When they entered the hotel Randy smelled it at once, but not until they reached the second floor did he positively identify the odor. Like songs, odors are catalysts of memory. Smelling the odors of the Riverside Inn, Randy recalled the sickly, pungent stench of the honey carts with their loads of human manure for the fields of Korea. Randy spoke of this to Dan, and Dan said, “I’ve tried to make them dig latrines in the garden. They won’t do it. They have deluded themselves into believing that lights, water, maids, telephone, dining-room service, and transportation will all come back in a day or two. Most of them have little hoards of canned foods, cookies, and candies. They eat it in their rooms, alone. Every morning they wake up saying that things will be back to normal by nightfall, and every night they fall into bed thinking that normalcy will be restored by morning. It’s been too big a jolt for these poor people. They can’t face reality.”
Dan had been talking as he packed. As they left the hotel, laden with bags and books, Randy said, “What’s going to happen to them?”
“I don’t know. There’s bound to be a great deal of sickness. I can’t prevent it because they won’t pay any attention to me. I can’t stop an epidemic if it comes. I don’t know what’s going to happen to them.”
-Excerpt from Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank, copyright 1959.
No one in their right mind really wants to think much about human waste. In our modern world we’ve created a vast, complicated and wasteful system of dealing with our droppings. Countless gallons of water are wasted on “waste,” and in many cities the sewer systems and water reclamation plants are overtaxed… yet rather than find better ways to recycle or reuse the offending material, codes ban or simply fail to include environmentally friendly home-based ways of dealing with human manure.
Sewage is one of the big problems we’re going to face if there’s a collapse. Are you prepared to deal with sewage in a crisis? If not, it’s time to start thinking over the options.
A few years ago, my wife and I did an experiment to see if we would be ready for the septic side of a collapse situation. I built a 5-gallon bucket toilet based on the plans in Joseph Jenkins’ Humanure Handbook (read more on that book here), then installed it in the bathroom of our little 3/1 house in Tennessee. For an entire year, my family used that toilet and I hauled buckets out of the house in all kinds of weather to a big compost pile at the back of our property. There I’d set up a washing station in the bushes so I could sterilize the buckets after emptying them.
Keep in mind that this was a suburban neighborhood. If this system had stunk at all or attracted flies, etc., we would have been discovered. There wasn’t even a fence around my backyard… yet no one ever discovered our experiment. We composted a year’s worth of “waste,” then used that compost a year later for our gardening.
No one got sick. No one had a problem. No neighbors complained.
That was because we did it right. Do it wrong and you risk African-style cholera epidemics and E. coli infections.
There’s no need to develop a phobia of feces. They’re part of life and they break down rapidly in the soil. In fact, the US Army Survival Manual only devotes a few sentences to excretion:
“Do not soil the ground in the camp site area with urine or feces. Use latrines, if available. When latrines are not available, dig “cat holes” and cover the waste. Collect drinking water upstream from the camp site. Purify all water.” – FM 21-76US ARMY SURVIVAL MANUAL
From my research, the biggest problems with feces relate to them getting into water supplies or attracting flies which then become airborne disease vectors. Both of these problems can be eliminated through burying waste in the ground in a proper location. Avoid areas prone to flooding or uphill from wells or springs, and make sure you cover what you leave behind. This is one of the reasons it’s a good idea to keep a small shovel in your bug-out bag.
Beyond simply keeping yourself safe from disease, burying feces can actually become a net positive if you use it as fertilizer for your agriculture. Urine is sterile and as I’ve shared before, makes a really good (and safe) fertilizer when diluted down to roughly 10 parts water to 1 part urine.
If you haven’t thought about what might happen – even in a short term crisis – if the toilets quit flushing, now is the time to make your backup plans. An outhouse, a simple bucket toilet, a camping trip where you really get “off-grid” – these are things that may one day save you and your family from an ugly situation like the one imagined by Pat Frank in the quote at the top of this article. Being in denial like the people in the old folks’ hotel isn’t the way to press through a crisis… it’s the way to end up sick or dead. Start working on backup systems now and get familiar with various ways of dealing with things (like sewage) that you’d rather ignore. If you are prepared to deal with sewage in a crisis, you’re more prepared than 99% of your neighbors… and you’re much more likely to come through TEOTWAWKI smelling like a rose.