Thursday, October 8, 2009

One Flush Left

So what are you going to do when the water is shut off and you have one flush left in the toilet? This can happen, by the way, for any number of reasons.

  • A break in the water main disrupts delivery to your house
  • An earthquake shatters the water pipes
  • Nasty winter weather freezes the pipes
  • Equipment failure of the community water supply system
  • Contamination of the water supply requires a shut-down of water delivery
  • Drought results in water shortage
  • A power outage shuts down the community water pumps
  • etc.
Sanitation is a high priority in a survival incident because, if you don't take care of sanitation, disease will soon find your camp. You must figure out how to handle the human waste problem. This is a situation that is so easy to solve, yet most people never give it a second thought. No matter where you live, you have options.
  • Buy a chemical porta potty (and extra chemicals)
  • Use a 5-gallon bucket, some plastic bags to line the bucket, and a toilet seat that you place on top
  • Dig a latrine, if you have the open land to permit it
  • Get a composting toilet and some peat moss
We've done all of the above at one time or another, so we can report with some authority on each of these options.

A chemical porta potty works well, but the holding tank is limited to about 5 gallons or less. Depending on the size of your family, you might have to empty it every couple of days. When you do, you're dealing with wet sewage, so you'll need to find a suitable place to dispose of it.

A bucket is a poor-man's porta potty. Lined with plastic bags, you can collect all the waste in the bag and haul it out for disposal without messing up the bucket. A toilet seat placed on the bucket makes things a lot more comfortable.

A latrine is just an excavated hole in the ground into which one makes a "direct deposit" when nature calls. Actually, if you cut the bottom out of the plastic bucket and position it over the latrine, you can have a place to sit while pondering your circumstances. Toss some soil or wood ashes over the deposit when finished. When one latrine spot has reached capacity, move to a new spot.

More than a year ago, we acquired a composting toilet made by Nature's Head ( that separates the liquid from solid waste. The liquid goes into a collecting tank that holds a couple gallons and can be emptied when necessary. The solids go into a dry holding tank that contains some peat moss. By turning a hand crank after the deposit has been made, the human waste is mixed with the peat moss and over time it turns into compost. Continuous air flow is necessary to promote the composting process, and a small fan is integrated into the system, to be powered by a 12-volt battery or small solar panel to sustain the air flow. As the composting takes place, the waste nearly disappears, so you can go for a long while before emptying. In fact, the longer you wait before emptying the unit, the better the compost gets, and the odor is virtually undetectable.

All of these toilet options are intended for outdoor use, it is a good idea to have a shelter for privacy and protection from the weather. A cabana-style tent is idea for this purpose. The privacy enclosure pictured here is Model 747-82, available from Stansport ( for less than $40.

And while we're on this fine subject, have you given any thought to what you'll do when you reach the last sheet of toilet paper on the last roll? You have only a couple of options here — stock up with toilet paper, or learn to improvise by using old newspapers and "bottom friendly" plant leaves. Take it from me, it's a much happier situation if you just buy toilet paper in bulk packaging and have a healthy supply handy for any emergencies.

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