Friday, December 24, 2010

Survival Sanitation: Toilet

     It’s an often overlooked, and in some peoples opinion awkward topic, but it is a very important one none the less; how to keep conditions in your apartment, or home, sanitary after a disaster?  For any disaster lasting more than a week this is a real concern because as the sanitary conditions get worse, personal health and safety will drop significantly.  Keeping you and your family healthy without working utilities will be a difficult task as you will need to have a pre-planned protocol for such a situation.  How to handle human waste, keep food safe for consumption, and how to keep your hands and body clean are all questions you need to start asking yourself now before a situation arises.  Because New Yorker’s are mostly apartment dwellers without yards, we will have even more difficulty in dealing with a lot of these issues.  In my “Survival Sanitation” series of posts, I will give you some ideas and suggestions on how to handle a mid- to long-term ‘bug-in’ situation here in The Apple.
     Handling your family’s ‘human waste’ will be one of the first, and most important problems you will have to deal with after a disaster.  Most people won’t know what to do if their apartment’s toilets won’t flush.  Not realizing, or not wanting to realize, that if we lose electric for more than a few days, the electric pumps that suck the waste through our pipes will no longer function.  Unfortunately, most uninformed people will revert to dumping their waste out the window as they did in the early days of New York.  This is not only stupid, but will lead to disease and the eventual death of many people just as it did in the 1800’s.  

     People that are somewhat informed will probably remember that you can manually flush a toilet if you pour water directly into the pot, and in a short-term disaster this can be a possible solution.  I suggest using non-potable water to pour down the toilet, allowing you to conserve your clean potable water.  A great source of non-potable water can be found in either of the rivers, all you would need is some rope and a bucket of some sort.  A five-gallon bucket with a handle would be perfect.  One of the biggest problems with doing this is the fact that the salt in the water will deteriorate your pipes fairly quickly.  Untreated rain water can also be an option if you don’t want to destroy your building's plumbing.
     For a disaster lasting longer than a few days, pouring water into your toilet pot to manually flush it is not a good idea.  Once again, the electric pumps won't work, so the more people pour water into their sinks and toilets, the more built up waste there will be in the sewers.  The end result will be a massive overflow leading to all of the drains in the city to ‘give back the gift’ we gave them.  For this reason alone, I suggest treating any disaster where you won’t truly know the duration as a long-term disaster, putting into effect your long-term ‘waste disposal’ solution right away.  You can than plug your toilet and drains alleviating the smell, and the overflow.  A basic plug should suffice at first, but because there is no way of knowing what will happen to the system long-term (as a long-term disaster has thankfully not happened in NYC yet), you should plan on a more permanent solution.
     Properly storing your waste in your apartment until you can dispose of it will be one of the only options you have unfortunately.  If you are prepared, this may not be as bad as it sounds, I promise.  Two of the biggest problems you will face when storing your waste are going to be the smell, and flies.  The smell will obviously make any home during a disaster unbearable to live in.  Flies can get you and your family very sick because they are attracted to your waste like “flies on…” well you know what, spreading the bacteria from your waste onto your food.  This can cause serious medical issues at a time when medical attention is non-existent.
     The way to address these problems would be to first have a dedicated bucket or two depending on the size of your family labeled “waste” in big, bold letters.  I suggest five-gallon buckets as anything larger will be difficult to transport.  You also need to make sure to have tight fitting lids for the buckets.  The next step will be to have a supply of thick 3 to 4 mill contractor bags, or at least some kind of plastic bag.  The capacity of these does not have to be large, as they just have to fill the five-gallon buckets.  Line the inside of the bucket with two bags, maybe three if they are a thin plastic.  You can place some newspaper or crumpled up magazine pages in between the two bags if you prefer.  You then need to have a good supply of wood ash, saw dust, or dirt stored next to the buckets so you can sprinkle it onto the waste after you ‘use the facilities’.  Place some tp or whatever you decide to use as tp (book pages, leaves, yellow pages, newspaper, magazines, etc.) next to the toilet as well.  You don’t need to have a seat for the buckets, as you can remove the one from your existing toilet and place it on top of the bucket.  The next step will be to have some way to sanitize your hands.  You can use anti-bacterial gel if you have a good supply of it.  I suggest a household bleach and water mixture in a spray bottle.  Bleach has millions of uses, and you should have a few bottles in your apartment at all times anyway.  Place whatever you decide to use for sanitation next to the bucket. 

     You can now safely relieve yourself in your apartment by;
  • Removing the lid.
  • Placing the seat if necessary. 
  • Doing what is needed. 
  • Sprinkling some saw dust or whatever you have at your disposal over the waste. 
  • Placing the lid back on the bucket tightly. 
  • Properly sanitizing your hands and the exterior of the lid and bucket.
     After you get close to filling the bucket, you can either remove the bag, or you can carry the bucket to the location you plan on burying it.  You need to bury the waste because if left above ground outdoors, animals would find and spread it in no time.  As I mentioned, the bacteria from the waste would be spread by insects, which will lead to disease, and you already know that outcome.  Burying waste will be the most sanitary option available to us urbanites.  It will most likely further contaminate our already contaminated ground water, but it would have to be done.  On the bright side, if done properly, it could actually be excellent fertilizer for the trees and plants around the city.  

     Having a solution to safely dispose of human waste is a real concern for apartment dwellers.  If you live in a home with a yard, basically you either store the waste in your home, and periodically bury it, or just dig a big hole and cover it with a layer of dirt, wood ash, or saw dust every time you go.  In the city, most of us don’t have yards, and the only ground that we can dig in is in the parks, or at the base of trees lining our streets.  This is where a little imagination on your part will go a long way.  Finding suitable places to bury your waste close to your apartment will be necessary.  Security will most likely be an issue as well, so make sure to enter the location at night, armed in some way, and definitely don't go alone. 

     Though not the best table talk, it is something that needs to be addressed by all.  Being able to adapt to change, and not shying away from the reality of a situation can mean the difference between life and death.  A survivalist knows how to foresee, and prepare for any situation that could arise and will do what is necessary to survive no matter what the circumstance.

     *Author's edit* As I am constantly researching and bettering my knowledge, I continue to fine tune the blog.  I wanted to mention another great product that I have come across that can help urban dwellers in an easy to use, convenient way.  The following liners I link to Amazon fit inside your toilet bowl, making it easy to place and remove.  They also have bio gels that mask the smell.  These would be perfect for short- to mid-term use.


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