Waste Management in Emergency Situations

Waste management is something many people love to never think about. I even spent a large part of my life never thinking about it at all. That is definitely not true today as I work in sewage facilities every day. I have spent some time planning and preparing for disasters to hit these facilities. If there is an evacuation order, I will evacuate. Even if there is no order to evacuate and the roads are blocked or impassable, I wont be able to respond to any emergency.

That means you need a plan for what to do. Where will you put all your garbage? Where will your sewage go? Short term disruptions are easy to weather. Most people can keep two or more garbage bags onsite. How about twelve? Twenty-four? You get my point. There is a limit to the space, and how will it smell? Will it be toxic? Will it attract vermin? Unless you are very garbage conscious and diverting garbage to compost and reusing plastic, metal and paper onsite (which is very possible) you will be quickly overwhelmed with garbage.

And then there is sewage. At work we say “water in is water out”, meaning the drinking water we produce is roughly equal to the waste water we receive. The same is mostly true for individuals, to waste streams are non issues here, respiration (exhale) and sweat. But the rest becomes hazardous fast. You can flush a toilet by a bucket, but what if the sewers are backed up? If they are, then that sewage will either go into the nearest river, flood the street, or flood basements.
Even if you are on a septic tank, this can sometimes happen. If the tank outlet gets blocked, the tank has a crack and the water table is high. This may seem unlikely, but I have seen it happen more than once. This is obviously something to avoid, sewage has the double whack of water damage and biological contamination. Everything it touches quickly becomes garbage (adding to garbage problem described above). And it has to become garbage, or disease will quickly follow. Even not properly washing your hands will maker you sick. It has to be dealt with fast, or better yet, prevented from occurring.

Some forms of garbage can be incinerated, however it may not be legal or safe where you are. The only guaranteed thing you can do is find new uses for the “garbage”, removing it from the waste category into the useful category. Be creative, ask around, talk to people who think differently. I can suggest one right now. Do you have any five gallon buckets with lids? They can become temporary storage of your home biological waste. Now this will still leave you with a storage problem, but it will solve the disease/smell/vermin problems. Keeping buckets of waste is by far not a viable long term solution. But it will get you through a minor disaster, until services are restored or it is safe for you to leave. It it become apparent that services are never coming back or nobody is able to fix your septic tank (you included), then a new treatment option will need to be made. A later article on long term self-reliant waste management is coming at a later date.

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One thought on “Waste Management in Emergency Situations

  1. Pingback: A City Without Sanitation | The Ωmega Man Journal

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