Thinking about human waste short term and long term

totalsurvivalistblog commented “As to sanitation. That is probably a week(sic) point in our current situation. Still we have enough space to run slit trenches and chamber pots for a really long time. This plan needs some work.”

That got me thinking about the concept of an above ground composting toilet as a solution.  Instead of building an above ground composting toilet/outhouse over sealed bricks or concrete base, couldn’t a person use water tight barrels to dump the chamber pots, 5 gallon buckets and or porta-potty’s that many of us plan on using short term?

My short term sanitation plan now:

  • Five gallon buckets/camp porta-potty to hold daily waste, I have straw, sawdust/wood chips and wood ash to cover waste as the bucket is used.  Note to self, I need to buy a toilet brush for cleaning out/sanitizing the buckets after they are dumped!   Waste is stored in a construction grade trash bag when full and hope the trash guys will haul it away before it becomes a problem.  Hope/trust in the government is not a very good strategy for a prepper.
  • The outdoor above ground composting toilet/outhouse has most of the work done in the chambers and the outhouse portion is based on the building materials of a 3rd world village, but we can buy used 15- 55 gallon barrels or 30 gallon trash cans for $50.00 or less.
  • For example you have a 30 gallon trash barrel placed on concrete. You put a 3-6 inch layer of straw in the bottom of the barrel. Add a screened vent for gasses to the trash can lid, then dump your potty bucket daily into the barrel.  Add the date when the barrel is full and use it for non-edible plant beds(lawn grass, roses or shrubs) after the 9 to 12 months of it breaking down. Switch to a new barrel and repeat the process!

Pros and cons to this idea:

  • I have no real idea how much poo a person will generate daily. Nor how quickly human poo will become a safe fertilizer though 9-24 months seems to be the general answer. Overall most Humanure info seems to say composting at least 12 months is a safe minimum of time to kill all pathogens.
  • While you don’t need to dig for a septic tank or out house you will be handling human waste so there is a bit of danger for disease to you personally.
  • A good thing is you will not contaminate anyone’s ground water. Nor dumping waste down your local storm drain and contaminating  drinking water gathered down stream.
  • This composting idea probably won’t work for most apartment dwellers and if you have a septic tank in a rural area you won’t need this as a sanitation solution. But for homeowners in a city or suburbia tied into a sewer system that stops working in a disaster this concept could offer a workable solution to disposing human waste safely.

I’m sure homesteaders and others that have bought a composting toilet or compost humanure that have much more “real world” knowledge that I have and can troubleshoot my ideas.  Please, troubleshoot me, as all I know is theory and not the practical application of my ideas.  I would ask that you take into consideration that most of us city and suburban preppers are limited by how much land we have to use, zoning laws and how much we can afford to spend. I can’t speak for all, but telling me to move to the country is not helpful! If I could afford to move to the country I would have done it 5 years ago!

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3 Responses to Thinking about human waste short term and long term

  1. desert rat says:

    Hi Jamie,
    as an off grid family of 4 that does the humanure technique, I can tell you a family of four fills a bucket in two days, if they aren’t huge paper users. We use straw or hay and a hand full of wood chips in the bottom of a bucket, and add wood chips (like pet bedding kind of wood chips sold by the bale or large compressed bag from the feed store) after each “poo”. It is crucial to have a thick bed of straw or hay down in the beginning of your pile that you dump your buckets into. If you don’t, it is possible to have “run off” which is very bad. Girls produce more liquid volume, as they don’t often pee outside. Boys pee outside by nature, and ours rarely pee in our buckets…just some insight.

  2. desert rat says:

    Here is another line of thinking, from experience…we use a porta potty in our house, (mostly for the girl who has to pee in the middle of the night. we don’t do our business in it) and have humanure buckets in our outhouse. You cannot use chemicals in the porta potty if you are going to dump it in the humanure pile. Plastic absorbs smell. see where I am going with this? a porta potty is not a good option for long term use if you aren’t dumping it into a septic system, because you cant use the chemicals to make it smell better. I porta potty of pee/poo that does not have chemicals can make a grown man who has to dump it hurl in one week of summer weather. That said, a humanure bucket of pee/poo, with straw in the bottom, chips between each load of poo, and men peeing outside on a tree, to reduce liquids, will be very tolerable for a couple of weeks…
    There is a couple near me who only does their business in a bucket, they put their paper waste in a coffee can and burn it separately. This reduces the composting time, and the volume of stuff to compost by a huge amount.
    Baby wipes SHOULD NOT be put in a humanure pile. They take forever to break down.

    • Jamie says:

      rat : Thanks for the info. I am assuming that your “bucket” is 5 gallons in size, that gives me something for a base line on the human “output” so to speak.

      I think an out house, small septic tank/drainfield method of some sort is probably the best long term solution if you have enough land.

      That being said a person could work in stages using a bucket, then barrel then a trench, then compost pile might work if you have a long term disaster.

      I have no idea how long it would take me to dig an outhouse but it sure would not be quick. I think I could go from buckets to barrels to trench and then a proper outhouse in a disaster.

      For myself I see starting with the buckets and start digging two of the trenches for waste. Dump the buckets into barrels and get it started breaking down at the 2-4 week mark and then start turning the second trench into a proper out house if needed long term.

      Bagging and tagging won’t work long term(1-3 months) as I suspect if the sewers don’t work there won’t be trash pickup.

      I know I don’t have a perfect solution dealing with human waste but I have to try and handle it as safely as possible and keep working on a better solution for a long term disaster.

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