by Kellene Bishop
Yesterday I came across an “emergency preparedness blog” that was alarmingly incorrect. It was a basic topic, but it was addressed in a very misguided manner. The author wrote about what she plans to use in an emergency for her toilet hygiene—rags instead of toilet paper. So as not to risk educating anyone incorrectly, rather than providing a link to the article I will instead provide a few summations of the article which she posted on this national “preppers” site.
First of all, she was a big advocate of NOT using toilet paper during an occasion in which you had to rely on an outhouse, a hole in the ground, or some other such scenario. She labeled such a premise as useless, expensive, and unrealistic. Instead she offered up a suggestion of using old rags and then storing the “used rages” in a lidded bucket filled with borax, bleach, water and laundry detergent. She believes that such an option is “more eco-friendly” than toilet paper is.
While I read the article, I could sense the enthusiasm that this person had for sharing her knowledge with the rest of the world. I believe she was also trying to make the alternative solution as easy as possible for others. I certainly don’t believe that she was attempting to mislead anyone. However, I physically cringed while I was reading it, realizing that she was setting up herself and anyone else who bought into her instructions, for a major sanitation problem—even a deadly one.
Toilet Paper Facts
To understand why planning on using a rag as opposed to toilet paper or another like product, I think I should first point out a few things about feces and urine that some folks may not realize. First of all, sewer treatment employees receive HAZARD PAY because of the danger of their work. In fact, sewer treatment employees receive more “disaster prevention training” annually than police officers do to improve their firearm skills. In other words, working with urine and feces is not a task to be taken lightly. The hazard in working with sewage isn’t just about the chemicals used to treat the sewers, but it’s also about working with the unavoidable—the waste itself.
Urine contains compounded amounts of toxins, nitrogen, nitrates, and ammonia. As such, it is NOT recommended that it is simply thrown out somewhere uncontained or unprotected. For those of you who are considering having two containers for solid and liquid waste in a worst case scenario, I beg you to rethink that plan. Solid matter actually needs the liquid to help it break down. Plus, it’s simply not realistic from a physiological standpoint to perfectly separate the two while someone is heeding a call from Mother Nature. Separating the two compounds will only create more problems which I don’t have room to address in this post.
As urine and feces sit—especially in a heated environment—it develops deadly pathogens, dangerous combinations of microbes, bacteria, and viruses—including the well-known e-coli. This compound attracts flies which feed on it and then spread it from one location to another. The point being that handling such a compound in any way is not a wise decision. Staying away from it and disposing of it in all cases is critical.
Let’s also understand that a scenario that’s accompanied by the symptom of limited access toilet comforts that we’re presently used to is indicative of a serious scenario. Think about what would have to take place in order for a rationing of toilet paper to take place. (Other than the toilet paper shortage caused in 1973 by Johnny Carson jokingly telling his audience that there was a TP shortage. As a result, he actually CAUSED a shortage because millions of people cleaned off the shelves of TP that night. *grin*) Perhaps a natural disaster, a financial collapse, or act of war would cause such consequences. Any of these scenarios would mean that we could no longer take our present state of sanitation for granted.
One of most important aspects of establishing a society is to provide a community with reliable sanitation solutions. The reason is because poor sanitation can literally kill an entire community within a 50 meter radius in as little as 30 days. Bacteria, disease, and viruses are no respecter of persons, borders, or bank accounts. Thus preventing the spread of such must be diligently practiced at the root of its origins. If sanitation is not practiced with the utmost of our capabilities during everyday or dire circumstances, then disease and death will speedily run rampant. Remember disease is not easily curtailed to a specific environment. Disease is no respecter of persons, boundaries, or social positions Keep in mind that due to our easy methods of travel, disease can spread faster than it ever has in history. That’s a significant statement considering that the Spanish Flu spread to over one-third of the earth in a matter of only three months—this prior to the availability of speedy international travel.
Preparing for alternative sanitation solutions can be practical, comfortable, and realistic. The use of toilet paper should not be viewed as a luxury that can be easily dismissed. While we should be aware of alternative options such as corn husks, phone book pages, or newspapers, it’s important that we recognize the need to provide us with a safe distance, minimal exposure, and safe disposal of our hazardous waste. Seaweed is also a good alternative as it’s got healing properties with it as well. The fact of the matter is ALL of these aforementioned alternative options are much safer options for you versus you planning on using rags and cleaning them as you go.
To be blunt, planning on using cloth or rags is not an ideal “plan B.” Just by nature of the rag method you are more prone to come into contact with the fecal matter. The longer it “hangs around,” being stored in buckets, being washed, etc, the more likely that contact is. Additionally, the rag method requires storage of the fecal covered rags until you wash them. The storage—especially with any heat involved, will compound the hazardous toxins as the bucket of used rags sit. Something else I think we underestimate is that smells, especially unpleasant ones, strongly affect our morale. Unpleasant smells are not simply an affront on the senses. They are also an inhalation of dangerous microbes and airborne bacteria. If you’re storing the used rags, the smell lingers throughout your entire living environment. Instead it should be burned or broken down with something like Chemisan. It would definitely stink (excuse the pun) if you couldn’t enjoy the smells of sautéed garlic and onion because the wafting aroma of the outhouse overpowered it.
Lastly, in order to use rags for this particular hygiene care, most believe they need to use heavy chemicals such as borax or chlorine—neither of which are eco-friendly. Where can you safely dispose of those chemicals?? If you absolutely HAVE to use rags, consider instead using essential oils to clean the rags with such as lavender, lemon, and tea tree oil. Exposing yourself to potential contact with fecal matter is such a bad idea, that even the reusable toilet wipe companies don’t recommend their product for use for anything else except straight urine. Additionally, it requires much more physical energy and water to take care of than does TP. You can never underestimate the importance of conserving physical energy and maintaining as much “normalcy” as possible during a crisis scenario.
On the other side of the debate, toilet paper can easily be broken down or safely disposed of. It can easily be burned or buried. My favorite method of breaking down fecal matter and TP is the use of Chemisan. Chemisan eliminates a great deal of the smell, deadly pathogens and breaks it down completely in as little as two weeks leaving behind the equivalent of a soil.
Contrary to some opinions, toilet paper does not have to be expensive. For over a year now, thanks to coupons, I have put my mandatory price point on toilet paper at 25 cents a roll. I don’t pay any more than that, ever. But when I get it at that price, I do purchase as much as my budget that week will permit me. I also use that same strategy on anything else I purchase and bring into my home. I set a price point and stick to it. This means that I don’t have to choose BETWEEN having wheat or toilet paper. I get to have what I and my loved ones need for every anticipated event. Planning well everyday means that you don’t have to choose between one vital necessity and another. Knowing you have all of the bases covered means more mental strength for you to deal with the other aspects of a survival scenario which may test you.
Toilet Paper as a Multi-Purpose Product
Also as an alternative view of the blog I’m referencing, toilet paper is a multi-purpose product. It’s often used by cost conscious individuals in lieu of facial tissue. It’s also used by some as a source of cooking fuel (along with isopropyl alcohol)—a waste to me considering so many other cooking alternatives, but to each his own. And hey, TP has even been used by the US. Military as camouflage during the Gulf War!
The comfort factor of toilet paper should not be underestimated either. Promoting familiarity during a crisis scenario is as important as your medical supplies. This is why a survey two years ago revealed that over half of all of the respondents said that they would choose food first, then water, and then toilet paper as their supplies on a deserted island. In other words, it’s more important to peoples psyche and comfort than perhaps this author realized. I suspect more people didn’t mention toilet paper simply because it was off their radar. Perhaps a gorgeous companion and their favorite rock band made the list instead. When there is any kind of an “ick” factor involved, it’s much harder to expect persons to change their habits, even in a survival scenario. Trying to do so will inevitably bring about stress. If you’re using moss and leaves right now everyday, then you won’t have any problem with those items in the future—unless you don’t stock up. Otherwise, having what you’re familiar with for such an inevitable part of life is critical to your mental health.
Bottom line, in the event of true emergency scenario, having ample toilet paper will NOT be the least of your concerns. It falls in line with the Physical and Medical aspects of preparedness which puts it in the position of priority number 3 and 4 out of the Ten Principles of Preparedness. So, watch for the sales, know how much your family uses in a week, and plan accordingly.
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