Sunday, October 18, 2009

Disaster, pt 1: No working bathroom!

Note: This post contains talk of potties and sewage. There is no crude or vulgar language, but it is to the point and perhaps a bit graphic. But...what good is talking about disaster preparedness if you're not going to give necessary information to get people to think about the subject?

Lately there have been a few of the blogs that I frequent having discussions about sanitation in an area that had a long-term, wide-spread disaster. Think; “the water and sewage facilities are all down and will be down for weeks/months/who-knows-when, you're trapped where you are, what do you do now?” type scenarios.


Many people suggest a 5 gallon bucket with a lid and heavy-duty, lawn type plastic bags to line the bucket and you're going to plop a regular toilet seat on top of the bucket to use it. Others suggested a dug latrine. I'm guessing these people have NEVER, on a long-term basis used either of these suggestions.


As I see it, here's the downfall to these suggestions:


5 gallon bucket and plastic bags

  1. Uhmmmm... know how badly a couple of poopy baby diapers smell after a couple of hours in your trash can in the house? Or the smell when you walk in behind a family member who has gone, flushed and it STILL smells in the bathroom? What in the world do they think a bucket that has a plastic bag in it will smell after 1 day of family use?? Can you imagine after THREE days of use? I can tell you! OPEN SEWAGE is what it smells like. And I can say, for a FACT that EVERY TIME you take the lid off to use it, you WILL GAG. Reason: there's nothing between you and the smell of the open bucket. Not to mention that when you go poo, it will back splash on you – remember, it's plopping into a container of liquid.

  2. Then there's that seat that's just plopped on top of the bucket. I'm here to tell you, that baby will shift on you when you or one of the kids tries to wipe themselves and you stand a GOOD chance of tipping a stinky bucket over! Can we all say EEEEWWWWWW at having to clean that up - With. No. Running. Water. Even if you buy a “special” seat that is supposed to go on top of a 5 gallon bucket will cause the bucket to tip if you lean at all. Look at 5 gallon buckets. They are usually smaller on the bottom than on top, making it top-heavy. Leaning kids (or YOU) will cause it to tip over even with the special seat. Unless you want to sit it on your rug in the hopes of taming the slipping of the bucket when sat upon. No? I don't think that sounds like a good idea either! If it spills on carpet you're really toast.

  3. And then what happens when you go to empty it? Chances are, that trash bag will LEAK. Yup, think of how many times your bags leak on you when you have trash in them. Liquid is heavier than the regular trash that is put into the bags. And even if you only use it for one day, it will still be heavy. Plus, what will you do when the bags eventually run out? Where will you bury it? Sewage should be kept 100 feet from any well or running water. If you live in a city, do you even have a yard to bury it in? What about those of you that live in an apartment?

  4. Chemicals to cut the smell. Yes, some of them work. Some better than others. People have suggested lime, dirt, baking soda, or RV chemical solutions. Uhmmm, what are you going to do when the chemicals run out? (Remember, this isn't a day or two things we're talking about here. Think Katrina.)

  5. Children drowning in the bucket. Children drown in 3-5 gallon buckets every year. The child comes up to it, bend over to look in it, loses their balance, topple into the contents, but can't get themselves back out of it! This also happens with mop buckets. And a 2-4 year old may not be deterred by the smell. Do you want to be doing CPR on a sewage-covered child? Eeeewww! Not to mention that your chances of reviving them with no hospital is NOT so good!

Digging a latrine:

  1. Yes, in many places you are still allowed to dig a latrine. Again, you're going to have the problem of it smelling every time you go into it use it. Lime was the way the old folks treated the outhouse. But remember, every so often it needs to be filled in and moved. They worked well in the country where people had some land. Not good at all in the city. Can not do in an apartment. People used to use a “thunder mug” in the house and toss the contents out the window into the street (and sometimes hit passers-by with it).

  2. Can we spell “Cholera”? “Typhus”? “Diphtheria”? Yep, raw sewage helped spread those diseases and many more.

  3. It has to be away from water sources and it has to be deep enough.

  4. You need to build some kind of shelter that will keep the elements, animals (and SNAKES) out. So...that means some sort of roof, and walls for privacy. Oh, here in the south, make sure you sweep the seat before you sit on it. Black widow and brown recluse LIKE outhouses. Actually, so do snakes. It's warm in there on a cold winter's night.

  5. Ever had to go when you're camping and it's pouring down raining? Cold rain or snow is even more fun. What about having diarrhea or having a child with it? Do you want to have to run outside each time the facilities are needed? Do you want to keep a “thunder mug” under the bed and hope it doesn't spill if it's used? Or that your pets don't mess with it under there? Do you want to have to waste water to clean it each day or just live with the smell? Not me!

So, what's an answer?


Years ago, I was able to purchase first a house trailer and later, 5 acres of land. When I moved the trailer to the land, I had no septic system, no electricity, no phone, and no water.


One thing that I bought (and have kept) is a port-a-potty. It doesn't take up any more room than a 5 gallon bucket. It separates into two sections to empty and clean it so that when you are emptying it, you don't have to haul the whole thing around with you.


It has a 1 gal reservoir for "flushing" (it got to where I didn't both to fill that section because it doesn't “flush”, it just sort of “rinses”) and a 5 gal "holding area" that has an outside indicator to show how full it is. It has both a carrying handle integrated into it and an "emptying" handle to control the bottom section of the potty while emptying it. It has a regular seat on it to sit on – there is even a ring to lift (and argue over putting down – just like the real thing. Lol). It also has a place for the TP, if you use tp - I use "family cloths".


The nice thing about them is that until you quickly open the slot between the bottom of the potty and the holding tank to let the wastes drop through, there is no smell to use it. You don't have to worry about running out of plastic bags. You don't have to worry about the SMELL of an open container - a 5 gal bucket, with or without a lid WILL STINK EVERY TIME YOU OPEN IT to use it, FOR THE ENTIRE TIME your using it! Nor will you have to worry about the bag springing a leak or it breaking as you try to wrestle it out of the bucket, nor worry as you pry off the lid of a bucket about splashing the contents on yourself, nor a kid prying the lid off and FALLING IN.


When you empty the port-a-potty, you use a smaller spout that rotates out from the base while pushing an easily accessed air port, so again, very little if any back-splashing. When I was finished emptying it, I would pour about ½ cup of cleaning fluid – Lysol, bleach, something to knock back the odor a bit and kill a little of the bacteria, because, yes it will stink. However, you don't have to put anything into it or you can use a cup or two of water to rinse it out. Remember, even your house toilet stinks when in use. With a port-a-potty you only have to deal with the smell for about 5 minutes total, if that when you empty it and when you use it, it's no worse than flushing the toilet.


I used this potty until my oldest child was a few months old and we were given a 500 gallon agricultural tank to haul behind the Ranger we owned. That means I was pregnant and still used it. Since I threw up constantly, I don't remember it provoking more throwing up (though to this day, the scent of "fake"cinnamon that was in the “Extra tough Glade Air Freshener” that I would spray in the bathroom still makes me want to hurl!)

The one thing I would suggest is to NOT use ANY toilet paper IN a port-a-potty. It makes it harder to empty – a LOT harder. Actually, you almost can't get it OUT. You either have to shake the container to get it out (really perfumes the air doing that!) or let it build up. It's MUCH better to keep a separate trash container (lined would be good) to put paper into – along with any other sanitary products. Every few days, burn the contents of the small trash container.


I bought my port-a-potty in 1984 when it cost about $45. I've seen them in Wallyworld for about $80. Mine weighs about 2-3 lbs. empty and about 30 lbs when it's nearly full. (A 5 gal bucket will also weigh that much when full!) Before we were given the 500 gallon tank, there were 2 adults using it and we only had to empty it about once a week. Even then it wasn't “full”, but it helps to keep down the odor when you open the hatch to “flush” it if you don't let it go too long between emptyings. Though, we were in Florida, so the heat helped the need for frequent emptying along.


When you empty it, you need to dig a deep hole (I dug mine about 3-4 feet deep) and again, make sure that you are more than 100 feet from any type of water. The nice thing is it can be a hole that is only 2 feet wide. When you back fill the hole, don't just throw the dirt in – you don't want sewage to splash back on you. And you can get a lot more holes using this method than if you dug a latrine.


A port-a-potty is not something I would carry if I had to hike out, but wonderful if you're going by car or sheltering-in-place – or like here and the water main breaks once a month and you're without water for some hours.

4 comments:

Cheryl (SwineInsanity said...

Check out the book, Humanure Handbook....

http://search.half.ebay.com/Humanure-handbook_W0QQmZbooks

Has plans on how to make a composting toilet...... Be careful... Some states it is illegal.....

Darlene said...

The only problem with using human waste is that if it's not composted well and at a hot enough temp, bacteria can survive to contaminate your food crops.

I'm not saying I wouldn't do it, but I'd sure want to make sure that the compost reached a hot enough temp to kill bacteria and parasites.

I might look into that when I have some money.

But I guess I'm crazy. I have consumed "pet milk". (In this area, you are not allowed to buy unpasteurized milk.)How did mankind ever survive before we had government nannies to look out for us? Grrrr

LizBeth said...

Darlene, thanks for the insight. I have wondered about what to do when things really get rocky. I'm not a camping person. But I'll put a porta-potty on my list.

Anonymous said...

You don't talk about toilet paper. I have found a super cheap way to get around the lack of it.

Get a small 12oz plastic Coke bottle with a lid. Screw the lid down securely. Then drill a small hole in the bottle just barely below where the lid screws down to.

Fill the bottle with clean water to the hole. Screw down the lid. After your business is done, put the bottle upside down, squeeze and aim the stream of water towards the nether regions.

Using this "bidet" you can actually stay cleaner than with TP.