Making a Backup Sanitation Plan

Possible scenario

A strong earthquake hits your area, breaking water pipes and paralizing the infrastructure.

This could leave you without a working toilet for weeks or months. If the pipes break or electricity is disrupted for a period, for any reason, your toilet may work for a day or two. Beyond that, sewage may back up into every open pipe in your home.

Do you have a plan?

No City Water
Creating a Make-Shift Toilet

If the pipes break or the electricity goes out, do you have a sanitation plan? It's not something we think about or really want to think about but the health risks of this possibility cannot be overstated. Ignore this and your family could get sick...or worse. It's important to make a plan should this happen to you. If it does, your efforts today will make you extremely grateful tomorrow.

Below are four steps to follow in making sure you are ready should your sanitation system go down: choosing an alternate sanitation method, securing all needed items, and learning safe handling and safe disposal of human waste.

No City Water
Choose Your Alternate Method

Three types of systems or methods can be used as a make-shift toilet. Having this ready to go in storage will make your life a lot easier should the plumbing system be distrupted for any substantial amount of time.

Home Toilet System

If the plumbing is not working, two toilet bowls will work as one of the three options as long as they are not clogged or otherwise in disrepair. The "items needed" list assumes that you have two toilets in your home that are suitable to be used for this purpose. If you only have one, add one more bucket on to your shopping list. Another lid is optional but not necessary.

Items Needed
  • Two 5 gallon buckets with lids
PROS
  • This method is the most affordable solution of the three options.
  • It's easy to set up.
CONS
  • Will cost more if you have only one toilet.
  • You will need to share this method with other family members. If total privacy is desired, consider expanding upon method #2.
Tip

Consider making an evacuation version of you sanitation kit using the 2 buckets. Add everything you would need to make your family comfortable.

Create your kit for storage
  • Take one of the buckets and place all items inside. See "Additional Items" next.
  • Include a printed list of instructions found below.
  • Cover with lid and label "Sanitation Kit".
  • Place your sanitation kit in storage, telling all family members where it is.
How to assemble
  • Select two toilets in your home, one for liquid waste and the other for solid waste.
  • Empty the water from each toilet bowl and discard.
  • Plug up the holes with a towel.
  • Place a 13-gallon plastic liner inside each rim, using two liners for solid waste.
  • Tape the sides of the liner to the toilet with duct tape.
  • The two additional buckets will be used to transport liquid and solid waste outside. See below.
Tip

Consider making an evacuation version of you sanitation kit using the 2 buckets. Add everything you would need to make your family comfortable.

back to alternate methods menu
Source: Oregon State University

Bucket System

This is an easy option and is a good alternative if your home toilets are in disrepair. The "Items Needed" list is assuming that you are creating one system. If you'd like to get each member of the family their own, then buy accordingly.

Items Needed
  • Four 5-gallon buckets
  • 2 lids (not necessary to buy 4)
  • 2 toilet seat covers made for 5-gallon buckets
  • Seats can be ordered from Amazon.
PROS
  • Enables each family member to have and oversee their own 2 bucket system, if desired.
CONS
  • Cost more than method #1.
Tip

Consider making an evacuation version of you sanitation kit using the 2 buckets. Add everything you would need to make your family comfortable.

Create your kit for storage
  • Take one of the buckets and place all items inside. See "Additional Items" next.
  • Include a printed list of instructions found below.
  • Cover with lid and label "Sanitation Kit".
  • Place your sanitation kit in storage, telling all family members where it is.
How to assemble
  • Take two buckets, one for liquid waste and one for solid waste.
  • Place 13-gallon plastic liners in each, using two liners for the solid waste bucket.
  • Attach two toilet seat covers to the 5 gallon buckets.
  • The two additional buckets will be used to transport liquid and solid waste outside. See below.
Tip

Consider making an evacuation version of you sanitation kit using the 2 buckets. Add everything you would need to make your family comfortable.

back to alternate methods menu
Source: Yitahome

Porta-Potty System

Porta-potties are well known to those who spend a lot of time camping in the outdoors. They come pre-built and are available in different design preferences.

Items Needed
  • Two porta-potties
  • Two 5-gallon buckets with lids
  • Buckets with lids are not required if a septic system is included.
PROS
  • If septic enabled, then step 3 & 4 are unnecessary.
CONS
  • By far the priciest option.
Before you place in storage
  • Figure out ahead of time how to use.
  • Gather and place all items needed with your porta-potties. See "Additional Items" next.
  • Place your sanitation kit in storage, telling all family members where it is.
How to assemble
  • Set up two porta-potties, one for liquid waste and one for solid waste.
  • Place 13-gallon plastic liners in each, using two liners for the solid waste bucket.
  • Two additional buckets will be used to transport liquid and solid waste outside, unless you purchase units that utilize a septic system.
  • Follow manufacturer's directions.
Tip

Have this packed and ready to go so it can be taken with you should you need to evacuate and staying at a hotel or with family is not an option. Add everything you would need to make your family comfortable.

back to alternate methods menu
No City Water
Additional Items Needed
13-gallon trash bags bio-degradable
duct tape for home toilet
twist ties
1-gallon liquid bleach
liquid absorber (e.g., super sorb, scoopable litter)
toilet paper
hand wipes/sanitizer
soap
latex gloves
33-gallon trash bags
collapsible shovel
heavy gloves for digging
No City Water
Safe Handling of Human Waste

Using the buckets the right way

This is a simple system and not expensive to set up. It works off of a NO MIX principle: liquid and solid waste must be collected, stored, and disposed of separately. This method is a proven principle of ecological sanitation. It reduces disease risks and makes the contents of each bucket easier to handle. If you are using the first method, the term "bucket" applies to the home toilet as well.

Liquid
  • Option 1: use 3-parts water / with 1-part liquid waste.
  • Option 2: add a liquid absorber after each use, using as directed.
  • Tie the garbage bag liner shut when the bucket is not in use.
  • When the liner is 1/3 to 1/2 full, tie it off and place in the 3rd bucket for disposal (see "Safe Disposal").
  • Replace with a new liner and repeat.
Solid
  • Before each use, add 1-part bleach to 4-parts water as this will disinfect.
  • After use, add a fluid absorber, using as directed.
  • Secure each bag with a twist tie and cover bucket when not in use.
  • When the double liner is 1/3 full, tie it off and place in the 3rd bucket for disposal (see "Safe Disposal").
  • Replace with a new liner and repeat.
Loss of Running Water
Safe Disposal of Human Waste

Are city services running?

What you do now is completely dependant on whether the city is actively picking up on trash day...or not. If they are, it's business as usual. If they aren't, this is when doing things the wrong way could effect the health of you and your family. Let's prepare for both situations.

If city services are running
Liquid Waste
  • The 3 parts water / 1 part urine mixture can be disposed of on your grass.
  • If you don't have any grass, then use a fluid absorber instead.
Solid & Fluid Absorbed Waste
  • Line a large garbage can with a 33-gallon bag, heavy duty is best.
  • Place solid waste here.
  • Keep lid tightly shut and the city will collect.
If city services are not running
The Cathole
  • When services are down and no one is showing up, the disposal of waste becomes one's own responsibility.
  • While officials say to avoid burying, at this point it must be done. This is why the use of biodegradable bags is important.
  • There is a technique known as the "cathole" that, when used properly, is a safe method of disposal.
  • Creating a Cathole.