While the recent national "Shake Out" earthquake drill and
ongoing television advertisements remind people what to do
when the ground shakes, less emphasis seems to be put on what
to do in a disaster over the long term - and, specifically,
how to manage sewage.
A group of five people from throughout the country are
helping change this by holding workshops about how to create
and manage an emergency compost toilet.
The group met at a permaculture hui in Raglan in April 2010
and quickly realised there was overlap between the
self-reliance skills they were learning and emergency
The Permaculture Emergency Response Team was set up. Team
member Lisa Johnston, who is based in Wanaka, said following
the Christchurch earthquakes they quickly realised toileting
was a major issue. Infrastructure was extensively damaged and
flushing a toilet often meant flooding someone's garden with
A basic emergency compost toilet consists of a bucket each
for urine and faeces.
Urine could be diluted and poured on to a garden, while the
solid waste could be covered with material such as sawdust,
leaves or soil and composted in a larger area, such as a
wheelie bin, provided there was air, moisture and a balance
of carbon and nitrogen.
Ms Johnston had held workshops in Wanaka and Hawea which were
well attended. However, a planned Queenstown workshop was
abandoned because of lack of interest.
Of the nearly two dozen people who attended the workshops,
about 70% indicated they would like to operate compost
toilets in everyday life, and "there was an opportunity for
the council to get behind this", especially with current
calls to cut down water use.
"We feel that these people should be supported and monitored
in that endeavour because they are going to be the ones who
know what to do when disaster strikes, and therefore they
should be well trained and supported."
Ms Johnston said it was much easier to prepare before a
disaster occurred than during an emergency.
Most of those at the workshops were interested in sustainable
living, although Ms Johnston spent more than two weeks
helping educate people about emergency compost toilets in the
wake of the Christchurch earthquakes.
Queenstown Lakes District Council solid waste manager Stefan
Borowy said an emergency would be dealt with on a
case-by-case basis. A working sewerage system would likely be
a priority but it would depend on the severity of other