Friday, January 14, 2011

Everybody does it

Poop that is. Nobody wants to talk about it, but everyone has to deal with it.

Most people just flush and forget it. Trained professionals with high tech do some sort of magic "downstream."

Nobody wants to think about it, but when the magic stops happening, having a plan B is a darn good idea.

Let's say the water supply is cut off. Could be a failure at the municipal pumping station, your home pump could fail, the water lines could freeze -you get the idea. The simplest thing to do is the old bucket flush method. Either fill the toilet's water tank with a bucket, or flush by pouring the water directly in the bowl. The second method is less delicate, but can use less water. That might be important if your supply is limited or if the water has to hauled a long distance.

Most municipal sewage systems will function for some time. If you have a home septic system, the bucket flush method could work fine for years.

Now let's say that flushing isn't an option. Perhaps an earthquake has destroyed the sewage system. Maybe the problem is limited to your house. One extremely cold winter my sewage line to the septic system froze. Thawing it out was a true horror tale, one I tell small children around the campfire.

Let's assume the problem can't be fixed. It would be really nice to have something like the Humanure System:
They are cheap to buy and even cheaper to build. I know from personal experience that there is very little odor. Sure beats heading out into the woods with a shovel.

There are a whole variety of companies selling composting toilets. They basically do the whole composting process inside the unit as opposed to hauling a bucket to an outside compost bin. When they work right, the final product is compost -nearly odorless and sanitary. When they don't work right, it's very ugly indeed. If you plan on going this route do your research. Some work better than others. I know of one very expensive system with a very high failure rate. Also be aware that some require electricity to work.

Do not confuse composting systems with the old fashioned outhouse. The Humanure process relies on aerobic bacteria. Old fashioned outhouses rely on anaerobic bacteria. Both classes of bacteria do the job of breaking down waste products. The big difference, at least as far as our sensibilities are concerned, is the smell. A well designed and maintained Humanure composter has very little oder. Outhouses can bring tears to your eyes.

For many years my dad owned a one room hunting camp. It had a traditional outhouse. Besides the smell, the other discomfort is the ice cold seat in the winter time. My dad got around this problem by keeping the seat inside the camp, hung up on a hook behind the woodstove. When a hunter felt the need to visit the little outbuilding, he'd take the seat with him. Believe me, a warm seat made the outhouse a lot less intimidating first thing in the morning. The seat was always painted red so deer hunters wouldn't see a flash of white (like a deer's tail) moving through the woods.

Have a plan for safely disposing of "the dirties." Make sure water supplies are safe. People in Haiti are dying by the thousands from a cholera epidemic caused by poor sanitation. Knowing how to safely take care of human waste is a matter of life or death.

Have a plan B.



  1. Yep, I wrote about this once because if there is a massive failure in civilization . . . well kiss potable water goodbye in your water table. Hundreds of thousands to millions all flinging crap like monkeys is going to bring the black death back with a vengence.

  2. got a few "camping toilets" for short term emergencies. can also construst "bucket toilets" to outhouses and compost waste pits.

    having a few pails of dry pool bleach is very handy along with extra heavy plastic sheets to make methane generator trenches to handle the shit part.

    if you got a spring or well, good to construct a spring or well house to protect your water source
    from local village idiots....

    yes, more precious than gold when there is no clean water at the tap anymore...


  3. Humanure is such an easy thing to do. We were going to try it for a week and see. We've been doing it for over a year now. I only wish all alternatives to elements of the crash course we are on were as easy and win/win.