Friday, April 30, 2010

What kind of toilet to have when TSHF‏

Hi FerFal.

Collapse authors like Dmitri Orlov and James Howard Kunsler tell us that someday muicipal water systems will stop working and, as a result, we won't be able to flush our toilets.

You don't seem to address that issue in your blog so I imagine there is no problem flushing your toilets?

Wisconsin, USA

Hi Jeff, lots of authors say lots of things will happen... "someday". :-)
The questions you have to ask yourself when you read those claims are: 1) Did it happen ever before? 2)How long did the situation last? 3) How was it, really?

It may be a surprise to most people that visit Buenos Aires, but 55% of the people in the city of Buenos Aires and its suburbs don’t have sewers. 45% of those in the suburbs don’t have running tap water. This of course means that all the well water you have in the extended area is contaminated to some degree, and I’m not even taking into account the countless industries that ruthlessly throw unprocessed waste to the sewers or directly to the streams and rivers. You have to see the Riachuelo river to believe it: Most polluted river on Earth, it’s a stinking black mass with no life in it.

Of course in the more developed areas you have services just like in any other important metropolitan area. Its this contrast in Buenos Aires that fascinates some people: On one hand you have European Architecture, modern buildings, subways, yet 10 blocks away you have villa 31 where people live in the worst conditions imaginable, same thing if you cross the Riachuelo river into Avellaneda and Dock Sud.

Having said that, water infrastructure is usually very robust. It may work ½ as well as it should, even worse, the tap water itself could be polluted like it is here in Buenos Aires, but all in all, no matter what happens, water systems will eventually be restored in the areas where they want to. Villas? Shanty towns? Poor neighborhoods? There’s no money to be made there, the economic and public image impact isn’t that bad, there’s no respect for those people that are treated like animals, so there’s no interest to set up the water infrastructure in the first place.

Again, I fall back to the Bolivia example, a country that is as crappy as a country could get. Do they have power? Water system in the areas they want? Sure. So rest assured it is possible to eventually restore these services after a large scale disaster.
Guys, there’s certain knowledge and “know how” that will never be lost. Other than getting blown out of the galaxy by a meteor, after a SHTF event, no matter how bad, as long as there’s people there will be society, and the progress made so far wont be undone unless we all get blown to pieces.
Regarding toilets, many of the houses that don’t have city sewer have pits. This is something that pollutes the ground an water but has been a common solution back when houses had outhouses instead of in house toilets. Of course, when this is done in mass by hundreds of thousands within a small area the problem is significant.
I certainly don’t expect city water and sewers to go down for good like these guys seem to believe. Again, its not rocket science and it can get fixed eventually.

But what if something like that does happen? You don’t have much time. Imagine that a city is a mess after just a couple days of trash not getting picked up (we saw that here) and it downright stinks after 5 days, with trash piling up on the streets, rats running around (we saw that too during a strike). After a 2 or 4 weeks tops, if the location you are living in still has no services, you should really move to somewhere else until the situation is solved. After 4 weeks of no trash being picked up or no water or sewer with people relieving themselves in gardens or on the streets, diseases will start spreading fast.

If you have no choice, you can at least set a location (far from the house) for digging a trench to be used as a toilet, have dry leaves for covering after use. Hopefully you’ll have pine needles or some other leafs that have a strong scent. For winter or indoors you can improvise a bucket toilet, used with a plastic bag. If you have some, baking soda spread on the bucket will help avoid smells (read 101 uses: Baking soda)

Again, this will not be a long term situation in a city simply because its too serious to ignore and its nothing that cannot be fixed in a realistic period of time.



russell1200 said...

In Puerto Rico after the hurricanes you do have extended outages of water because the electricity goes down and they need pumps to supply the water. I don't recall sewage being as much of an issue, although obviously lift stations won't work very well.

But it is not an impossible situation, and they are reasonably well organized for the type of situation. Probably because they get a lot of hurricanes.

We in the United States don't seem to do as good of a job. Possibly because of the larger population and larger Geography.

But even in our most inept moments we do eventually get the water back running.

Anonymous said...

In a U.S. city near me, when it rains hard, many in the city have their sewers back up, no flushing then. It's the result of low lying areas and old pipes. It takes a lot from the city and private contractors to repair the damage. If the people couldn't pay the contractors or the city didn't have the funds, things might not get repaired for awhile, it happens in the good times, I can't imagine if the economy was worse. Cold winters compound the problems quite a bit too.

I've heard similar situations exist in the bigger cities like Chicago and New York, and worse, the pipes for their main source of drinking water are really really old, saw a detailed documentary on public TV once about that. That is one danger no one seems to talking about too.

We discussed some of the "what kind of toilet to have when TSHF" issues at GTA here:

And just a little bit somewhere in here:

Did you see on the internet where some people were using a lighter to ignite the water coming out of their tap? They got the water running though.

Anonymous said...

Great subject that doesn't get much attention. Bleach, DE (Diatomaceous Earth). I did a couple of posts at Grab the Apple forums for this very subject. The posts are "worst case" scenarios, but if you prepare for the worst you are always ready.

jjmurphy said...

This is one area I am set! We have a gravity septic system.. No power involved at all for disposal of waste. You do need water in the tank, but even if there were no internal water supply I am very near multiple water sources, and have rain barrels out back. Probably the only area I am set for years! (And I stock a LOT of toilet paper.)

Anonymous said...

I was just kidding around to myself saying, did she just say she uses dynamite? Oddly enough that stuff is a component in dynamite, and quite a wide ranging number of other things.

Shy Wolf said...

Jeff, many people living on the lakes here in norhtern MN are going to the "bio-lets" when remodelling or building new lakeshore homes, rather than use standard septic.
A bio-let comes in three flavors- gas, electric, or time-based degradation. The user shits or pees in the toilet (they look like over sized stools), flushes it and the gas/electricity automatically begin burning the waste. With lots of regular use, one will need to empty the ash tray once a week. One or two people will benefit longer before needing to empty the trash.
The time based is more akin to natural biologic action and takes longer for the waste to be ready for dumping, but is more "environmentally sound" just in case a tree hugger needs to shit.
You can google "biolet" and come up with dozens of makers and a multitude of prices. In the local area, I've seen them in price from several hundred dollars to thousands, depending on what you want, need and can afford- or think you want, need, or can afford. Salesmen are good at separating folks from their bread.
I've considered getting one for the house since water lines have a tendency to freeze in winters when there's no snow cover, but haven't yet. Still, good thing to have and most of all, they're environmentally friendly. The only thing you'd need to make it work in your home is a vent- and your toilet already has one you can cut into. :)

Anonymous said...

You all should read the humanure handbook.

He makes a loveable loo toilet or you can make your own fairly inexpensively. You compost your #1,#2 and the paper and it does not affect water supplies or use much water, except for washing the bucket. It takes about 1-3 years to compost it but if you have a garden or backyard, you can build a compost bin

Anonymous said...

Potable water is most likely going to be the biggest problem in many towns. Bleach is good, yet it looses it's potentacy after about a year and the amount needed is more than the formula and too much is not good either. Swimming pools use something referred to as a Pool Shock treatment for heavy duty santization. The chemical in a Pool Shock produce that is safe to use as a substitute for bleach is chlorine hypochlorite. A bucket of the stuff will chlorinate your water for years and cost about $70. The price is cheap considering the feul or engery, not to mention time, not used to boil water. A good filter can be used, yet where human feces is the contaminate, virus' are the real threat and only the most expensive filters can handle that. Chlorine dioxide is the better but it too is expensive. Even chlorine hyprochlorite may not handle some virus' at a potable (drinkable?) concentration, so where water is particularly nasty, boiling is the best bet. Water is so important, it would pay to research the various methods.


Anonymous said...

I live in Alaska, in a cabin with no running water. I second the recommendation of this:

I've been doing this for just about 4 years now, kind of. I use either peat moss that I buy @hardware-type store, or I get sawdust shavings from a carpenter friend. But I don't bother with the actual using-of-the-compost-in-a-garden portion*, I just dump my buckets and make piles of humus. (Which, btw, have never attracted a bear, or a moose, or any other animal to investigate. Perhaps my attack cats are THAT fierce?)

*I would, but my job entails a looooong commute, and gardens up here need more babysitting than I can manage.

Kat said...

I hear that you can use worms to eat the poop and eliminate it all together, no smell and when the worms poop out your poop you have a great fertilizer for your garden!

Anonymous said...

I hear you can use worms to eat your poop and the worm poop that is left over after they eat your poop can be used as fertilizer for your crops! Great way to get rid of the smell and have a plant booster.