In a disaster you may not be able to use your normal toilet if sewerage lines are broken or damaged. It’s easy to make and use an emergency toilet.

Making an emergency toilet

You can easily make two types of simple emergency toilet:

Long-drop toilet

To create an emergency long–drop you will need:

  • Tools to dig the long–drop, such as a spade or post hole borer
  • Soil or other fill

Dig a hole up to one metre deep and 30 – 40 cm wide. Make sure the hole is away from any water source, above the ground water table and far from any vegetable gardens.

After each use, cover the waste with soil or other mulch. Place a piece of board or heavy duty cardboard over the hole when not in use. This will discourage pests or pets from getting into the toilet.

When the hole is full to about 30 cm below surface level, fill with soil and dig a new long–drop.

This hole can also be used to hold the solid waste from a bucket toilet.

Simple bucket toilet

A simple bucket toilet can be set up in a bathroom or laundry. To make a simple bucket toilet you will need:

  • Two strong 15 – 20 litre buckets or pails 
  • Dry mulch such as sawdust, dry leaves, soil or shredded newspaper 
  • Water – 2 litres of water per person per day

Bucket 1

Use bucket 1 for urine, add 2 – 3 cms of water to the bottom of the bucket. This bucket should be for urine only (add toilet paper to the other bucket).

Empty the urine bucket daily by diluting with additional water and pouring it on to a disused area of your garden or other green space.

Bucket 2

Use Bucket 2 for faeces, and all toilet paper. Create a nest using your dry mulch (see image) at the bottom of this bucket. After each use add a large cup, or handful of dry mulch to cover.

Keep the bucket covered between use.

Keep the faeces bucket as dry as possible, this will reduce any smells. Use the sawdust, straw or shredded newspaper to absorb any spills.

The bucket will need to be emptied at least every three days. Empty into:

  • a hole in the ground, as per the long-drop toilet for advice on building a suitable hole; or
  • a large storage bin, such as a wheelie bin.

Keep bucket contents separate from other household waste and cover with extra mulch, straw or soil.

A simple toilet frame or seat can be built over the long drop.

Making a seat for your emergency toilet

It’s easy to make a seat for your emergency toilet – you can simply cut a hole in a garden chair and place it over your bucket toilet or long–drop.

Toilet seats can also be unscrewed from existing toilets and attached to the chair. You can also build a frame with toilet seats to use more comfortably. Any frame should be strong enough to support users, easy to clean (painting or varnishing will help) and easy to open so buckets can be removed and emptied. Seats and frames can be used over both long-drops and bucket toilets.

Safe handling tips

  • After using the toilet wash your hands thoroughly using soap and water, or hand sanitiser. Dry your hands thoroughly.
  • If possible use gloves when emptying buckets, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly using soap and water, or hand sanitiser. Dry your hands thoroughly.
  • Rinse and clean the faeces bucket after emptying
  • Disinfect with a dilute bleach solution if necessary
  • Make one person in your house responsible for emergency toilet duties – emptying and cleaning the buckets
  • Keep the toilet and waste material well separated from any food preparation areas
  • If someone does get sick (e.g. vomiting or diarrhoea), try and use another bucket. Take extra care when emptying the bucket and disinfect with a dilute bleach solution. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist.

Separate your waste

If you’ve been camping, you’ll know that an emergency toilet works best if the liquid and solid wastes are kept separate. This makes waste easier to handle and reduces smells.

Helping children to use emergency toilets

Keep the gap between the toilet seat and the bucket as small as possible, to reduce accidents. If you’re using a bucket, raise it up so it is touching the seat or frame.

Ensure your usual toilet is sealed shut so it can’t be used.

For young children use symbols or paintings to help them learn which toilet can be used.

Relieve Association

The Relieve Association has flat pack emergency toilets for sale and more information on emergency compost toilets.

Go to the Relieve Association website 

Trial of emergency compost toilets

In 2012 a trial of emergency compost toilets was conducted by WREMO.

Find out more