The Other End of the Pipe – Field Sanitation
For a subject that we don’t often think about: What happens when you can no longer use your indoor bathroom facilities? Let’s talk about how to dispose of waste and prevent the spread of disease.
First of all, insure you always practice good hygiene. Wash your hands before food prep and before you eat. In a future blog, we will talk about how to make soap but for now, insure you have some extra hand soap in stock. Additionally, you should wash up after using the bathroom (if you don’t already).
Feces and urine are quickly forgotten once you flush the toilet but if the septic system runs on electric pump that loses power, your indoor plumbing may become clogged and that can be a huge sanitation problem. So while you may have filled your tubs before the water got cut and you can easily charge the toilet tanks – the waste water still needs to get pumped away or sewage systems and septic tanks eventually fill up (sometimes sooner than you imagine).
The bucket or basin toilet (chemical treatment): you can do this in your home, strong hold or camp, or if the water table is too high or for whatever reason you cannot dig a slit trench or outhouse.
Ok, you can set up a bucket toilet easily. They sell prefabricated camping toilets online and at all the major sports outlets but the components are simple: a chair or stool with a hole in the seat (or a wooden box with a round-hole cut in the top), a bucket underneath and a plastic liner for the bucket. Although your indoor porcelain throne is built for this, if you empty the water in the basin you are emptying the “P” trap which may permit gases to vent back up through the toilet*. There are biodegradable bags that you can use which I strongly recommend (particularly if you intend to compost later), or just a regular trash bag if you are sure that you can eventually dispose of your waste.
*in fact, you might have to periodically add water to drains not in use to fill the “P” trap if the water has evaporated.
► Lay down some kitty litter, lime, wood ash or sawdust (or even dirt) in the bottom of the bag. Keep a bucket of this material with a scoop next to the bowl along with your TP (you can place the toilet paper roll on a forked stick in the ground and cover with a coffee can to keep the TP dry). These all absorb liquid and some odor.
► Do your business
► Sprinkle some more kitty litter, lime, lye, wood ash or sawdust over the dukey to keep the odor down and prevent insects from landing on it (and then flying to your dinner table without washing their feet). Cover the toilet lid (a good seal is preferred).
Remember that lime and lye can burn so use a scoop, you may have to use gloves, and lift the seat before adding and try not to spill.
► Once the bag starts getting full (not over brimming -- roughly 2/3 full), sprinkle some more kitty litter, lime, wood ash or saw dust over the top. Seal the bag and take it for disposal. Replace the bag in the bucket or basin for the next person. Note: if you are using your toilet bowl as the basin, suggest you transfer the sealed bag to a bucket so you don’t have a bag break while moving it outside.
Cat holes are really only for when you are on the move: dig a hole 6-12 inches deep, do your business and then cover it up. If you are hanging around an area for any amount of time, you don’t want to be guessing where someone dug their cat hole or hopscotching across a man-turd minefield of your own making… install a more permanent facility.
Placement: Make sure that you place your field latrine away from your living area and from your water supply (at least 100 feet). Select an area that does not drain directly into either of these areas and down wind if you have a prevalent wind direction.
Temporary sites don’t have to be so deep (you are not going to fill them up) but for permanent or semi-permanent locations, you should go deeper (6 feet if you can).
Slit trenches: If you are not going to fabricate a seat or bench over the hole, then you should keep it narrower so you can straddle the trench. Keep the spoil piled nearby with a small shovel and a bucket of lime. Sprinkle some lime over your creation and then throw some dirt on top of it.
For more permanent facilities: Constructing a bench over the hole helps control odor but you may want to consider building an outhouse so you don’t have to do your business in the rain or exposed to the elements or the lechorous looks of your fellow preppers. If you imagine the size of a port-a-let / johnny on the spot that you see at any construction site, sporting event, state or county fair etc – that should give you an idea of the size (and smell) of a typical outhouse. (If you don’t want to build one out of wood – you might just buy a port-a-let to place over your hole).
The bench over the hole should provide a seal to keep flies and other insects out, likewise the outhouse roof and wall vents should prevent insects from getting into the waste pile. You might need to augment with some fly traps or fly paper.
As waste breaks down in the hole, gases are produced including methane. Safety tip: Never inspect an outhouse hole with an open flame. You should have a vent that goes from the waste chamber up through the roof to vent off these gases and odor. All vents and pipes should have a screen over them to limit insects from getting into the waste chamber. Outhouses don’t have to be rustic, you can spruce them up if you like. See picture to the right, note the tight seal on the lid.
If you intend on using the waste eventually for fertilizer, it will take periodic treatment with lime or lye not bleach or chlorine based household cleaners or disinfectants but we will discuss that in our composting article. You only need about 1 pound of lime or lye for every 1000 cubic feet of waste so just a sprinkling after tinkling is all that is needed to “crust” the top and seal it from infiltration by files and insects. Adding saw dust, wood shavings, or wood ash will also help the waste pile decompose by trapping air and absorbing liquid. You may wish to divert urine to a separate basin or use pee tubes to reduce liquid. In warm climates, the waste should break down in about six months, in colder climates it might take a year. Very little biodegrading will occur during the winter.
Remember when handling lime it can cause burns so leave some gloves next to your scoop and lift the seat before you sprinkle (unless you want your family to practice burn treatments in embarrassing locations to augment first aid training and experience….)
Speaking of pee tubes, these are essentially 1 inch PVC pipes stuck in porous ground at a slight angle and then capped with a funnel with a screen over the opening.
You can refer to any of the below sites for more information:
US Army FM 21-10 Field Sanitation http://olive-drab.com/archive/fm21-10.pdf Appendix A is what you are looking for.
The US Army Study Guide for Field Sanitation
Inspectapedia’s guide: http://inspectapedia.com/septic/Outhouse_Latrine_Construction.php#LimeDet
Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology http://www.i4at.org/lib2/hmnwaste.htm
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