Two people preparing for a disaster. A person indoors placing a water container on the bench next to an emergency toilet which is a bucket with a toilet lid placed on top. A person outdoors who has dug a hole holding a bucket and shovel. There are two oth

Emergency Toilets

After a large earthquake, don't flush! 

Even if the water is still running, it's likely the wastewater pipes will be broken. When you flush the toilet, your poo and wee may end up in your garden (or your neighbour’s garden)! 

Find out how to make an emergency toilet in our infographic below.

No running water means no flushing toilets

The wastewater network (which takes away the water we pour down the sink, and our poo and wee) is even more vulnerable than the drinking water network - its broken pipes would take longer to find and fix, and there would be more of them. 

If the water stops coming out of your tap, then it will also stop filling up your toilet cistern. You may not be able to use your normal toilet for some time after a major earthquake, so you will need to think about what you can use for an emergency toilet. 

How to build an emergency toilet:

Option 1. Build a long drop

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You will need: 

  • Backyard or space on your property to dig a large hole 
  • Tools to dig a hole, such as a spade 
  • Soil or other fill such as straw, sawdust, or shredded newspaper 

How to make a long drop: 

Dig a hole up to one metre deep and 30 – 40cm wide. Make sure the hole is away from any water source, above the groundwater table and far away from any vegetable gardens. 
 
After each use, cover your poo and wee with soil or other mulch. Keep the hole covered after each time you use it, for hygiene and safety reasons. You can do this by placing a piece of board or heavy-duty cardboard over the hole, this will discourage pests or pets from getting into the toilet. 
 

When your poo and pee get to 30cm below the surface - fill in the hole. Cover the hole with soil and dig yourself a new long–drop! This hole can also be used to hold solid waste from a bucket toilet.  

Option 2. Make an emergency bucket toilet

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You will need: 

  • Two sturdy 15 – 20-litre buckets with lids 
  • Permanent marker pen 
  • Dry mulch such as sawdust, dry leaves and soil or shredded newspaper 
  • Water – 2 litres of water per person per day 

How to make a bucket toilet: 

Set your two buckets in your normal toilet, bathroom or laundry. With a permanent marker pen write "wee" on bucket 1 and "poo" on bucket 2. It is important that you try to keep your wees separate from your poo as it will help keep the smell down and make it safer. 

Bucket 1 (wee):

  • Add 2-3cms of water to the bottom of your clean and empty bucket. Use bucket 1 for wee. This bucket should be for wee only (add toilet paper to bucket 2).
  • Once you have finished close the lid and wash your hands!
  • At the end of each day, dilute your wee with additional water and pour it into a disused area of your garden or other green space. 

Bucket 2 (poo):

  • Create a nest at the bottom of your clean and empty bucket. Use bucket 2 for poos and toilet paper only.
  • When you have finished, add a large cup or handful of dry mulch (sawdust, straw, dry leaves, soil, or shredded newspaper) to cover your poo. Then close the lid and wash your hands! 
  • Try to keep the poo bucket as dry as possible. Sometimes it's hard to poo without wee coming out, but if you can keep them separate, then this will keep the smell down and make it safer to handle. Use the sawdust, straw, or shredded newspaper to absorb any spills. 

 Bucket 2 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 them with extra mulch, straw, or soil. 
 
Why separate poo and wee? 

  • Keeping poo and wee separate reduces the smell. It is also safer, as wee contains far fewer germs than poo.
  • By keeping wee and poo separate, you will find that your bucket toilet is easier to empty and more hygienic.
  • During a disaster, it is very important to minimise the spread of diseases. Human poo contains a lot of dangerous germs and so a hygienic system for your emergency toilet will help your household avoid getting sick. 

Making a toilet seat

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It’s easy to make a seat for your emergency toilet:

You can cut a hole in a garden chair and place it over your bucket toilet or long–drop.
Toilet seats can be unscrewed from existing toilets and attached to the chair.

You can also build a frame with a toilet seat 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 for using an emergency toilet

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  • 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 poo bucket after emptying. 
  • Disinfect with a dilute bleach solution if necessary. 
  • Make sure you are emptying and cleaning your buckets regularly. 
  • 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. 

Helping children use an emergency toilet

  • Keep the gap between the toilet seat and the bucket as small as possible, to reduce accidents. 
  • 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 bucket is for poo and which bucket is for pee. 

Period products, nappies, and wet wipes

Most tampons, applicators, pads, nappies and wet wipes aren't biodegradable (or won't break down for many, many years).

Don't put any of these products in your long drop or bucket toilets! Please pop these in the rubbish. 

Wastewater isn't just about toilets

You'll also need to think about how you would dispose of water used for cooking and hygiene. 

Water from cooking can be tipped into gardens, but keep the water used for washing clothes or yourself away from vegetable gardens. 

Emergency Toilet Information Video

WREM0 Icon Report v2

Trial of emergency compost toilets

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

Read our report on the trial here: