Set Up and Use Your Emergency Toilet

Finding Supplies for the Twin Bucket Emergency Toilet

Recycle free supplies whenever possible. Supermarkets and bakeries often give away used buckets with lids.  At least one lid should have a good seal. Three-gallon bakery buckets are great for children; they can also be placed on a low bench for people with infirmities. Buckets of odd sizes and shapes are useful for storing other emergency supplies. Since food-quality buckets cannot be legally repurposed for food, you can usually get them for free and put plastic waste to good use.

Buckets Two to ten 5, 6 or 7-gallon buckets. If you can’t recycle used buckets, they can be ordered in various colors here or here.

Lids You need lids.  A lid with a spout is useful for pouring urine.  Many lids are not reusable but U.S. Plastics “Saver” and “Gamma” lids are.  You can also get colored buckets with lids

Seats Lightweight black plastic seats generally fit cylindrical buckets ranging from 3 to 7 gallons.  You can easily shift a single seat from bucket to bucket. They are available from emergency suppliers (QuakeKare, etc) or from There are less expensive seat options, however. From pipe insulation purchased at a hardware store or a kid’s pool noodle split on one side you can fashion very comfortable seats.  You can also affix a regular toilet seat to the bucket or to a chair with a hole in it that you position just over the bucket. 

Bucket camp toilets  You can also buy a single bucket camping toilet with snap-on seat and seat cover for $15-20 (REI, Cabela’s, etc) Then add a found bucket or one you have on hand and move the seat from one to another.

Carbon substrate to compost poo   Ask your local lumberyard for sawdust and the coffee roaster for coffee husks.  Save bags of shredded paper. If you don’t have a much space, buy coconut coir fiber bricks as these expand when a small amount of water is added. (Adding 1.25 quarts of water to a coir brick to yields 8 or 9 quarts of friable carbon covering material.) Many options are available on or ask your garden shop or hardware store for ‘coconut coir fibre.’ 

Give someone you love a toilet kit!  For about $40 you can get everything required for a nested-bucket sanitation kit that makes a fine and loving gift. 

Using Your Twin Bucket Emergency Toilet

How to set up your Twin Bucket Emergency Toilet for use: 

  1. Mark the twin buckets “pee” and “poo” (or #1 and #2 or urine and feces, or yellow and brown, etc).
  2. Set them up in a private space. The seat can be moved from one to the other.
  3. Scratch your head and decide if you need to use the pee bucket or the poo bucket.
  4. Try not to pee in the poo bucket. This is really important but it is understandable that this isnʼt always possible. The pee is the component that produces the bad smell in toilets that mix.
  5. After using the pee bucket remove the seat and cover with a lid that closes well.
  6. After using the poo bucket, sprinkle about a half cup of the carbon material so that it completely covers the surface of the poo. This will eliminate odors and ensure flies don’t make themselves at home.
  7. Toilet paper is just fine for the poo bucket but not for the pee bucket.
  8. Put the toilet seat back down ensuring it’s not airtight. Give your poo some air and it will dry out and reduce in volume.

Remember that in an emergency people are vulnerable and scared.  If your flush toilet doesn’t work and the sewers are down, folks in your household will appreciate the comfort, hygiene and safety that come with this simple twin toilet.

What to do when the buckets fill up:

The really great feature of Twin Bucket Toilet is that it is No-Mix. It separates pee and poo, makes each of them easier to handle and almost completely eliminates odor.

A day’s worth of pee has almost 10 times the volume of poo. So the pee bucket will fill up a lot faster.  The volume of pee is why  a single bucket camp toilet fills up quickly and the mix smell and  is a mess to deal with.  The great thing about pee is that it’s clean (unless someone is sick) and getting rid of it is not difficult.  If you have extra buckets and lids, you can store it until it can be put in the soil (6 to 8 inches below the surface) or added to a compost pile.  In a real emergency you can dump urine in a street drain or the river, although a wooded area is preferable. What’s special about the Twin Bucket Emergency Toilet, is that it works even for high-rise apartment dwellers.

It’s the poo bucket that contains most of the pathogens that can make people sick. But the great thing about poo is that it doesn’t take up much space.  Left to dry in a bucket with some carbon material, poo simply decomposes into compost.  In a small household it will take a couple of weeks for the poo bucket to fill so just leave it be and give it some air. Poo is manageable, although there will still be pathogens. Note that compost that is safe to reuse on gardens requires extra work and is covered in the section Disaster Sanitation Planning (under construction).

For more information on the Twin Bucket system, visit the Twin Bucket Toilet FAQ.

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