What Goes In, Must Come Out

Dealing With Poop

When we discuss our five basic needs, food is first on the list. Every prepper stores food. We discuss where should we go to get it, how to prepare it, and what the next meal will be. We freely discuss all aspects of food, but very few of us comfortably mention the other end of the digestion process.

The poop. As assuredly as we know we’re going to eat regularly, we also know we’re going to poop regularly. But other than a few minutes alone in the bathroom, we hardly even think about it.

Now, envision a time when your plumbing no longer works. Maybe short-term, maybe long-term; either way when you push down the flush handle, nothing happens. You check the tank and it’s empty. What next? A very nice house after a week without working plumbing isn’t very nice anymore. Water and sanitation departments can fail. What’s your #2 plan?

If you have a septic system (that is rated for the number of people in your household) the problem of dealing with poop does not apply to you and you can stop reading now.

Our family’s plan is to use water collected in our rain barrels to refill the toilet tank so it can be flushed. We store 110 gallons of rain water, the tank uses 3 gallons each flush, that means without any rain, we can flush the toilet about 36 times. After you finish your business, you flush, then go get a 3-gallon bucket of water and refill the tank for the next person. Since we live in Western Washington, this will be fairly sustainable.

Another option, especially if you believe the emergency is short-term, is to line the inside of the (now dry) toilet bowl with a plastic bag. Do your business, remove and tie the bag. Store the bags somewhere where animals can’t get to them until the crisis is past and they can be disposed of properly.

If it’s going to last longer, you’re going to need to start digging. For a temporary measure you can dig a trench latrine. The trench latrine should be about 4 – 6 feet long,1 foot wide, and 1 foot deep. Leave the dirt that was dug out on the side of the trench so that waste can easily be covered up; keep a shovel and a roll of toilet paper nearby.

Building an outhouse is a more permanent solution. Build it close enough to the main dwelling to allow easy access, but far enough away to minimize smell. It needs to be at least 150 feet from freshwater (including a well). The pit should be 5 – 8 feet deep and framed in, to some degree, to keep the sides from collapsing. Consider building it so it can be moved if the pit fills. For detailed plans see Rogue Turtle’s post, The Outhouse, or Cottage Life’s, How to build an outhouse.

There are other ways also. At times the military, in remote locations, mixes fuel with the human waste and it’s burned. As it burns it needs to be stirred to ensure it is all consumed; use caution as it can pop and splatter (there’s a reason why this is done by the lowest ranking members of the unit). But in a SHTF scenario, most of us won’t have extra fuel to use this way.

There’s even a way human waste can be composted, it’s called humanure. I, like probably most of you, are skeptical of this approach. But in a TEOTWAWKI situation, it’d likely be the best way to both get rid of it and to maintain a usable source of fertilizer. I’m going to put that one on the back burner for now though. Here’s additional information on humanure.

No, this isn’t polite dinner conversation, but it’s a fact of life we can’t avoid. What goes in, must come out.


  1. We have a septic system, so as long as I can get water to flush, it will work for us. But I also have a back up plan. Most of my long term preps are in 6 gallon buckets and as a good prepper, I eat what I store. One of these buckets has heavy duty plastic bags in it. I also have a small camper, so have the toilet chemicals used in that camper. In event of doomsday, the use of this bucket will be into the bag, toss in some chemicals and seal it up until next use. The chemicals keep the smell down some.

    But for real long term, I think that humanure is probably the only real choice.

  2. I look forward to the day when I have my own homestead and septic system. That with rainwater collection should be the end of that problem for me also. Once I get my homestead I’ll add ‘build an outhouse’ to my list (probably a very long list), as a back up – plus sometimes it’s nice to have a toilet closer when your outside working and your boots are all muddy.

    I agree that long-term humanure is the way to do things. I need to make sure I have some written material on that topic to use as a resource.

  3. Mike Cato:

    Upgrading the home toilets with newer toilets that are rated for smaller gallons per flush could certainly be a good prepper improvement. Newer toilets are 1.6 gpf which is about half of the 3 gal currently being used. There will be at least 2 benefits in toilet upgrades. First is the prepper side, which increases the number of flushes from the 110 gallons of stored rainwater to almost double the amount. Second is the monetary benefit, which will be seen in the drop in household water consumption off of the regular monthly bill. I would say that meets 2 of Jack’s survival tenents – never spend more money than you have to (he was talking about taxes – but city water is government too) and perform preps that improve everyday life.

  4. Mike:

    The name of the show we discussed is, “All about dung”. It’s in the History Specials section of iTunes tv shows.

    • Trace Adams:

      Thank you, I’ll definitely watch it. As unpleasant as the topic is, in a long term shit (pun intended) hits the fan it’s the only feasible option I can see.

  5. In addition to upgrading to a new modern low flow (1.6 gallons per flush) as mentioned above, consider a dual-flush toilet. It has two flush options using a full 1.6gal tank for solids and half tank for liquids. This will save even more on your water bill in the near term and will streach your stored water even further by giving you an option to flush urine when enough of it has accumulated in the bowl (if its yellow let it mellow, if its brown flush it down) that it begins to smell without wasting a full tank. Glacier Bay (available at Home Depot) makes a dual flush toilet that costs around $100 and is a complete kit with everything needed for installation. I have installed 5 of these in the last year for customers and have had no complaints.

    • Trace Adams:

      Another great suggestion! I have heard of these but hadn’t seen them. That would literally halve the amount of water (or ever less with the 1/2 flush option) we flush each time. Sure we take water for granted in our modern lives, but in a collapse–or even long term disaster–you never will again (especially if you have to carry very much, very far).

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