Emergency Sanitation 101 – Make a DIY Twin-Bucket Emergency Toilet
I can hear you in my head…”Really”, you say, “I need to make an emergency toilet for today’s challenge? Are you guys crazy, I’m never going to need that!”
Except you just might. If you have taken time this month to survey the hazards for your area you will know that disruption of our sewage systems is a very real possibility. I am encouraging you to know the basics of emergency sanitation and have supplies ready so you can create an emergency toilet.
Last week, through a comedy of errors, we were without water for 18 hours in the evening. My family was freaked. No turning on the faucet (they tried repeatedly, muscle memory you know) No water from the refrigerator door, no showers and no toilet flushing!
Luckily we had our water storage to save the day, with plenty of drinking and flushing water available. If this had been an “actual emergency” we might not have been able to refill the toilet tanks and had a go in them. The Pacific NW is overdue for that big earthquake, you know, and experts are saying that our water and sewer pipes will be toast afterward.
Your short term solution could be a single-bucket camping toilet (like this one from Amazon), but those fill up fast. A Google search today had various designs in the price range of $17-$125. You will also need to consider how to dispose of the waste once it is full. Improper disposal of the contents can lead to polluted groundwater and disease.
In a previous Emergency Sanitation post we suggested that you might want to turn your home toilet into a port-a-potty. This twin-bucket system is another alternative – one that makes disposal of your waste easier and more sanitary.
We’re Talking Pee and Poo
The great thing about pee is that it’s clean. It poses almost no health risk. You can store your pee in buckets with lids until it can be sprinkled on land as a fertilizer or added to your compost pile. You can even use it to condition the bales if you are straw bale gardening. It’s a great source of nitrogen! If you live in an apartment and don’t have access to land you may have to save it until the authorities give instructions about the disposal.
Your poo contains most of the pathogens and needs to be treated or contained until you can dispose of it properly. The great thing about poo is that it doesn’t take up much space, you only create about 4 to 10 ounces per person daily.
“Not mixing the urine and feces is a proven principle of ecological sanitation. In separating pee and poo, the twin-bucket toilet reduces disease risks and odor and makes the contents of each bucket easier to handle”
Unsafe sanitation practices can be deadly. The solution is to create two different buckets, one for pee and one for poo. This twin-bucket emergency toilet system will serve 3 – 4 people for 3 days.
You will need these supplies to set up your emergency sanitation area:
- 2 – 5 gallon buckets
- 2 lids for the buckets
- 1 Plastic Toilet Seat (see it on Amazon)
- 3 gallons of carbon material like shredded paper, sawdust or forest litter
- 10 pairs of disposable gloves
- 1 roll of toilet paper (or more)
- 1 bottle of hand sanitizer, or towels and wipes for hand cleaning
- optional: sanitary napkins or diapers if needed
- and 1 plastic scoop for the carbon material
Using your Twin-Bucket Emergency Toilet
- Mark each bucket pee / poo or #1 / #2, whatever suits you.
- Place the buckets in a private place with the carbon material and TP near by.
- Add some carbon material to the bottom of the poo bucket. It will make clean-up easier.
- Decide if you need to use the pee or poo bucket.
- Try not to mix pee and poo, although mistakes are understandable! The pee is the part that produces the bad smell when you mix it with poo.
- Make sure each bucket is covered after each use. Put all used TP into the poo bucket.
- After using the poo bucket sprinkle as much carbon material as needed to completely cover the surface of the poo. This eliminates odors and keeps files away.
I really did learn a lot about disposing of pee and poo while researching this post!
The idea for the Twin-Bucket Emergency toilet came from a conference I attended last year. This system is modeled after composting toilets used in Christchurch New Zealand after their 2011 earthquake.
If you are in a severe emergency and the sewer pipes are destroyed, (see Earthquakes and Sewers) you will need a way to dispose of these things safely. Because the main purpose for learning this method is to keep your family safe and healthy and away from pathogens.
You can learn about composting methods for humanure and preparing a “wheelie bin” or other composter in this handout RELIEVE – emergency compost toilet booklet.
Are you brave enough to try?