worse than watching your family suffer and potentially die from a preventable medical illness when there’s no doctor around to help and you’re trying to simply survive. I once contracted giardia years ago after a mountain climbing trip. Being knocked flat on my back and unable to do really much of anything other than suffer was not a pleasant experience. Staying healthy in a SHTF scenario is critical.

So what are available options for waste disposal that you already have?

The first option is to use your toilet. Now, this option is only available if you’re 100% sure the sewage lines are intact and you’re being advised that you can use your sewer. If you’re not 100% sure, then absolutely do not use this option. But if the local authorities are telling you that it’s safe, then you can simply dump a bucket of water into the throat of the toilet and the waste will be washed down. Again, you must be 100% sure that this is approved. If you don’t know, then don’t follow this approach. If the sewage lines are damaged or plugged, if you flush your toilet, you’ll probably get a sewage backup in your home which can lead to additional sanitary problems. I had this happen one time in my RV and trust me, you don’t want it in your home. Also, it may not be a bad idea to shut off the water behind the tank to prevent someone from accidentally flushing the toilet. I have kids and don’t want them to inadvertently do this.

If you can’t flush your toilet or the sewer lines are backed up, then what can you use?

Well, the toilet still can be used. First, be sure to shut off the water valve behind the toilet. Remember, righty tighty, lefty loosey. Then remove all the water in the water container behind the bowl using a cup (this water is safe to use for other things by the way). You’ll want to remove all the water in the toilet bowl again with a cup and probably best to put on some nitrile gloves while doing this to avoid contamination. You can double line the toilet bowl with a heavy-duty garbage bag and follow the same procedure as you do with a disaster toilet which we’ll discuss more momentarily. I personally wouldn’t use this approach as the waste is now sitting in a bag in your toilet that has to be removed and carried to a disposal site.

So how do you build your own disaster toilet?

Here’s what I did. I went to Lowe’s and picked up a 5-gallon bucket with a lid and several other items at the dollar store. These items including the bucket only set me back about $25 which considering how important this would be in a grid down scenario to help prevent the spread of disease is a great deal in my opinion. It’s important to note though that this option is good for a short term solution when you can store trash bags somewhere until the grid comes back up and sanitation services are restored. Toward the end of the article, we’ll give a quick introduction to more long-term approaches if the grid doesn’t come back up within a few months.

I went to Lowe’s and the dollar store. I got a 5-gallon bucket with a lid and several other items we’ll go over. The first thing I did was cut a noodle I purchased at the dollar store length-wise. With the noodle on the edge of the toilet seat, you now have a comfortable place to sit when nature calls.

Here’s what’s inside my 5-gallon toilet bucket. Remember, you can modify it to your specific needs but here’s the breakdown of my setup.

  • A 5-gallon bucket with lid
  • Noodle from the dollar store that is already cut to fit on the bucket
  • Diapers if you have a baby
  • Small gardening trowel
  • Nitrile gloves
  • Calcium Hypochlorite or as it’s more commonly known pool shock. Mixing this with water and putting it in the spray bottle I have in the bucket allows you to create a disinfectant spray to clean the bucket.
  • Washing detergent that can be used to help create an odor barrier.
  • Sanitary napkins and personal hygiene items
  • Paper towels or cloth towels to use after washing your hands.
  • Spray bottle to mix with the calcium hypochlorite and water (be sure to label it) and use it to disinfect.
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Heavy-duty (13-gallon) trash bag liners to line the 5-gallon buckets … don’t skimp on these and buy cheap, thin trash bags.
  • 2-litre bottle of water for washing hands
  • Several rolls of toilet paper
  • Tush Wipes
  • Sanitizer wipes for your hands

Alright, so how do you properly use your Disaster Potty?

After taking the Browns to the Superbowl, and urinating, it’s a good time to put down a layer of sawdust, dirt or leaves depending on what you have around you. Heck, even kitty litter will work in a pinch or after pinching one off. Have a bucket with quicklime, leaves, kitty litter or sawdust nearby will be helpful so that after handling your business, you can put a layer of covering which will help reduce the stench and prevent flies from being attracted. Since we’re discussing short-term waste disposal in an urban environment, you can throw your toilet paper in the bottom of the bucket. If we were discussing a long-term situation which we’ll touch on toward the end of the article, you’d be better off putting your toilet paper in a separate container. When the bag is about 2/3rd’s to 3/4th full or beginning to be a bit unbearable, simply tie the bag off and take it outdoors until it can be disposed of properly when sanitation services resume. In the kit we built above, we included a spray bottle and calcium hypochlorite. You might want to add some of this inside the bag to help reduce the smell or even a splash of chlorine bleach will help. If you live in an apartment and have nowhere to bury the bags, double bag them and then seal them the best you can. Place them in a large garbage can until the city can collect the trash and dispose of it. If you live in a more suburban environment and don’t have a place to take the bags or there’s not a dumpster nearby, then you’ll need to take it far from your home and bury it. Also best not to bury it near streams or places where there will be run off as you’ll inevitably contribute to diseases that could impact your community.

Again, after disposing of the bag, be sure to properly wash and sanitize your hands. We want to do all we can to avoid getting sick which is why I included the nitrile gloves.

Options on the market

So here’s a few options on the market. I’ve never personally purchased or used these products but they have consistently come up when researching this subject.

Speaking of Compost toilets, you should Google “how to make a compost toilet”. I learned a lot researching these options which I might discuss in a future article. I came across some a really interesting article which I’ll provide a link to in the description below about how after the earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, the community began using compost toilets who were unable to use their flush toilets because of the damage to the centralized city sewer system. The permaculture community came together to teach the residents what to do with their poop and pee after the sewage system went down. You should really study this more if you’re interested in a long term approach to handling human waste if the grid doesn’t come back quickly in an urban/suburban environment.

Thanks again for taking the time to read this article. If you have any feedback or insight on anything I missed or didn’t cover, please feel free to share in the comments section below as I learn so much from the Youtube community. If you enjoyed the article, please feel free to share on social media.

As always, be safe out there.

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1 year ago

You mentioned in passing that one can throw in a splash of chlorine bleach in, to reduce smell. Question: is chlorine bleach the same as Clorox bleach. I was taught to never clean a toilet with bleach bcz when mixed with urine (which has ammonia) creates a chemical reaction equivalent to Mustard Gas. Very harmful. Any knowledge or confirmation on this possibility?

Sam prong
Sam prong
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim

It’s not necessarily urine or any substances in particular that you need to focus on when it comes to bleach gas hazards. People should really just learn that the risk of creating deadly gases can result from mixing bleach with anything that is going to change the pH significantly and quickly enough. Unless you know chemistry well enough, stick to just water and check packages of anything else you are thinking about mixing with bleach, regardless of the type. Water will have a much lower pH than bleach but it’s not going to react to create chlorine off gassing. Since… Read more »

2 years ago

I love your sense of humor . The Browns to the Super Bowl😂😂

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