The city’s sewage system is based on running water that flushes waste to the sewage treatment plants, which then process the sludge separating out the water and dumping that into the lake, and incinerating the remaining solid waste. This system will fail or has now failed due to a lack of electricity which renders both water pumping systems as well as the treatment plants out of service. Without running water, the city’s residential toilets are not to be used. For safety, it is best to remove all toilets from washrooms and seal up the holes in the floors. Save the toilet seats for use in constructing outdoor privies (outhouses) and to cap buckets for indoor composting toilets. The porcelain toilets can be crushed or broken into pieces to be used as aggregate in clay or cement for construction, such as in floors and countertops.


A pit privy, or outhouse, is a little shack with enough room for one or two people to use the facilities at a time, in the outdoors, where no plumbing, running water or electricity is needed. All that is required is a shovel to dig a pit 5 feet deep, some reclaimed wood slats for the walls, a roof, and a hammer and nails to assemble the structure. Below is a guide for building a privy for one. Dig the site as far from water and vegetable gardens as possible, preferably 50 to 100 feet away.

Using a concrete slab floor stops rodents and diverts rain from the pit. If concrete is not available, use a reclaimed grate at least 7x7’ and place boards overtop to create a solid floor (make sure to cut a hole for the seat). Rings cast in the slab permit the top structure to be moved to a new site when the pit is full. Add windows and/or translucent roofing for natural light.


Traditionally lye or powdered lime has been used to kill bacteria in the pit of a privy. This can indeed be done, but instead it is preferable to add dirt, ashes and dry clippings (leaves, twigs, etc) on a regular basis to help convert the refuse into compost. This compost wouldn’t be used but helps re-incorporate human waste into the earth system.

When a pit is full, it is time to move the shed structure. Dig a new pit several feet away from the first one haul the structure overtop of it, using the embedded hooks to attach chains to pull it. Use the dirt from the new hole to fill and cover the old hole. Always dig the privy pits as far from food plants as possible.

The primary problems of outdoor pit latrines are flies/mosquitos, odors, and the spread of disease. Manage these by covering the pit with a concrete slab or plywood, fitting tightly to the pit walls so that there are no gaps or holes between the latrine cover and the edges of the pit. Install a capped and screened vent pipe that rises at least 18 inches above the roof of the latrine, and use a tight fitting seat cover inside the latrine. Paint the vent pipe black and place on the sunny side of the latrine. This heats the air inside the pipe, causing it to rise and draw air out of the pit, minimizing odor.

Chamber pots

For convenience, homes can keep pots or buckets indoors for cold weather, nighttime, or illness, that gets emptied into the outhouse pit in the morning. To reduce the spread of germs, these should only be used for urine and emptied promptly.

Composting toilets

Choosing a secluded room in a house or building, put a toilet seat on a rigid plastic bucket. In the bottom of the bucket, place some sawdust (sawdust should be loose and coarse, not a fine powder), peat moss, or dried leaves mixed with some dirt. After each use, add more of this material so the waste is covered. When the bucket is full, dispose of in a compost pile and allow 2 years to mature. Alternately, dig a hole in the ground about six feet deep and 2 or 3 feet across. Empty into the hole, and cover completely with dirt. Cover the hole with a board weighted down with bricks or rocks. When this has been filled to within 2 feet of the surface, fill it the rest of the way with dirt. Disposal holes must be at least 8 yards away from a source of water such as a well, pond, or stream.

If toilet paper is not available, many common papers can substitute, such as newspaper or phone book paper. Even green leaves (as opposed to dry) can suffice. Some cultures use water for cleansing.

Read the next section, Chapter 6: Farming By-products...

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