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Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Gear Test: Poop in a bucket for two weeks


For many preppers out there, how to “go” sustainably after SHTF, is potentially a big problem. Bugging in is a popular strategy but many homes depend on municipal sewer and water. Where do you “go” when your toilets stop working?

This problem was discussed on one of the prepper group meetups (on Zoom). Mostly, the discussion was focused on how to properly plug up one’s toilet and drains to keep city sewage from backing up into one’s home. But, after you’ve successfully blocked your toilets, where does the bugged-in prepper “go”?

Get a Bucket

An unglamorous piece of prepper gear is the 5-gallon poop bucket. Amazon even sells a product ready-made for the task — The Luggable Loo. There are many YouTube videos on DIY versions. Everything looks simple and easy on a video. But what would using one really be like?

The Two Week Test

I decided to find out for myself. I would use a homemade bucket “Loo” for two weeks. Getting the bucket was easy. A contractor friend gave me several five-gallon buckets that had contained joint compound or paint  I did not have one of those toilet seats made to fit a bucket. While you can buy those (like this one: ), I have not yet. I wanted to model a surprise event such that I did not have time to get one from Amazon. Instead, I cut one out of a scrap of plywood — sanding down the edges, of course. It worked fine, but I will be buying a plastic one (like in the link) in order to be a little more spouse-friendly.

No Kitty Litter, No Saw Dust

Most of the videos extol the ease of using a ‘dry’ toilet but they also have a large supply of kitty litter, or a big pile of sawdust to use between…uses.  I don’t have a cat, and barely a gallon of sawdust is under my table saw. It did not seem practical that a prepper was supposed to store 50 lbs of kitty litter or a cubic yard of sawdust — just in case his/her toilets stop working?  That seemed impractical and really hard to talk a non-prepper spouse into.

I needed a more sustainable and readily available substrate.

Since I use shredded autumn leaves as litter for my chicken coop, I figured it was worth a try as people litter.  Here in New Hampshire’s woods, leaves are an inexhaustible resource.  I shredded up enough of last autumn’s leaves to fill a five-gallon bucket. I don’t how much it matters, but for the sake of…you know…SCIENCE… the leaves were red oak, sugar maple, and beech, roughly a 40/40/20 mix. 

First Rule: Separation

One of the first things the videos tell you is to only deposit solids in the bucket. Liquids need to handled separately. More on that later. Keeping them separate seems to be the key to odor management.

After each deposit, I tossed in just enough leaf shreds to provide about an inch of coverage. At first, I put the bucket’s cover back on, thinking it would contain the stink. When taking the cover off did not release a toxic cloud — in fact, there was no smell at all, I started leaving the cover off altogether.

I did not open the window or run the exhaust fan. It is not a large bathroom so if it was going to stink, that should have manifest itself. It did not. Even as the bucket was nearing capacity toward the end of the two weeks, there was hardly any smell at all.

Your Mileage May Vary

For me, an average-size older male, eating an average diet, it took me about two weeks and a bit less than 5 gallons of shredded leaves to get through two weeks of bucket use.  If there are two of you using the bucket, you could get a week out of a bucket of leaf shred. If you have teenage boys who eat (and deposit) like horses, well…your mileage may vary. The metric of one person needing 5 gallons of leaf shreds to cover two weeks, will give you an idea of how much leaf shred you’ll need and how often you’ll have to empty the bucket.

What to do with a full bucket?

Since I’m in the country, I can dig a hole in the woods in which to empty my bucket. This needs to be done far from your water source, of course.  If you’re in suburbia, you may still have a part of your yard that could accept a hole.  If you live in an urban hardscape, you might have to include heavy-duty trash bags as a liner for your bucket. Amazon sells those too. (pictured at right). What you do with a stack of poop bags would be the next challenge. I don’t have to worry about it, but if you’re an urban prepper, you might put some thought into what you’ll do with your bags.

Liquid “Gold”

Back on the topic of the separated liquids, I collected my liquids into a gallon milk jug. Being a gardener, I had a perfect way to dispose of the collected liquids. Pee-“tea” makes an excellent DIY fertilizer. Diluted 8 to 1, the resulting “tea” is high in nitrogen — but not so high as to damage the plants. There are a surprising number of YouTube videos on this too.

A day’s worth of collection yielded around a half-gallon of liquid-gold. This, mixed with four gallons of water, was poured around my garden plants. Some for the strawberries, coming out of winter hibernation. Some for the raspberries, just putting out their leaves. The pear and apple trees took a few gallons each. With a big garden, it would be hard for just one person to produce too much fertilizer “tea.”

Of course, you stop any such fertilizing a week or two (or several waterings) before harvesting.  If you’re squeamish at the thought of “tea” fertilizer on your foods, you can limit the fertilizing to things that fruit above ground, like fruit trees, berry bushes, corn, beans, etc. and avoid using it on root crops.  Personally, I’m not bothered by it. Urine is sterile as it leaves your body. It’s not potentially laden with pathogens like the solids. Humanure is whole other topic.  But even that can be rendered safe for garden use.


Using the bucket for two weeks was surprisingly easy and did not stink. Leaf shreds worked great. Even though I have a private septic system, so it doesn’t matter if the grid goes down or not, it is nice to know that I’ve got a viable backup system.

What about you? Have you figured out what you’ll do if city water and sewer fail where you live? If not, the answer could be as simple as a bucket.

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