How are People Going to Dispose their Trash, Garbage, Waste after SHTF?


So imagine this – the (systemic) systems around you have come to a halt. Those which most people count on to always be there and functioning – including the trash collection that stops by your house once-a-week to pick up your garbage and trash.

Let’s say that it all stops. How will you dispose of the trash and garbage which you may be producing while you continue to survive?

It’s a hypothetical question, and is intended to encourage you to think about the subject.

Chime in with your comments and opinions.

Here are a few thoughts…

For one thing, given that ‘modern’ living involves a tremendous amount of trash, waste, and ‘throw-away’ habits – I suspect that if times get tough – fewer things will be thrown out (the Great Depression anyone?). It involves one’s definition of ‘trash’.

In a SHTF world, there will be little consumerism, and people will be keeping anything they get their hands on. These things may come in handy for your own self or they may be used for barter and trade.

Now lets talk garbage… I also suspect that there will be fewer scraps (of food stuffs) thrown out because people will be genuinely hungry and will learn to eat EVERYTHING. This will result in less ‘garbage’.

Having said that, let’s say you’re living in a metropolitan area (where most people live) and you live in suburbia without much land. Of the garbage and trash that you do produce, where will you dispose of it?

Even more important, what about human waste, as in toilet? If the plumbing (and sewer) stops ‘working’, what are you going to do? Where’s that going to go? Have you thought about it?

For a short term ‘event’, the sewers may still flow downhill. However you may want to have a good supply of heavy duty trash bags (for any and all waste). For a longer term SHTF, you will need longer term solutions. If you have the room and the land, you can more easily manage this (holes in the ground).

Look into composting (organic wastes). You can reuse this in your garden eventually.

Look into what it takes to build a do-it-yourself ‘out house’.

Okay, hopefully this got you to thinking about it… what’s your opinion?


  1. I remember when we used to burn our trash, save string and paper bags, and feed table scraps to the dog.

    The only thing we have to worry about is plastic, which we didn’t have back then. But after TSHTF, there won’t be any more deliveries of things made of plastic, so that will eventually stop being a problem.

    I have a Kelly Kettle, which will use any kind of fuel, paper, wood, leaves, twigs, etc. So my trash will be used to boil my water and heat my food. I have a neighbor I don’t like, so at 3 am, I will just dump all my plastic over his fence and pretend I don’t know who did it.

    Got it all figured out!

  2. Some garbage can be burned. Some can be buried. In our residential neighborhood, I can see neighbors working together to dig holes, & cover trash w/ dirt -a landfill on a small scale. I think plastic bottles & containers will be washed & saved to re-use. Garbage bags & plastic walmart bags will become valuable & maybe even emptied & reused.

    As for bathroom stuff, dig a hole. Maybe build an outhouse.

    1. I visited Russia and Ukraine around 1999. Every vendor charged for plastic ‘grocery’ bags. People didn’t have cute cloth ‘reusable’ bags.

  3. I think of urban neighborhoods prior to indoor plumbing. People tossed their chamber pot contents right out the window. How long would it take to degrade to that? Cholera, anyone?

  4. Recycle, reuse, repurpose. Outhouse far way from the well (At least 100 feet)There is no reason to not have working flush toilet if you have some technical skills & the ability to scavenge materials. The hardest part is digging the hole for septic tank & field lines. Compost pile far away from house & well (At least 200 feet, it may draw wildlife)

    Personal hygiene will become crucially important to prevent the spread of disease. Some food scraps can be used to bait in wildlife for easy hunting. But I would save this for winter or other desperate times. Bait regularly but hunt baited area only when necessary.

  5. When the Carnivore Cruise Lines ship lost power and was adrift, people pooped in the shower in their cabin for days, even though they knew it wouldn’t be cleaned up anytime soon, and even though they were surrounded by an ocean.

    1. Hugh, heard that sort of “response”, from a few of those cruise ship disasters…

      as you say, “even though they were surrounded by ocean”..and also,
      what about a simple bag in a trash can/bag in the toilet?

      it surely makes one ask, “how stupid were / are they?”

  6. I suspect that the garbage problem could be a problem initially and transform into a health hazard …

    If the electric power closes down the sheeple will be emptying their refrig & freezers and just dumping food for the regular garbage pick-up & disposal … they just won’t be an understanding & acceptance of the SHTF seriousness …

    Combine that rotting garbage with the improperly disposed human feces –

    An unbelievable situation if the SHTF results in unclaimed & unburied corpses …

    1. I believe you are absolutely correct. During previous disasters, people have behaved disgustingly with regards to their waste. It’s incredible really… Most people have no ‘sense’. They’ve never been taught that in the school of life.

    2. Isn’t it amazing that this is a first world modern problem?
      I have lived in third world countries where there a multimillion population cities where the majority have no electricity, no running water and no sewer systems. They get by – but have done so for eons. They are raised to deal with all these problems. Modern first world countries people have no basic living skills or how to deal with living rough.

      I am old enough to remember when the loo was out in the back yard. The latrine consisted of a small hut wherein was a seat with a large can under it. There was a weekly collection by the “night men” using a “night cart” pulled by a horse.

      It was the age before plastic packaging. Groceries were picked up with paper bags. Meat was bought from a butcher wrapped in grease proof paper and news paper or white paper.
      Garabge – what little of it was burned off once a week on a designated day for your area. Food scraps were minimal and either put in the compost or recycled.

      There was no throw away society. You bought the best items for as much as you could afford and kept these for years.

      I still have my fathers wood working tools – nearly 100 years old. Some of my young tradesmen have no concept of quality or sense of money value. They buy expensive drill bits and throw them away when they get blunt- they have never heard of the concept of “Resharpening”

  7. Having a septic system is a bonus here as it works without electricity. As far as garbage we tend to burn most of it in the winter in our wood burning stove. Like Daisy said, eventually with no deliveries there won’t be much garbage. Glass and plastic containers we would wash and re-use. The only thing that would be a problem would be metal cans. Some could be re-purposed the rest I guess we would bury.

    1. Metal cans can be crushed flat and reused. I have seen walls built with them. Of course with no delivery’s of any kind the cans will go away soon also.

  8. The more complex “the system” is, the more complicated the changes will be for people. We’re in the country and are on a well and septic system. In almost 30 years, we’ve had our tank cleaned two times. Still, we have prepared for the what-if scenario and we dug a hole and made an outhouse. We have stocked lime and have bagged sawdust, too.

    We have no “garbage pickup” and must deliver our garbage, gift-wrapped in plastic, to a transfer station if we have a need to dispose of garbage. We have very little throw-away, though. All paper is burned either in the wood stove or in the metal burn-barrel outside, depending on the type/quality of the paper. We have very little plastic because we raise so much of our own foods. We also buy local foods and none of that comes in plastic. Glass containers are always washed and saved for another use. For example, recently I used several olive oil glass jars for my elderberry syrup. Foods that I can are in glass jars and can be re-used over and over again. Broken glass is kept in a small plastic bin that eventually goes to the landfill which we use about once a year (they will accept used oil and other toxic things). Of course, in SHTF scenarios, used motor oil will be worth saving.

    Metal cans are rinsed and crushed at our place. They go to the landfill too, but in SHTF, they’ll just stay here and if necessary, they can be used to cover or patch an outbuilding.

    Keeping an ample supply of plastic bags can be a big help and can help organize discarded items if large plastic or metal receptacles aren’t available.

    For folks in the city, all I can say is “get out”. And for those in the suburbs, their lifestyles will radically change. Basic body functions and hygiene will become biohazardous in a short time. People in the burbs will become somewhat dependent upon the cooperation of all neighbors and it’s a risk I would not want to assume. Now is the time to think it all through and try to envision a plan that is community-based if you’re in the burbs. If I were stuck in the burbs, I’d have a disguised outhouse in place, but disguised as a cute little garden shed, hiding in plain view.

    1. “If I were stuck in the burbs, I’d have a disguised outhouse in place, but disguised as a cute little garden shed, hiding in plain view.”

      What an excellent idea ;)

      1. Bobcat, If this were a scenario I had to live through, it would be important that ALL outside family activity be carefully thought through because of neighbors and their fears and/or perceptions. Undoubtedly, trips in and out of a shed would need to be thought through — as other family activities. I would probably set up an indoor urine bucket w/ a lid and a seat (we have one of those ready to assemble here because you just never know). Having something like that, the many trips would be reduced to perhaps one trip, in the dark, or at various times. The point of having an outhouse is one of convenience but also one of hygiene and health. If managed properly, an outhouse can solve the waste and potential contamination issue.

        Allowing a one-family outhouse to serve multi-families defeats the purpose of a family outhouse on a number of levels. The first concern would be hygiene and potential contamination. The second concern would be the speed in which the outhouse would fill up. I happen to believe in self-sufficiency and self-reliance and would tell others in a community to create their own.

        Human manure might be feasible for others but there is a long time-line for it to “cure” properly. But then, I’m not in the suburbs and have no close neighbors. For fertilizer w/ our gardens, orchard, and perennial/permaculture plants, we use composted animal manure. We have enough manure and compost from livestock, and we have enough land that human excrement won’t pose a problem for us. Those in the burbs are going to have to adapt quickly and properly to a very different lifestyle and I just don’t see it happening. I think the survival rate will show a significant loss of human life because most people are addicted to “systems” and can’t figure out the most basic problems anymore.

  9. If you live in a diggable area, what works best for me is using 55 gallon barrells sunk in the ground and the outhouse built over them. Punch a few holes for drainage, and they will last for quite awhile. Less chance of the sides of the hole caving in too.

  10. Without power there will be no problem with the modern sanitary sewer system. There will be nothing much going into it very quickly as the pumps that supply the water systems will not be working.

  11. Im buggin out.
    Can’t imagine what the smell will be like in an urban setting (August, 100 deg. heat) with all the know it all sheep doing whatever they feel like.

    Bet we will smell a city miles away before we even set eyes on it. So sad.
    If we last this long.

  12. do what Bears do.!!! in the Woods.. been here in the woods 30 years, I have a septic tank out back-,well way out front. Not a problem. Gutters on the house, I could catch Rain water if necessary.I burn Paper in my wood stove,Heat,I rarely buy things in Plastic,Can’s can be re used,as well as glass. when TSHTF, Junk mail will cease,newspapers too, the few that have Fugal lives will do fine.i’m a good Boy Scout.

    I really don’t care,they can wait for the Govt. to come to their rescue..HA_HA. get in line.

  13. Hi,
    I would highly recommend that everyone get a copy of the Humanure Handbook. Thermophillic composting (hot composting, followed by about 2 years of gradual breakdown) will responsibly and safely eliminate the disease- waste problem, and (after 2 years) you can safely grow food in the compost.

    Two buckets (one to put the waste in, one for dirt and wood chips) will get the job done, indoors or outside. If it stinks, add more dirt and wood chips!

    The Humanure book has some unnecessary, negative religious comments, but otherwise has lots of scientific documentation of the efficacy of composting, and describes perfectly how to deal with that part of the survival equation.
    Good Luck to all, Linda

  14. Hmm, we don’t produce much garbage here; our animals eat any organic waste, like weeds, kitchen scraps and leftovers, we burn paper that I don’t want in my compost, we recycle all glass and plastic for other uses, and we have a well (with solar panel) and septic system. Our septic tank has never needed a cleanout, if you’re careful what goes in there it will continue to work indefinitely. For instance, only the toilet is hooked to the tank, kitchen sink, bath tub etc are not dumping soaps and detergents into the tank to kill the microbes you need. We have another large hole next to the septic that the washing machine and sinks drain into, but even that water can be diverted to use in the garden.

    I can usually find a purpose for most items that enter my property. But for those rare items that really do need to be disposed of, we have been taking them down the road to the transfer station. That place closed a few months ago, but would still make an excellent dump for all of us in the area if SHTF, as it was a dump before they put in the transfer trailers a few years ago.

    1. Tammy, how many years have you been on that septic tank? Have you ever seen any systems installed? Have you seen the drain pipes, distribution box, and how it’s all configured into the septic field? Do you understand how the basic system works? While the septic tank’s liquids flow out of the tank and into the septic field, there will always be residual “sludge” in a septic tank. That “sludge” builds up over time. There is no way that all of the solid matter can become lightweight enough to float into the upper region of the septic tank and then flow out and into the septic field. It is problematic to all standard septic systems, especially those systems engineered on less than desirable soils that do not adequately percolate the waste (that’s why perc tests are performed and more systems are using sand-filtration).
      Better to be prepared for the inevitable than to think all is going to be well forever.

      1. My septic system has been in continual use for about 40 years. I have lived in this house for 10 years, but different members of my family have lived here since it was built. It’s a small house, so no more than 3 people have lived here at a time. The septic tank has never been cleaned out.

        Yes, I have seen systems installed and I do understand how they work. The house is built on an ancient riverbed, so mostly sand and silt soil, which has excellent drainage.

        The bacteria and microbes in the tank work to break down the solids to liquid form so it can flow out into the leech fields.

        If a septic tank is large enough to handle it’s load (ie: how many people are using it) it should work properly indefinitely. Only if it’s overloaded or chemicals from soap kills the bacteria will it need cleaning.

        1. Tammy, thanks for responding. Do you know how far away your distribution box is from the tank itself? Your tank is about as old as ours is and you know the history prior to your ownership (something I don’t know but the previous owners were all young families with children). I think the main difference between our 2 systems is that you do not have any or all (don’t know which) greywater going into your tank. Ours was built for all greywater to go into the tank, something that we are working on to divert because there’s no real need to push dish-water or laundry-water into a septic system.
          I envy your soil chemistry — we are shale and as such, most of the land won’t perc for 2 bedrooms or more. Now, new homes must be on 5+ acres if they’re not on the city’s system, plus new homes must use sand filtration systems. Not sure if anyone here has gone the route of composted toilets (or if it would boggle the minds of the planners and gestapo code enforcers here). But there are many McMansions buying on the outskirts where town meets rural (they want the view and that ‘country’ feel) but none are off-grid that I’m aware of.

        2. I have no idea how far the box is from the tank, it’s never been dug up, and the man who installed it is now passed.

          If children have lived in your house, no telling what might have been flushed down the toilet. My older brother has had to have his tank cleaned out about every 18 months while his kids grew up. They flushed toys, washcloths, q-tips, and all sorts of stuff that won’t break down. Those things build up and clog everything.

        3. I lived on septic for several years. I added packaged microbes once a month to be sure. Not wanting to have to deal with a failed leach field. And yes, the grass is greener over the leach field.

      2. It isn’t the lye in soap (lye is changed chemically by the saponification process and is no longer lye in the finished product) that you need to worry about, it’s the fats. Oils and fats will clog the soil around your leech fields and liquids will no longer enter the soil.

        1. Solids collect in every septic system and in the lateral lines for the leach field.
          I see that you have had good luck so far but pumping the tank every few years is like changing the oil in your car. A little preventive maintenance can save a major expense down the road. Talk to someone in the business where you are and you will see what I am getting at.

      3. You also have to keep in mind medications that people take. I understand that some prescription drugs that pass through a persons waste can also destroy the good bacteria in your septic tank. When we first built the house, we didn’t have the septic pumped for about 8 years. There were no problems. The guy that came said everything looked good. However after hearing about medications possibly fouling the good bacteria I decided to have it pumped after two years because my husband has been on a slew of medications after some major health issues. So when our regular septic guy came out, he said that the build up was unusually high and suggested that we pump it yearly until there are less people in the house. I didn’t tell him that the number of people has remained constant the only variable is all the prescriptions that my husband is taking. We also add enzymes made for septic tanks every couple of months.

  15. nothing would change. We dont have trash pick up where i live now, we burn everything. As far as everything else, just keep useing the outhouse, so no nothing would change….

    1. Please………….. Have not paid for trash pickup in 20 years. Burn, Compost, Recycle, and dump everything else at the car wash.

      If something were to happen you live in the wrong place. Dealing with your crap is easy.

  16. Not a problem really. We have an out house for emergencies, dogs eat most of the food scraps and deer the rest of it. Burnables heat the house and the stove is set up to cook on if needed until we move the wood cook stove in. Lots of wood in the forest around us, metal gets recycled Nothing is wasted. Learned it all on grandparents farm as a kid

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