Staying Clean: We never know when a local emergency will pop up, whether a water main is broken, or there is a local flood that contaminates our water. Think of the Outer Banks and Columbia, South Carolina right now! After a natural disaster like the earthquake in Haiti or the Tsunami’s in Asia, more people got sick and died because of disease caused by lack of sanitation than from the actual disaster. Diseases such as Typhoid, Dysentery and Cholera are all caused by drinking water that has been contaminated with human feces. These diseases are prevented with proper hygiene, they all cause severe dehydration and require fluids (think water again) as the treatment. If we intend to keep our families safe and healthy in difficult situations, we need to be prepared to keep them clean, and have a way to dispose of our Human urine and feces in a sanitary way. For example, according to Consumer Reports,each year an average of 648,000 hospital patients develop infections during their stays right here in the USA. 75,000 of those cases result in death. By contrast 32,719 people died in car accidents in 2013. I tell you this to let you know the seriousness of infections, and how many people in our culture with proper sanitation, even in our hospitals, are dying of infection. There are so many super bugs out there now, ebola, MRSA, and there will probably be more as the use of antibiotics continues to skyrocket. Prevention is always better than trying to effect a cure.
Handwashing: There is nothing that will prevent disease better than frequent hand washing. Repeat: there is nothing that will prevent disease better than frequent hand washing. For a 72 hour pak you are probably going to need all the water you can carry just for drinking, so keep baby wipes and hand sanitizer, maybe an old damp washcloth in a small Ziploc bag for wiping hands before using the baby wipes or hand sanitizer. If you don’t have soap, you can rub clean grass or other green leaves on your hands. For home use in a time of scarce water, keep two pump style gallon jugs by the sink, one with a very mild soap solution and one with plain water for rinsing. This will control the amount of water used for handwashing. In our restaurants and shops we see signs in the bathrooms to wash hands before returning to work. But for cleanliness and health a better practice is to wash your hands before and after using the toilet. Our hands have been everywhere, you really want clean hands touching your private parts. Remember, there is nothing that will prevent disease better than frequent hand washing. Women who are susceptible to bladder infections or yeast infections need to be especially vigilant.
Bathing: When I was a teenager growing up in a rural area, many people had wells that would go dry in the summer and there was a lot of talk about only using an inch of water in the bathtub. They did not use showers because they could not measure or control how much water was being used, and if the well was dry they had no water for other uses. People would go to someone else’s house in town to take a bath or shower when they were not sure how much water they had available. So in a short term situation, learning to take a sponge bath in the sink, or use baby wipes would be good practice for a “low water” scenario. For a longer term situation, I would set up a couple of plastic baby pools in the yard with an inch or two of rain water or rain barrel water, use one for bathing with a little soap, the other for rinsing.
Laundry: Have you done laundry by hand? Make a 5 gallon bucket washing system. Watch some YouTube videos on the Resources list. You can use any size bucket, but be sure that the lid will fit on tightly, drill a hole in the middle of the lid and use a new toilet plunger to agitate the clothes and force the water through them. Drill a few holes in the top of the plunger to allow a flow of water. Be sure to agitate the clothes for about 10 minutes. It is this mechanical action that will get the clothes clean. Washing is a mechanical process, it needs movement and/or friction. Water has to be forced through the fabric to lift the dirt out. Soap simply makes water “wetter” by lowering the surface tension of the water. Rinse at least twice. To dry the clothes in bad weather, simply put them on coat hangers and hang them on the trim over doorways indoors. Or you could use the shower rod. If you have power, aim a fan at them to speed the drying process. When drying clothes in the sun they are naturally disinfected and whitened. The sun provides UV light. UV light reacts with oxygen dissolved in the water to produce reactive forms of oxygen that kill the microorganisms. UV from the sun also interferes with the reproduction cycle of bacteria by damaging their DNA. Think about the disinfecting power of the sun for items like baby diapers, sheets, blankets and clothing that have been used by someone who has been ill. By drying our clothing in the sun we can help to stop bacteria with no harsh chemicals. Watch YouTube videos to learn how to make laundry soap.
Toilets: We call our preparation “food storage”. We want to focus on recipes and gardens and staying warm, but we don’t want to deal with the toilet issue! This has become something that has been on my mind lately and I have done quite a bit of research on the subject and would like to share some ideas with you. When our little grand-daughter, Lily was 2 and just potty training, she had an accident, pooped in her pants. She was so upset. Her father said, “it’s ok, Lily, everybody poops.” “Everybody, Daddy?” “Yes, Lily, everybody.” And since that is true, we need a plan.
In my research I ran across a man by the name of Joseph Jenkins. He has written a book called the Humanure Handbook. You can order the hard copy on Amazon, or it is available free as a PDF file. See the resource handout. Please download it and read it. It is a wealth of information. I did not expect it to be as detailed and to have so much scientific information. It was an eye opener for me, and I expect it will be for you. Briefly, he reminds us that all animals (including us) have to eat and have to excrete all the liquid and solid leftover material. He explains that this is a natural process and is designed to return nutrients back to the soil to be used by plants and then eventually by other animals, like us. Just a quick question: how much of the earth’s surface is water? 70%. How much of that water is fresh and usable? Only 1%! Now for many hundreds of years people, especially in our Western cultures, have poured things we want to get rid of into rivers, streams, oceans, just wanting it all to go away. In recent years we have even pushed this system into other areas of the world as we have traveled and demanded “Western style toilets”, using up precious resources and putting heavy burdens on the social structure of struggling nations. We just want to flush our “leftovers” into our sewer systems and we try not to think that we are polluting our waterways and using our resources up, and spending more resources trying to clean up what we have messed up. Joseph Jenkins has been using a composting system for almost 30 years and has taught this system to places in third world nations and at multinational environmental conferences. Joseph Jenkins makes what he calls the Loveable Loo. Watch the YouTube video. The main points to remember about this system is that 1) the bucket is simply the collection device, it must be paired with proper cover material and then moved to a composting system close by, 2) the composting system must quickly reach a temperature that will kill all pathogens, and 3) the compost must be allowed to rest for a year before using in a garden.
History: Our ancestors simply dug a small hole, relieved themselves, and then covered up the hole with dirt. I have done some backpacking and used this system. It is important to dig a deep hole and cover it immediately so as not to attract animals to dig it up. Urine is easy, you really can pee just about anywhere. Paper is nice, but you can “air dry”. Now pooping takes more preparation. Let’s think first of what we could do if we had to bug out.
As we have mentioned, for each of your 72 hour paks you could pack a couple of small Ziploc bags with some baby wipes and hand sanitizer and perhaps some medical gloves. You could use the bags the same way you would do with dog poop at the park. Poop on the ground, then put on the gloves, pull the bag over your hand inside out. Pick up the poop and fold the bag over your hand. Pull the glove off inside out and drop it in the bag. Zip it up. Double bag it. Use leaves or grass and then the baby wipes and hand sanitizer. Dispose of in a dumpster or keep until it can be buried appropriately. Don’t bury the bag!
What would we do if we were home and had no water for a few days, but we expected water to eventually be available in our houses again? Many kids have small potties and would be OK using them. We can also use our trusty 5 gallon buckets and use trash bags as liners. We can use material such as sphagnum moss, cedar bedding used for small animal cages, sawdust, leaves, or even cat litter in the bottom of the bags and to cover the contents. There is also a product called Supersorb that can be purchased at cleaning supply places or online that can be sprinkled over the contents of the buckets that turns everything into a gel that does not smell. There are toilet seats with lids that you can purchase at Dick’s sporting goods or online that will fit on these buckets, or you can use a Gamma lid system. Remember that you will still have to dispose of these bags at some point, and if there is no trash pickup, you will need to store these buckets. It would be a good idea to use some spray paint and indicate which buckets have been used as toilets, so you will not ever use them for other purposes. It would also be wise to use bleach or Lysol or some other disinfectant on the buckets when they have been emptied and need to be used again. Having a pair of heavy duty kitchen gloves, or double gloving with disposable medical gloves when cleaning the buckets would be a good idea. This is NOT a chore for kids! For older or disabled folks, a bedside commode would be great. These are always available at thrift stores and would be a good item to have on hand. You could make a commode from a plastic yard chair by cutting a hole into the seat and placing a bucket underneath.
Many people recommend separating urine and feces and disposing of them in different ways. We have already talked about that a bit. Urine can be mixed 1 part urine to 10 parts water and poured onto trees or bushes immediately. Mixing urine and feces in one container without sawdust or leaves or straw creates the odor. Urine and feces mixed together when covered with straw or leaves or sawdust will not have an odor, as the cover material quickly absorbs the moisture.
Other systems that can be adapted to self reliance are things like camping toilets. These are often a two part system. After they have been used, the bottom section comes apart, and the contents are taken to a public toilet for example in an RV park or camping bathhouse. They are available at Walmart, sporting goods stores and online, and each have their own instructions for use and cleaning.
There are actually toilets now that do the composting right in the toilet itself. Some use heat and need to be plugged in. Some have a vent system to direct any odors or gases to the outdoors. People living on boats, in off grid cabins or RV’s are starting to use these toilets. Some have crank handles that stir the contents with a cover material. Most of these toilets are very expensive, and of course the ones that use electricity would not work in a situation where the utilities were not working. See the Resource list.
As part of this research, I stumbled across several YouTube videos showing how to make a dog septic system. In a grid down situation, we might have to make a similar system in our own yards as a last resort. Just be sure to locate it away from your vegetable garden, away from any water source, and where any runoff water coming from it will not be going into a neighbor’s yard where he/she might have food growing or a water source. In making a small septic system, you can use a large plastic trash can, cut off the bottom, drill holes on the lower 2/3 of the can, then bury it pretty much to the top of the can. Be sure to keep the lid on it while you are working with it to keep the shape intact so you can put the lid on it when it is in its final location. When the container is down in the hole, put about 4 inches of gravel in the bottom, then about 2 inches of larger chunks of rocks. This will keep any contents from being in water at the bottom. Put some dry leaves or straw on the bottom and then again after each time you empty your bucket into the container, cover the contents with leaves or sawdust again. If you don’t have leaves or other cover material, there are companies that will deliver free mulch to your house, or will give you free sawdust if you show up with a truck. Check Google or Craigslist. Mulch and sawdust are great to have on hand for your gardens anyway. Straw can be purchased in small bales at feed stores. You can add Rid X or other septic tank enzymes and water to get the compost action started at the time you empty your first bucket into the container.
Toilet paper can be expensive, takes up a lot of room, is easily ruined by moisture, and will eventually be used up anyway. For a 72 hour plan, a small water bottle with a pop lid that will squirt when squeezed would be just fine. Fill it with water and add a few drops of liquid soap. Spray yourself off, and then dry with a washcloth or other small piece of fabric or simply drip dry. Save the fabric to be washed and reused. After all, we do this with towels every day. At home you can install a sprayer on your toilet that is like a kitchen sprayer. It hooks up to the cold water intake on your toilet. Young mothers are using this kind of sprayer to clean off cloth diapers before putting them into water to soak. If your toilet is near hot water you can tap into a hot water line.
Summary: start researching today and practicing tomorrow what you might have to live with “someday”!
Feel free to contact me for any questions: Lissa Estes: firstname.lastname@example.org, and 919 605 1980
The Humanure Handbook, Joseph Jenkins, PDF is free, also see his YouTube videos under Loveable Loo.
- YouTube: Lulu and the Loveable Loo by Joe Jenkins
- YouTube: POOPY SUBJECT: PREPPER talks about "SHTF" Disposal of waste! By Obsessiveprepperaz
- YouTube: Emergency Preparedness Sanitation Kit by EmergencyHelps *****
- Supersorb – used to absorb liquids and turn them into a dry gel substance. Get it at commercial cleaning supply places
- YouTube: How to Make a Dog Waste Digester by GreenUP
- Amazon: Pogi's Poop Bags - 30 Rolls (450 Bags) - Large, Earth-Friendly, Scented, Leak-Proof Pet Waste Bags $16.99
- YouTube: DIY composting toilet living in an RV full time by Follow The Hearts
- YouTube: The Big and Dirty Questions about Composting Toilets by Gone with the Wynns
- Nature’s head website (advertisement)
- C-head website (advertisement)
- Sun-Mar website (advertisement)
- YouTube: Loveable Loo Eco-Friendly Compost Toilet by Joe Jenkins
- YouTube: Homemade Composting Toilet Update by Livin' Lightly
- Coconut coir, coffee hulls, sphagnum peat moss, use for cover materials
- YouTube: Coconut Coir Planting Medium - A Peat Moss Alternative Now Available at Home Depot by GrowingYourGreens
- Just Google “ baby diaper sprayer” for tutorials and products
- Brondell Silver Wall or Toilet-Mounted Hand Held Bidet, Item #: 379571 | Model #: CSL-40
- 4.4 / 5, 8 reviews, $69.57, as seen at Lowe’s stores
- YouTube: Composting Toilet - What it is and Why You Need One by Gone with the Wynns
- Dick’s Sporting Goods: Reliance Luggable Loo Seat and Cover, $12.99
- YouTube: The Green Prepper, many videos, inexpensive, skills, supplies, good information
- Bedside commode: check out any thrift store