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What is it like to go to the toilet in some of the most extreme conditions?

Author: Max Allum

31 August 2021

Toilets in the wild


Many of us take modern toilet technology for granted. Here in the UK, we have access to clean sanitation services. This is not however the case for all around the world (and outside of it). We have mains connected toilets that are linked to sewers where the waste is treated. If anyone is stuck without a main connected toilet, they can simply hire themselves a portable toilet. But what about when you’re in space, or the south pole and you can’t just simply phone us up here at Davlav.

Today we are going to look at using the toilet in some of the harshest conditions around the word. This includes the Antarctic, Desserts and even out of space! We will look at the different solutions we have come up with to manage our waste in a safe and sanitary ways. So, this is a warning now if you don’t like toilet talk this might not be for you!




One of the harshest environments on earth would be in Antarctica completely covered in snow and ice. There is a reason it is one of the most uninhabitable places one earth. Its lack of natural land and unwelcoming weather conditions. However, despite this there are about 37 permanent bases on Antarctica. Giving the continent a population of around 4,490.  With that many people comes a lot of people needing the toilet and a lot of human waste. So how do they go to the toilet and then dispose of the waste?


At Stations


That all depends on where they are as on their way to Antarctica they will have probably their most luxurious toilet experience of their trip.  This will be due to the fact that they will have access to a flushable toilet on the boat. When at their bases/stations the toilets are not too dissimilar to a portable toilet. Most likely they will be within a wooden  outhouse. Trying its best to keep as much heat in as possible. Then essentially there will be two buckets one for wee and one for poo. These will be lined with bags and then once finished with will be taken to a waste collection point. This waste is eventually shipped back to land to places such as New Zealand and California, then disposed of like any other waste.


When Camping


However there are many times where people will be out on expeditions. They will be camping rather than staying at bases. Simply just going to the toilet into the snow is a big no-no due to environmental protection laws. Explorers will each carry a pee bottle to use throughout the day and night. This will then be collected in a bigger container and taken with them. Of course this is much harder for the women who will have to learn how to use ‘she wees’. The pee bottles are often used inside peoples tents in order to keep as warm as possible. When camped out at one place for a while the explorers will even build toilet spaces with big walls to create protection from the cold winds.


The Dessert/The general outdoors


Now the matter of what to do with your waste when out on expeditions travelling through the desert or on a mountain range perhaps? Generally it is safe to urine it most outdoors areas without causing any damage to the environment or anyone’s health. Though it is still best to do in an isolated area away from others and anyway plant life. It is the other waste that we must be more careful about. This is due to it containing harmful pathogens and bacteria that could stick around and damage the environment. It is considered best to leave no faeces, so would be ideal to be done in a container and taken with you on your travels.  This however is not always practical and is certainly undesirable.


Cat Holes


Digging ‘cat holes’ in the ground and using these for a toilet often seems to be the most used common way of going to the toilet in these conditions. A small trowel is usually used to dig a toilet like this.  Of course this is not perfect and is it is said to to make decomposing take even longer. It is recommended that the cat holes are made well away form any water supply as well as other cat holes. Toilet tents are sometimes set up in order to dig a cat hole inside, especially when in the dessert. This is to avoid the heat and then the cold at night as well as to protect from the wind and sand.


In Space


Going to the toilet in space or zero gravity obviously requires a lot more technological advancement than digging a hole in the ground does. The process is however not as complicated as you may think. Obviously it is all dependent on what space craft or space station. On the Apollo mission they essentially went in bags.


As seen here though technology has improved a lot, focusing on making going to the bathroom as hygienic for the astronauts as possible. The toilet here may not look too different but certainly functions differently. For urinating they have two tubes one for the women and one for the men. Each astronaut has their own funnel for this which they clean after every time. The tube creates an air flow which collects all the urine stopping it from floating around the ship. They do however have equipment there to clean in case of any accidents!


For number 2’s they have to practice their aim long before they ever go to space. They will sit on the toilet accurately and then there will again be an air flow to collect all of the waste. There are arms which they lock in over there legs to avoid them from floating off the toilet. This also creates an air lock around the toilet to avoid any waste escaping.

Where does it go?


The urine can be actually be ejected into space, or in some space stations it is even treated and recycled. Meaning it can then eventually be drunk again or used to wash! The faeces however are kept in a tank and bought back to earth with them.


So there you have some of the craziest places to go to the toilet! Although unfortunately us here at Davlav would not be able to help you on any of those occasions. We can offer a range of portable toilet and waste management services. Get in contact with us here to find out further information.