How To Dispose of Human Waste After Disasters

May 19, 2022

Dealing with the “S” after SHTF

When most people in the prepping community consider the aftermath of a prolonged grid-down scenario, they often prepare for things like food, water, and security.  Those are all very important, but you are far more likely to die from germs due to improper sanitation than in a gunfight.  Diseases that can spread to you from fecal matter include viral hepatitis, adenovirus, E. coli, and dysentery.  Any one of those viruses, bacteria, fungi, or parasites can kill you when the grid is up, and you have the best medical care.  After a disaster with its heightened stress suppressing your body’s immune functions, you are very susceptible.  You must have a plan to dispose of human waste and a hygiene regimen after a disaster. You have to be able to maintain the safe removal of bodily wastes from your home environment.

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Waste PlanThe human body produces an average of almost 5-gallons of waste per week.  Human waste can make you or others sick quite easily with only limited exposure.  If sewage is non-operational, you could still flush it by pouring water into the toilet bowl, but this uses precious water resources.  You have to have a plan for waste disposal. The first part of that plan involves knowing where your sewage backflow valve is.  Most new construction has a backflow valve.  If lines get clogged or back up, if you live in an apartment or in an area where flooding may occur, sewage could cause backflow up out of your toilet.  This can instantly make your home base unlivable.  If your home has one of these valves, it’s essential to clean it every year or every other year.  Material can build up under the valve flap, which would cause it to stick and not function properly when sewage starts back flowing into your home.

Once you understand your backflow situation, you need to develop a plan that assumes your toilet will be inoperable.  Maybe lines will be damaged.  Likely, water will stop flowing.  If the water lines are down, you turn on your faucets, and there is no water coming out, your toilet will not be able to fill up its reserve flushing tank.  Toilets work on the principle of overflow.  If you add water into the opening of a toilet, it will flush if the lines aren’t damaged.  That’s great, but you don’t want to be dumping vital water resources simply to flush your toilet.  Here we will cover the basics of the two bucket and toilet bowl approach, camping toilets, a basic toiletries kit, trench latrines, wiping materials, odor reduction, and ultimately, your waste disposal after any disaster.


Bucket ApproachThe typical approach to emergency waste management is the two bucket approach.  You want one 5-gallon bucket for liquid waste and one for solid waste.  You want to keep them separated because the smell will be most extreme if mixed, and disposal is easier when separated.  Mark each bucket to avoid confusion.  One person will fill approximately half of one solid-waste bucket per week, including carbon material or toilet paper.  A single person will be able to fill two bucket loads of solid waste, including toilet paper or carbon material, 4/5ths full in a month.  Obviously, the more people in your unit, the faster the buckets will fill.  One person can fill a bucket 4/5ths full in two weeks.  Two people will fill it the same amount in a week.  Four people will fill it within three days.

If you switch to an emergency diet of high-fiber pinto beans and rice, you will be going to the bathroom much more.  However, the reduced fats in your diet will result in less need for wiping.  As for your urine bucket, if you are not filling it at a decent rate, you may not be getting enough water.  Urine can be easily dumped in a toilet system, and toilets can sometimes be flushed after a disaster by adding water to them, but it’s best not to waste precious water resources.  If you use compostable bags, you can discard your waste more efficiently.  We will address dumping waste later in the blog.   

Special seat lids can be purchased for your bucket and special compostable waste bags.  When potty training our child on long trips, we fashioned a makeshift seat by slicing a pool noodle lengthwise and affixing it to the rim and trash bag on a standard 5-gallon bucket.  If you don’t use compostable bags, make sure you use contract-grade bags in your emergency kit.  Most trash bags will do for short-term use, but contractor bags will be best in an emergency situation to hold the most waste material.  These are thicker and will protect against breaking.  For the solid waste bucket, make sure to have kitty litter on hand.  When a scoop is thrown onto the waste, it will draw out the moisture, reduce odor, and make the solid waste more manageable and disposable.  You can use carbon-based materials like sawdust, shredded paper, wood chips, or dried leaves, so long as you don’t eventually empty your bucket into a septic system.  A combination of baking soda and sawdust is highly effective at reducing odor. The moisture is drawn into the sawdust, and the baking sodas have a basic pH that will neutralize odors.  If you eventually bury your full bags, you can freely use carbon material in a layer over the toilet paper and feces, which will speed up decomposition.

You will want a third bucket entirely if you plan on disposing of any diapers.  For all buckets, once the bag is sealed, it can easily be removed and disposed of properly.  If bag breakage is a concern, tie off the bag and carry it in the bucket to the disposal site, where you can then roll it out of the bucket into your disposal hole.


Compostable BagsIf sitting on a bucket is too tricky, a drained toilet can be used with a bag liner.  It will not be as effective at odor reduction, and you will still need separate toilets– one for liquid and one for solid wastes.  This will work with any standard toilet bowl.  You can shut off the water and drain out the bowl. Then, you can put the bag inside it, drape it over the edges, and tape it around the bowl. Then you can do the same thing as with the buckets, use kitty litter for the solids bowl and a water and bleach combination for the liquids bowl.  Take out the bags as they are filled up.  While this is an option for less agile folks, the bucket approach is preferred by many, as the contents will stack and fill a single 5-gallon bucket for the purposes of storage.


Backyard ToiletThe next option is just to go to the bathroom in your backyard.  This is really only an option if you live in a suburban area with a private backyard or in a rural area.  You will want to keep the trench as far away from your house as possible and as far away from water sources.  You will need to dig down 2 to 3 feet and at least a foot or two wide. The deeper the hole, the more waste it will hold and the longer you can use it.  Ensure that the hole is not below a hillside or an embankment where water might wash through it and toward your home.

The latrine method is the most ancient of all methods and allows you to dispose of both liquid and solid waste in the same location without separation. You can use a privacy tent or set up sheets around it for privacy.  You can either squat over the whole or arrange 2x4s to support your weight. After each use, you will want to toss in a scoop of ash, dirt, garden lime, sawdust, hay, or other drying and deodorizing compound.  If you skip this step, it will start to smell fast because of its outdoor exposure.

The smell will attract insects that may harbor other pathogens.  Insects will attract rodents, who may also be carriers of disease.  It may also make others aware of your presence.  When the whole is filled within 6 inches of the top, fill it and mound it over with dirt.  You will have to dig a new latrine hole.  Within a year, the waste material will have significantly decomposed.  In an extended SHTF situation, this soil can be used in limited amounts and after a few months as a fertilizer.


Camping ToiletThey are on the pricier side, but a camping toilet is ideal for an emergency situation.  It provides you with flushing capability and contains the waste into a special storage container.  The design tries to contain the odors as much as possible, and you have some time before you need to separate the unit and dump the waste.  The container can be carried away from your area and dumped.



In our earlier blog on this subject, we walk you through building a typical post-disaster toiletry kit.  We have used this kit on multiple camping trips, so we will take a look and see where it is at and what we should consider adding to it.

Inside the watertight lid are antibacterial soap, toilet paper, some basic moist wipes, diapers if you have any kids that may need them, hand sanitizer, a 2-liter bottle of water for handwashing or otherwise, a hand trowel for digging small holes, a spray bottle for a sanitizing and deodorizing compound, feminine products, detergent, trash bags, nitrile gloves because some people have latex allergies, and some deodorizing crystals.

When we repack this, we’ll take the cardboard rollers out of the toilet paper and press them all down into a gallon ziplock bag.  This will give it an added layer of waterproofing and allow me to store it more efficiently.


Baby WipesWhen it comes to wiping materials, if you won’t eventually get rid of this solid waste in a toilet or septic system, we recommend baby wipes or some other typically-non-flushable wipe.  Choose cotton-based wipes to increase their compostability.  Traditional toilet paper or even leaves will work, but a non-flushable wipe will be most effective and take up less space in your receptacle.  If you ever find yourself in a situation where you have neither toilet paper nor wipes, there are alternatives you can use.  Any paper made softened and unsmooth by rubbing it briskly between your hands like a newspaper or magazine pages.   In a dire situation, even a smooth rock can be used.  A cloth you are willing to dispose of can be used.  Most people turn to the leaves of plants.  Known leaves traditionally used for this purpose are the sunflower, mullein, maple, cottonwood, or the husk of corn.


Waste Odor ControlKeeping a lid on it will prevent attracting insects, but smell reduction can be accomplished in several ways.  Adding sawdust and baking soda into your urine bucket will keep the smell down and have some absorptive qualities.  Kitty litter often comes with odor capturing and reducing chemicals built into it.  A bucket of hydrated lime, dolomite, garden lime, calcium carbonate, or calcium hydroxide–all variations of the same compound–can sit next to both buckets.  Lime raises the pH higher than 12.4, so it will help to destroy pathogens.  Sprinkling a one-ounce scoop of hydrated lime into either bucket will reduce odor and later speed the decomposition process of the waste material.  You can also make a bleach and water solution with a few drops of scented oil and place this mixture in a spray bottle.  Spraying it after using the toilets will reduce the signature profile of the waste.

If you have ash or activated charcoal in large amounts, this will neutralize odors and dry up the waste material.  It will also aid in the final decomposition of the waste material.  One option many turn to for odor neutralization is CampaChem or the even more concentrated AquaChem.  These are typically used in RV holding tanks, so they are powerful.  Some of the products of this nature can contain formaldehyde, which can be harmful to the environment or to you with long-term exposure, so favor RV holding tank deodorizers that lean towards the green with enzymatic or aerobic bacterial action.


Human Waste DumpingThe key to getting rid of your waste is to remove it from your living area and keep it at least 200 feet, about 70 adult paces, from any water source or trails.  You will want a hole deep enough to allow at least 3-inches of soil on top.  If you are using compostable bags, the waste material will decompose into CO2, H20, and soil-like material in about 90 days.  If you are burying construction-grade plastic bags, leave the top only twisted and not sealed, and this process of biodegrading the solid materials will take much longer.

Liquid waste can be similarly disposed of, but it will often seep into the ground and can be covered with a layer of dirt.  Again, make sure that your waste material is dumped far away from where people live or any water source.  Many people get around the liquid and spillage issue by using a powder urine solidifier.  These will encapsulate urine and trap odor into a gel-like structure.  That will prevent leaking and splashing.  Just one teaspoon of this sprinkled on the urine will be enough to convert it to a gel.  These solidifier powders come in environmentally friendly types, and one container can last for hundreds of uses.  They are not suggested for septic systems, so using a urine solidifier requires that you physically dispose of the waste when it is time.  


Our normal routines are dramatically altered in the aftermath of a disaster.  Our bathroom habits change, as well, from an altered diet and high stress.  Just as you plan your food, water, and energy preps, you have to plan for your human waste and its safe disposal.  If you don’t, you could easily become fatally ill.  Take a look at my other blog on building an emergency toiletry kit which we will link to here, to round out this information.


As always, stay safe out there.


Another video on this subject:



5-Gallon Bucket: 

Toilet Seat: 

Camping Toilet: 

Contractor Trash Bags: 

Urine Solidifier: 

Odor Tablets: 

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