Letter Re: Post-TEOTWAWKI Trash Disposal

It seems there has been little on the subject of garbage and what to do with it after TEOTWAWKI. I would suggest that anyone who has put any sort of effort into preparing for the end should come up with a plan for their trash, and soon. Whether you plan to bug in, bug out to a prepared location or already live in your location away from the Golden Horde and their anticipated escape routes, a plan should be in place before it is needed. The best example of how many communities will look (and in a very short time) can be found by going to one of the video hosting web sites (YouTube, Live Leak, Google) and do a search for “Naples Garbage”. My favourite is when the Italian Army shows up to clear it away from schools so they can reopen….and minor riots occur. The popular U.S. media seems to be ignoring this story (although, one of the videos is carried on ABC).
So, what to do with it then?
Burning it has been popular in every bad place I’ve been to (Somalia, Bosnia, Croatia). There, a burning trash heap was the indicator of many towns and villages, the plume visible before you arrived. This burning trash heap would probably not be the best solution to the survivalist who is trying to stay low in terms of visibility.
I used to live in the country, far away from anything that was important. My neighbour (and many others) had a burn barrel for most garbage that we both used, and a there were compost heaps for everything else. We would feed small amounts into the barrel, reinforced with some wood, cardboard or paper and let it burn. We tried to avoid burning plastics and styrofoam, since we could recycle, but there was no trash pickup. Eventually, the township started free garbage pickup and the barrels fell from popular use.
My suggestion as to what to so with it? Burn it, in a metal container like a 45 gallon drum with one end cut off, at night, either well off the road or in “dead ground” (a piece of terrain that is not easily viewed from the surrounding area) away from the main retreat. This keeps the fire contained in the barrel. The light from the fire will be controlled in what it illuminates, as in, the low ground you are in, not an open field (remember, it is a small fire). It builds in an emergency zone in case the fire gets out of the barrel and an area for any hot cinders to not land on the main retreat (use caution in grassy areas, always use fire common sense like water buckets, fire brooms and shovels). This also keeps the smoke plume from acting like a beacon for others.
Now, does everything burn, or should you burn everything? No. Plastics release toxic fumes when they burn. Metal, obviously, does not burn and can sometimes be re-used in some way shape or form. Have fun, stay safe. – R.J., Up North

JWR Replies: In my novel “Patriots”, I describe the “conserver lifestyle.” When living frugally and self-sufficiently in a post-collapse situation, you may generate hardly and trash aside for perhaps some plastic packaging and broken crockery.

A dedicated “conserver” does not generate much “garbage” in the modern sense. Consider the following ultra-frugal conserver practices:

Kitchen scraps: Use every available scrap for animal feed or for compost. (With the usual safety provisos for not using things like uncooked potato peels as animal feed.)

Paper and cardboard–saved for re-use as stationary or for fire kindling, insulation

Bottles, jars, plastic jugs, and plastic bags are washed and saved for re-use. (The ubiquitous one gallon plastic milk jug, for example, has a huge number of potential uses. One of these is making mini-greenhouse “hot caps” for your garden.)

Candle stubs and soap scraps. Save to periodically combine and re-use.

Steel and aluminum cans should all be carefully washed and sorted, for re-use as containers or a material for various metal projects. (Everything from patches for leaky roofs to alarm bells for your defensive wire.)

After being for soup bones, most bones can be ground to make bone meal, or burned to make lime.

Scrap metal of all descriptions should be sorted and stored.

Wood ashes and fat scraps should be saved for soap making.

Twine, string and thread of all kinds can be saved for re-use.

Clothes worn beyond the point or usefulness should be saved for bandage material, quilts, rags, and insulation. It is likely that we would revert to 19th century lifestyle mode of cloth handkerchiefs, cloth ladies supplies, and cloth diapers. (BTW, Lehman’s sells scrub boards and James Washers.)

Electronics beyond economical repair should be cannibalized for their metal hardware and individual components.

Of course, most of these extreme measures should be reserved for postTEOTWAWKI. The value of your time must be considered! Taking these measures now would probably alienate your spouse. Your family and neighbors would also soon notice your growing heap of stored “recyclables” which they would surely label garbage. It might not be to long until the fire marshal was called to condemn your stockpile as a fire hazard. Unless, of course you could convince them that all you were doing was “reducing your carbon footprint”.