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Mexican Fosa Septica

We promised to explain why you should not put paper in a Mexican toilet, and we’re not going to let you down. There are actually several answers to this question and the most puzzling of these is: you can put paper in a Mexican toilet! Yes, you can. The toilet will not spit the paper back out like a wrinkled dollar from a vending machine. The toilet police won’t show up at your door. And there will be no immediate ill effect from your indiscretion.

But it would be rude.

In many tourist destinations in Mexico, especially hotels, where modern sewage treatment is available, you are encouraged to flush your paper, just like in Gringolandia. The hotel management may even post little signs to let their Mexican guests know that they are expected to dispose of their papel confort down the toilet. They have to do this because Mexicans are trained from birth to be very polite.

But away from the tourist hangouts, and especially in private homes, you will encounter a small, covered, plastic or plastic-lined wastebasket near the toilet. If you see one, then be a polite guest and put your paper in there, not down the toilet.

To understand what etiquette has to do with how you dispose of toilet paper in Mexico, we need a basic understanding of sewer systems. If you are reading this from your home or office in Gringolandia, chances are that your toilet (and anything else that drains from your house) is connected to your city’s public sewer system. Everything you flush flows through large concrete pipes to an industrial processing plant where the solids are separated from the liquids. The liquids are filtered and treated with chemicals and the result is released back into the environment in the least offensive way possible where nature finishes the process using evaporation and rain. The solids are also treated and refined, resulting either in trash or fertilizer. This immense infrastructure is quite expensive to install, operate and maintain. It also consumes a lot of energy. These are your tax dollars at work.

Gringos who flush outside the city limits use a private septic tank, called a fosa septica (septic pit) or sumidero (drain) here in Mexico. In Gringolandia, a septic tank is usually made of a durable plastic and has two chambers. The first is called the sediment chamber. This is where the wastewater enters. Most of the solids collect here at the bottom where anything organic is slowly digested by bacteria. The liquids continue on, passing through PVC pipe (and perhaps some baffles to prevent large solids from entering) into the second stage, called the clarifying chamber. Here, particles are allowed to settle while the clearest liquid exits the septic tank.

Unlike their northern neighbors, almost all Mexicans use a fosa septica, which is not much different than a Gringolandia septic tank. This technology is very old, so the process is the same. The only difference is the materials. Here in Mexico, many of the colonial houses and other buildings were constructed before the advent of plastics, so most fosa septica are built from plastered stone or concrete block. While plastic septic tanks have one or more manhole covers to permit inspection and cleaning, Mexican fosa septica are generally covered with a slab of concrete and sealed with plaster, like a tomb.


The important difference between a traditional, Mexican fosa septica and a plastic, Gringolandia septic tank is what happens when the clarified liquid is released back into the environment. In the plastic version, the liquid enters one or more perforated PVC pipes, which are buried in long trenches about four feet deep, filled halfway with gravel and covered with topsoil. This is called a drain field, and it’s where you want to plant your strawberries.

In the traditional, Mexican version, the liquid flows down into a filtro (filter), which is a concrete-lined pozo (well) filled with several inches of gravel on top, followed by several inches of charcoal in the middle, followed by a foot or two of sand at the bottom. Why use a filtro and not a drain field? One reason is because the filtro does not use plastics. Another is that this method takes up less space, which is a requirement in colonial urban zones.

But the filtro is the hurdle, so to speak, on the toilet paper trail. Even if much of the paper discarded in a Mexican toilet remains in the fosa septica’s sediment chamber, tiny bits do float past the clarifying chamber and into the filtro, so that over time a paper mache sludge builds up.

How much time does it take to clog a filtro? Nobody knows. It depends on how big the fosa septica and filtro are, how many people are using the toiliet and how much paper or other non-biodegradable stuff they’re flushing down there. It could take three years, or five, or ten. If you don’t flush any paper, it could take fifty or more.

As you probably know, all septic tank systems eventually fill up with sludge and non-biodegradable stuff and have to be pumped out. In Gringolandia, where most septic tanks are located under a lawn in the yard, this is not such a big deal: just dig for a few minutes, screw off the lid and pump away.

In Mexico, maintenance can be a bit more trouble. Many fosa septica are located under the patio, or they might be under the foundation of your house or even partially under your neighbor’s house, because many of these old colonial homes are the result of subdividing a larger mansion. Even when located in a back yard, the access is limited, which means the workers and their hoses will probably be coming through your front door. What’s more, most fosa septica are as old as the houses. Digging into them, like unearthing an ancient tomb, can be risky, leading to cracks or a complete collapse.

This is where famous Mexican thriftiness meets Mexican toilet training. No matter what their socio-economic station in life, Mexicans stretch their pesos and pretty much everything else. When the convenience of flushing paper down the toilet is at the expense of flushing pesos by cracking open a fosa septica, Mexicans would rather have the pesos. In this sense, it would be as rude to flush paper down your host’s toilet in Mexico as it would be to leave the door open on their refrigerator.

Most new homes and residential developments being built in Mexico today do use plastic septic tanks in their construction. When we were working on the design of our new home, we were offered the choice of a plastic septic tank or the traditional fosa septica. The plastic version, called a Septi-K, is billed as an environment-friendly version. It costs less than a fosa septica and has a cover you can remove to rinse the internal filter. The clarified liquids empty into a leach field or French drain. Every ten to 30 months, depending on use, you have to manually remove the lodo (uh… mud), which you can put in your yard as fertilizer or perhaps share with friends. And you can flush paper into it like a gringo.

Hmmm…

When we visit Gringolandia, we now feel uncomfortable putting paper in the toilet. Is it because sorting recyclables by hand is planet-friendly? Is it because it feels like throwing money down the toilet? Or is it just force of habit? Hard to say. In the end, we chose the traditional fosa septica for our new house.

So now you know what to do when you visit our bathroom and why you are doing it. Thanks to you, we may never have to service our fosa septica. At least in this one small way, we have assimilated into Mexican culture.


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93 Responses to “Mexican Fosa Septica”

  1. Very interesting information. I didn’t really know how septic tanks worked let alone the Mexican system. AND… I now know why paper is not welcomed in Mexican or Cuban or Guatamalan or most Latin American homes.

    Good Read!

    Bill

  2. I find this so ridiculous because paper does not damage the process of a septic tank – astringent and chlorine and germ killer do so the exucuse is the paper. I have lived on many continents and this is the first time I heard such a nonsense.
    Even on boats, you flush the paper.. which usually does not contain perfums and and..
    In the old days people were using all kind of things even newspapers….

  3. Probably also explains why I have seen so many homes with bidets.

  4. That was interesting to me when I moved to Merida. Also, that many of the toilets don’t have the traditional Gringo Toilet Seats. That many Public rest rooms, the attendant only gives you a little toilet paper. U have to buy your own roll if you want more paper to wipe with. I told Ariadna my 100% Yucateca esposa, that we Gringos eat alot, and go to the bathroom alot. We need more than a few sheets of paper to wipe our rears with. I saw the video. It was good! During my 2 years in Merida, I didn’t go into one of those poor homes, or visit a hog/pig farm. I did travel around Merida on the Camion Urbanos, for $4.50 pesos. I went all over on Minnis 2000, Rojos (for the south), Pioneros del Confort, and the other routas. I went all over Merida. To Chi Chi Suarez, Uxman, Progresso, Francisco Villa ( a poor community to the south), Monte Cristo (Where the rich live), Compestre (where more rich live and where my esposa grow up in her youth), and other parts. I just didn’t stick to the fancy Paseo de Montejo. I’ve been to Carnival in 2003 & 2005. Loved it! That’s it for now. Hasta approximo.

    Carlos Daniel Gallegos
    fort Worth Texas

  5. I have a question. Why is it that you would be able to flush paper into a plastic septic tank if one were installed in your new house? If I understand you correctly, the “modern” plastic tanks in colonial houses in Merida are not collected to drain/leach fields. Is all the waste AND liquid retained in a plastic tank, or do the plastic tanks also drain to the columnar-shaped filtros you described. I have a friend who lives alone whose toilet drains to a plastic septic tank where all the waste and the water is retained (grey water is separate), and that tank has to be pumped every 4 or months or so. It’s hard to believe that people are having their plastic tanks in Merida pumped that frequently, so I have been assuming that waste water from the more convential sumideros and the modern plastic tanks is disposed of in the same way. Am I wrong?

  6. France,

    You’re right. You can flush paper into any septic tank. Just not ours!

    Ray,

    Good point. Lots of bidets came to Merida in the latter half of the 19th century (and they keep on coming), proving there are some cultural preferences for not using any paper at all.

    Steve,

    If your friend has to pump his tank that often, it may simply be a holding tank, like in a boat or RV. There may be some areas of town (near cenotes) where this is a requirement. Just guessing. He may also have a tank that is too small for the house.

    To answer your first question, we’ve updated the article above with a diagram and more complete explanation of the plastic septic tank we almost installed. As you can see, the filter is internal and can be rinsed. The output of the system can be piped away to a leach field (a layer of gravel under the topsoil in the yard). Our new property has plenty of room for that. If not for the high-maintenance issues, it was an attractive option. Of course, you can hire somebody from the company that distributes it to rinse the filter and extract the lodo in the event the “do-it-yourself” impulse balks.

  7. Thanks for this explanation. As my part of the southeastern USA sees more and more immigrants, I’ve noticed a strange and growing curiosity in regards to toilet paper. Public bathrooms have burgeoning waste baskets filled with toilet paper of the most soiled nature. Me being the typical gringo thinks,” damn people are so backwards and unsanitary!” Thanks for enlightening me and peeling away a misguided prejudice!

  8. I always knew not to flush the paper while I was living in Mexico, and knew SORTA why, but your very informative post has explained it to me. I have friends from the US still living there who continually flush paper no matter how many times I tell them not to. Perhaps I will advise them to read this. Because over all they have good manners. Now that I am back in the US, I still have to stop myself from putting the paper in the trash bucket… gotta be force of habit.

    Love your site, by the way!

  9. Having grown up in country in Northern CA where we flushed toilet paper for years into our septic tank, I still find the above puzzling. We had a tank which worked as described above, with a drain field, and during my entire youth (18 yrs or so) it was never pumped once, and never gave signs of malfunctioning, stoppage, etc. And it seems to me that toilet paper, being basically organic itself, should also be eaten by the bacteria, leaving very little cellulose behind. Certainly what we eat (think of corn, lettuce, whole grains, etc) leaves behind at least as much cellulose as paper. And even cellulose should be eaten by bacteria. Just think of rotting trees in the woods.

    I appreciate the article (also that on the plumbing system). But I think it still raises as many questions as it answers.

    Thanks,

    Kim

  10. Kim,

    Perhaps the article wasn’t emphatic enough. Drain fields don’t clog. Filters do. Nearly all of the paper that remains in the sediment chamber does in fact get broken down by bacteria. But bits of paper float through the septic tank and into the drain field or the filter pretty much right away. Drain fields don’t clog because there are holes all around the pipes, top and bottom, and gravel around that, spread out over a relatively long distance. But filters of any kind do clog: oil, air, septic, etc. You have to clean or replace them, even in modern systems, like the one shown above.

    Most of the non-biodegradable stuff you mention is embedded in heavier, uh, stuff, and not floating free like paper, so it stays in the sediment chamber. Anyway, that’s the short answer. There are several other factors covered in the article, including maintenance issues if something does go wrong and cultural biases, and others that are not covered, like how robust the bacteria are. You could write a master’s thesis on sewage treatment, and many have.

    Although every provider of septic tanks recommends a pumping schedule, you can’t predict with certainty when maintenance is required. You just have to check, which is not a particularly pleasant option with the old fosa septicas here.

    Meanwhile, we are quite convinced that many colonial-era fosa septica in Mexico have been functioning for over fifty years or more.

  11. I believe other things play into the toilet paper waste basket mystery. I Live in the US and commute daily to Mexico for work. Prior to this I lived in Mexico for 8 years. I have noticed in this time that my friends and family south of the border including our family in Merida use waste baskets. Many bathrooms I have visited seem to need maintenance on the toilets. Because of poor water pressure and water quality, the inners of a toilet need more attention. I find that the tanks do not fill up enough on the toilet to flush properly. It barely flushes the human droppings. Also in many older homes, The pipes from the toilet to the septic are not laid out efficiently, therefore they clog faster. I think if people would maintain the “whole” waste system including water delivery, The security of flushing paper would have a new mentality.
    MM

  12. Very interesting. I live in the country and while I don’t know how old the septic system is in the old farmhouse I am renting, over the last two years, we have noticed the leach field is blocked — here, probably by tree roots which are trying to take back the meadow…The job of digging up the old system and/or replacing it with new hasn’t begun yet; I don’t envy my landlords of that bill when it comes in.

  13. THIS IS WHY ONE MAY FIND PAPER ON THE GROUND IN HISPANIC POPULATED AREAS IN CALIF

  14. WGringa just came back from a short trip in California and noticed that the majority of public toilets now seem to have wastebaskets next to them.

  15. Very interesting especially the replys
    please keep up sending these letters.

  16. I enjoyed reading your article. It is nice to know someone else has thought about this subject and given an explanation so people can understand. I have thought about the subject too, and I would like to add some comments.

    I was born in Yucatan but my wife is from Iowa. When we built our house in MĂ©rida, I did everything I could to have an “American” house for her. We installed a high pressured water tank with a pump that keeps high presure in the house, special copper pipes for the running water and 4 inch pvc pipes for the drain. I also studied the differences between the plastic septic tanks and the traditional concrete ones. My main intention was precisely to avoid the waste basket for the toilet paper. I wanted to throw the paper in the toilet as they do in the USA.

    I did not use the plastic septic tank because:

    1 ) The largest one is very small and if you add “modules” to it then it becomes very expensive.

    2 ) If you bury the tank there is a good chance it will collapse, so most engineers will advise you to make a chamber for it. The chamber needs cement walls and floor as well as a concrete top with cement lids on top of the plastic easy-off lids.

    3 ) You will still not be able to throw the paper down the toilet because depending how far the septic tank is from your bathrooms, the local construction codes demand water traps every so many meters. This traps defeat the plastic tank eficiency to deal with the paper because it acumulates on the walls of the trap and starts catching anything going by. The traps slow down the water presure so the toilet does not flush down hard, instead the water stops along the way, overflows and goes on to the next trap until it gets to the septic tank.

    I requested for my house to have the PVC pipes going streight down in an angle to the pit, even suggested small PVC traps to control the odors, but no local architect, engineer or contractor even tryed to find a solution. I explained to the contractor that i wanted to place the toilet paper in the toilet but he said it will cause problems in the long run no matter what.

    More concerning than the toilet paper going down the drain is the fact that MĂ©rida, an 800,000 people city, has no sewage system or waste water treatment plants. Back in the 60′s the city made an attempt to equip the city with a sewage system. Due to the extremly hard rock the peninsula is made of, digging takes a little more than a shovel. A company by the name of caterpilar designed a trencher special ordered for the project. The machine was able to make a trench trhough Colonia Aleman but it broke so many times that the Caterpilar people gave up. Today the only urban area equiped with a sewage system is Colonia Aleman. Where does the sewage go? Who knows? I think it ends by Pinos which was uninhabited back then. There is no treatment plant so it must go down into the ground. Today there are machines that can break the Yucatecan rock but the problem and the project is so big no governor or city major wants to even mention it. All the septic tanks down town do not comply with regulation and probably 70% of the urban area septic tanks are not well done either. All that waste is going down into the underground water system that naturaly supplies the peninsula with the precious liquid. Yucatan does not have any other water sourse (rivers, lakes) but the rain. Once we polute the underground reserves, we will be in big trouble.

    The city keeps growing and the big construction corporations still get away with cheap septic tanks. Even today’s Altabrisa with hospitals and hotels that will produce tons of waste are not required to treat the waste water.
    If this enourmous projects were being build in Sian Kaan or Celestun, they would be required to finance a waste treatment plant to protect the Iguanas or the flamingos. However since they are beeing built in MĂ©rida it is okay for them to pollute the environment, after all it is only humans living around them.

  17. Oh! Miguel how interesting are your comments!!

    I am a biologist/ecologist from Quebec province, Canada and even with all the good possibilities or modern technology we have for disposal of s**t and toilet paper, i can tell you, I was born (1956) in the country, not in a big city, and all my life we did use a garbage trashcan for our pieces of toilet paper or kleenex in our bathrooms at home or at our country cottage, this was too close to the lake! We considered it pollution!

    In the time of my parents and grand-parents on a side of the farmhouse there was a simple hole in the soil with a wood door on top, no more. They would empty it by hand with shovels and use it in their fields and gardens as bio-compost.

    ** Funny fact or coincidence when i found this website about septic tanks: i met a friend this week on the internet looking for a very simple, cheap, easy to make and function: “ecological toilets” and sewer systems to build asap all over little villages of Peru!… especially in poor areas or villages in the mountains, far away and difficult to reach.

    ** Your sugestions are really Welcome to: dery1956 [at] yahoo [dot] ca

    Thank you! Muchas gracias amigas-gos!

  18. Dear Mr. Dery,

    Here’s a link to a step-by-step process (in Spanish) for making a low-cost fosa septica that has been distributed to Mayans on the Yucatan Peninsula. It was produced by the University of Quintana Roo with support from the University of Rhode Island and funding from USAID. Maybe it will be helpful:

    Pasos para Construir tu Propia Fosa SĂ©ptica (PDF Format)

  19. Just wondering if anyone knows what the filtration properties are of the limstone and other minerals and soil in the Merida and Yucatan region. My reason for asking is in response to the issue raised by in one of the comments about polluting the underground rivers, etc.

  20. Ray,

    The architects and engineers we’ve talk with about this subject say that the limestone shelf under our feet in Yucatan is a pretty effective filtration system. Where we lived in California, near the coast, the only thing between the septic tanks and the water table was about 10 meters of sand!

    We also suspect that engineering standards and practices have changed a bit since Miguel built his house (see comments, above). That said, there are places around Merida where a cenote or underground river can be much closer to the surface than the average 25 to 40 meters.

    Meanwhile, as of today, this article is the most read article on this website. What does that say about our readers?!

    Wait, don’t answer that…

  21. [...] Not only had I just read all about the complexities of Mexican septic systems on their site, but I just came home tonight and saw they’ve got a whole post on the Bici-Ruta program, with pictures (dig that last guy’s ride!). To get an idea of the scale of the shut-down, imagine if Broadway in Manhattan were closed to car traffic between, say, 72nd Street and Union Square. Dreamy. [...]

  22. In our part of Mexico (Xico, Veracruz) most of the toilets simply dump into the otherwise clean rios – TOTAL insanitity!

    Even though EVERYONE in our Colonia, gringo or Latino, does this we choose to use a compost toilet that quite simply works very well AND it certainly is nicer to use than the little baskets for toilet paper.

    I have an Ebook titled Human Manure that I will email to anyone that sends me email asking.

    Please think about the general lunacy of fouling clean water with human waste at any level of society(ties).

    John Calypso

  23. What a wonderful discussion thread! For most of the past 40 years I have lived in suburban New Jersey and used a septic system with no problems. We flushed toilet paper. However, as a precaution, every two or three years we had the system pumped out and never experienced any problems even with clothes washer and dish washer draining into the same tank. My land beneath my house was was pure sand for at least 20 feet so there was no issue of drainage.

    I’m still in process of reconstructing an older home in Valladolid and had the workmen break the seal on the access panel on the fosa septica to pump out the tank. To my great surprise, there were two chambers seperated by a concrete block wall…part for solids, part for liquids. I had expected a powerful odor upon opening the tank, but there was no smell at all. And the levels of the tanks suggested that natural agents had been working very efficiently for many years. The workmen I hired to clean the tank said that there was no need to do so…so they lost out on a job and were only paid for inspecting the tank.

    It probably also helps that the entire septic tank looks as if it might be a natural “cave” that has been tuck-pointed here and there on the walls with bits of stone and motar. If it had not been used as a septic system for years, I would make it into a wine cellar or a bomb shelter or a root cellar…or maybe a huge hot tub. It’s as big as most of the houses in the villages of the Yucatán!

    In many area of Mexico, I have noticed the odor of human waste in almost any area that I have been in. An that is because of the registros (the water traps) that Miguel mentioned above. They are in fact mini septic tanks that are placed along the waste line. Liquids and solids flow through PVC pipes into the concrete block tanks where the solids tend to stop and stay while the liquids exit through another PVC pipe. I believe these traps are the source of the very common odor of sh*t that one encounters throughout Mexico (and the rest of Latin America). When you start looking, these registros seem to be everywhere in urban areas. Each of these registros also has a removable panel for cleaning. They system works fine.

    When we were constructing the waste lines for the house (whilch will be a 10 bedroom/13 toilet bed and breakfast, by the way), I attempted to persuade the plumber to just install PVC cleanout traps instead of building the registros. But he would have none of it. He was sure that they wouldn’t work as well. And since I am learning, little by little, that I, as yet, do not know it all, we did it the Mexican way and not the gringo way.

  24. Thanks for the informative article, and long array of comments. I grew up close to the Mexican border and have followed the “when in Mexico” tradition there and on trips to Cuba, but now feel better prepared to explain why. We’re also beginning to build a home in the Yucatan and this will be helpful.

  25. I’m a civil engineer and have worked on water & waste water systems for 28 years. Will be in Merida, Jan 18th for 2 weeks. I’ll design you a system for free that will take toilet paper if you get in touch with me.

    1st of all–you need to put in a tank that will handle your flow–too small and incoming flows flush out the solids; need a tank with baffles and a outlet pipe that is several feet below the water level so that solids can NOT leave the tank & block the drain field. You should have a drain field but here in PA, lots of homes on limestone just drill a shallow well, drop in a stick of dynamite to fracture the limestone and send their waste water from the tank into that hole.

    Biggest thing is maintenence which hardly any one does. Tanks hold solids but not forever–must be pumped every 3 or 4 years. Some communities up here now mandate pumping and local building inspector checks every so often.

    If drain field is blocked with solids such as bits of toilet paper, use plumber grade sodiom hydroxide to dissolve all solids–not stuff they sell to home owners–plumber grade!

    Do NOT build a drain field using limestone screenings as your “sand” Chemicals flushed into system will turn your limestone “sand” into concrete eventually.

    Staying at Hotel Mucuy after Jan 19th–look me up if you have any questions about your system.

  26. Hi all!

    Writer and repliers. What an interesting article and great answers (most). I live in Cuernavaca and have lived in Mexico for 5o years and can agree with anecdotes and discussions on throwing away the paper or flushing it. I have had a fosa septica up chuck and it was a mess. It took me years to find out what the problem had been and probably still is. Supposedly the bacteria clean up and process the residues yes but….that is if you don’t have chlorine freaks cleaning your house and using gallons of the stuff not only on / in toillets but on everything else!!! Cholrine or Clarasol seems to upset the bacterial ecosystem killing the good guys that do the natural composting. Now we have non chlorine substitutes available but still, it is a popular belief that there is nothing like chlorine to disinfect — EVERYTHING –. I will be building my home soon and I just looked up “fosa septica” out of curiosity to find out where it should be (Feng Shui would not have in the area of love for example) and chanced upon this page. It has been good reading and very illustrating. Yes Yucatan has its very particular geographic quirks, so I have learned some new things too. This wc wastebasket thing we have is a great incentive for creative arts and crafts. We must have some of the corniest and Kitchiest super decorated WC baskets in the world!.

    Saludos, from the city of eternal spring and perpetual pot holes
    Frances GZ

  27. I live in a latino neighborhood in Washington state USA. My son is 6 years old and has tons of little friends in and out all day. It was so frustrating to me to find “poopy” toilet paper in my waste basket in the bathroon. I couldn’t figure out why the heck they don’t flush the paper!?! I was a bit disgusted the first time it happened and thought it was an anomaly (an odd duck who’s family had funky plumbing) but friend after friend that does his business in my home deposits the paper in the ‘basura’ instead of flushing it. Thank you Google and Yuchatan Survivor for answering this riddle!! I knew I’d find an answer somewhere and now that I understand from where this phenomenon comes, it’s not a big deal.

  28. waw thanks! now i know where flushed toilet papers go..

  29. To writer and repliers…

    All very informative and I must say, amusing too! I’ve never seen such an in-depth discussion about the disposal of toilet paper and its effects — period.

    While relatively new to the Yucatan, I definitely learned something worthwhile!

    I hope Al comes out to look at the system!

  30. I was googling to find out about the use of septic tanks on pleasure craft (boats) in the US. Apparently such use is compulsory there, as opposed to here in Sweden/Europe, where people keep empting their boat toilets at sea.

    I´ll have to keep looking for that info, but in the meantime I´ve learnt a lot. Now some info for you: in Greece, too, all toilet users are urged to use the waste basket for their papers. I always thought this was because the Greek sewage pipes were narrower than in all other countries of Europe. Maybe I´ll have to rethink now… Or perhaps some of your readers want to dig deeper into that issue?

    regards, Per H

  31. Well, I grew up in Mexico City, with dreinage in most of the C+ and over homes, and still so I frequently saw waste baskets at the homes of some of my friends. In our home we were educated to flush the toilet paper. My parents considered the idea of “waste baskets” as “very bad habits”. They used to say: “this people cannot differentiate between a toilet and a “letrina”". In these days it may sound a comment full of ignorance, but the reality is, that 30 years ago, when I asked the parents of some of my friends why they used a “waste basket” they didn’t give me a good explanation other than “is an habit”.

    By the way, is this the same reason why we shouldn’t even think on installing an organic waste disposer in our sink? I know we cannot find any here, but just wondering.

  32. Dear Sirs,
    I appreciate your orientation about the use of septic tanks in MĂ©rida especially if they are made of plastic which is an optimal alternative for not contaminating the wells.

  33. I live in Monclova, Coahuila and as it is a fairly large city has public sewer system. I as a gringo see no valid reason for not flushing the paper down the toilet here, but my wife (Mexican) and family still continue to put the used paper in the trash can. I can certainly understand now where the tradition came from, but am at a loss as to how to convince my family that this is definitely not needed (or wanted in my house).

  34. I have a travel trailer parked on a lot in Canada and used to use ordinary toilet paper in it until I saw the difference between it and the biodegradable kind. It is a little more expensive but worth it. Along with that an a sewage treatment chemical I have had no problems with my system clogging. I have also found that Walmart is the cheapest place to by this kind of paper. Thank you for finally answering my question as to why you don’t flush toilet paper in Mexico. Now would somebody tell me why so many public washrooms don’t have toilet seats? On a humerous note there when I told my husband that I wanted to redo one of our bathrooms in a Mexican style he said oh good then I don’t have to pay for a toilet seat.

  35. Just wondering if anyone out there knows the status of the sewage system of Playa del Carmen on the Yucatan. We’re condo owners there but can’t seem to get a clear answer as to what type of system our building has. It’s new–built within the last 2 years, has about 20 units, and is within 500 meters of the Caribbean. Should our guests flush paper or not?

  36. I am a California registered Civil Engineer with experinence in septic system design and installation and many years living in Latin America and Merida. As part of historical home renovations, we are presently repairing or replacing 8 septic systems in Merida.

    Assuming that your septic system is properly designed:
    1. Your tank should not stink
    2. Your tank should accept and digest paper waste
    3. You should not put large quantities of bleach and acid in your septic system as is common practice is for cleaning the lime scale and mineral buildup in the Yucatan. Imagine what this would do to your stomach….and the bacteria in the septic tank that break down the solid wastes….
    4. ¨Registros¨ are not necessary in most residential waste plumbing systems but clean out plugs are useful. The registros are a common source of bad odors in many Mexican houses patios.

    If you have an old system with problems you may have:
    1) Old or poorly installed pipe or clay covered channels that do not properly drain and suffer from paper and solids clogging.
    2) An improper septic tank installation that does not allow for effluent to escape from the tank as it has become clogged over the years. (Many colonial houses now use the old water supply well as a discharge well for septic system effluent and storm water runoff.)

    I completely agree with the other engineer that commented that the plastic tanks offered here are too small. They are good for one to two bedrooms but nothing larger. Their small size guarantees that they will have to be maintained on a regular basis. The plastic tanks must discharge effluent as with any tank and do not reduce contamination of the groundwater. We build concrete, two chamber tanks with double the volume for the same cost. They will require much less maintenance over the life of the system….if any.

    These systems are simple, but there are not many people in the region with knowledge of sustainable septic system design. The local systems work but require maintenance and have contaminated the first aquifer below Merida and to the north of the City as evidenced by the Giardia and Ameobic intestinal disease related to the well water in these areas. This too is experience speaking, unfortunately.

    A properly designed septic system discharges effluent into a drain field that promotes evapotranspiration or the absorbtion of the effluent water by the topsoil and plants that consume it and evaporate the water into the atmsophere whlie leaving the nutrients in the soil. The extreme rates of absorption of the effluent into the limestone of Yucatan or direct discharge into shallow wells make these easier and more common and unfortunately for the aquifer, accepted solutions. There are choices and this is not a complicated problem if you want to fix it.

    Keeping chemicals out of your tank is rule one. Rid X is a septic system enzyme booster product available in the US that is a powder that you flush down the drain to reinforce the necessary bacteria that live in your septic tank….this helps too.

    A good article on septic systems if you really what to know more is here: http://www.motherearthnews.com/DIY/1989-03-01/Secrets-of-the-Septoc-System.aspx

    If you have a specific problem, I live in Merida and will be glad to listen and give you some ideas as to how to resolve it. Send us an email or get in touch by phone: info [at] mexsupport [dot] com [dot] mx

  37. I’ve heard that flushing ordinary yeast once a year is also helpful for the septic systems, reinforces the bacterias.

  38. I always thought it was because of the smaller drain pipes. This helps me understand a bit more.
    I found this page through a google search. The reason I was looking, was to find out why our Mexican immigrant employees were throwing their toilet paper in the trash instead of flushing it. Though it may be customary in Mexico, I have no desire to clean that sort of mess up, and they never will take it out.
    I have tried removing the trash can which results in used paper on the floor.
    I have tried putting up signs in Spanish, but they are ignored. I never was able to pick up much of the Spanish language, so I used Google Translator. I think the Translation is wrong.
    Do you have a suggestion for a translation, or another way I can untrain our employees?

  39. David,

    They are actually trying to help you out. Not knowing that it’s done differently in the USA, they don’t want to block up your pipes and cause problems. So, while it seems annoying or unclean to us, it means they are trying to do the right thing by you.

    How about:

    “Ponga el papel usado en el sanitario” (Put used paper into the toilet)

    You might add:

    “No causará problemas con la tuberia / plomeria” (It won’t cause problems with the pipes / plumbing)

    You could always have someone explain that there is no problem with putting toilet paper into the toilet in the USA because the pipes are bigger. That’s a common belief in Mexico – the paper will clog the pipes. Are there any bilingual employees or friends of theirs? How do you explain what other work must be done by the employees?

    As a last resort, simply line the trash can with oversized plastic bags (so there’s plenty of clean plastic on the outside) and close up the bags with the contents inside.

    (As a side note, you may think this is solely a problem with unskilled or uneducated workers, but we have many programmers in our office from various parts of the world. We’re having a problem with this type of situation in our office bathrooms: http://www.healthline.com/blogs/exercise_fitness/2007/01/more-fun-squatting.html Footprints on the seat.)

  40. Oh I understand that they are trying to be helpful. And I don’t consider them unclean or anything. I used to live in El Paso, TX, and some of my best friends and even my sister are Mexican.
    We do have bilingual workers who have tried to explain this to them in the past. The issue is that every other season, we have some workers go home and new workers show up, so the problem starts anew.
    Thank you so much for the reply. I will try to put up the sign with your translation in a few places. I might even put a sign on the trash can that says, “No Toilet Paper” or the translation thereof. I will go ahead and put the oversized trash bag in the can just in case.

    Thank you again.

  41. Well, this expanded version of the fosa septica article explains a lot. As I mentioned above, I grew up in a house with a septic tank, and we threw toilet paper into it, and never once in 18 years had to service it. But my dad’s an engineer and designed (and built) it himself, so it was likely over-engineered. And it appears that the consensus of the engineers above is in line with my own experience. Paper is fine. But if your system is under-engineered, then it will clog sooner, and avoiding paper helps.

    Anyway, thanks for a fascinating article and for starting an interesting debate. If I ever move to Mexico, the knowledge hereby gained will be valuable.

    Regards,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA (where the ground is covered with ice)

  42. Dear Kim G.
    Paper toilet is eaten by cellulose bacterias, as you know we excret organic materia and the principal bacterias are charcoal bacterias that are the ones who eat the organic materia, but is not the same for the cellulose bacterias take more time to digest and if you wants to have better efficent in the waste water including the toilet paper you most add a pills of cellulose bacterias into the septik tank.
    You live a place that snows and the system can work but for the installation of this mexican fosa is a little different.
    Thank you for your comments.
    Jose

  43. Hello everyone,
    My husband and I recently bought a piece of land in The Yucatan Peninsula and are planning of building a house to retire in. We have been talking about building a septic system that would work for us, so all the ideas expressed here are helpful, a wealth of information! Mr. Ed Palmer, we may pay you a visit some day in the near future. Believe or not I have spent sleepless nights just thinking about it. We live in WA estate so we are familiar with septic systems but thanks to all of you we are better informed.
    We were born in Mexico but have lived in the US for 30 years and we still put the toilet paper in the waste basket! We moved from CA to WA 20 years ago and bought a house with a septic tank-this was new to us so we never put the paper in the toilet believing that it would clog the tank, as the family grew we had to hook up to the sewer system, paid $7k in labor and permits and after an easement through our neighbors yard it was done. What a relief! But still put the toilet paper in the waste basket! I have a feeling that when we move to the Yucatan we still going to do the same and will politely ask our guests to do the same, that’s the beauty of owning your home?

  44. NNNOOOOOOOO!!! I know old habits die hard but if you build a house and all is new you should never have to have the stinky waste basket! I keep a stainless flip top one in my office for visitors but let people in my house know that we have modern plumbing…(although the design is nothing new). Also for tree huggers (me too) that do not want to give up their TP, It is much better to let the paper degrade quickly in the tank than to put it in a solid waste dump.
    Eddy

  45. are you familiar with the mennonite septic system developed and used in the cuauhtemoc, chihuahua region? it was recomended by a local as a solution.

  46. This sounds like the lead-in to a joke, but I can’t figure out the punch line:

    How is a Mennonite Septic System different from a “regular” septic system?

    (seriously, I’d like to know) ;-)

  47. Casai,
    We are looking at a piece of property near Cuahtemoc, Mexico and when inquiring about the cost of putting in a septic system, we were told by a local about a system developed by the Mennonites that uses grey water for watering the land, etc. They said the cost was cheap. I am serious too! Sorry, no punchline…

  48. Oh, this is too funny!! Hello all! I was looking at some vacation sites in Yucatan area and came across this article. Couldn’t pull myself away from the educational points as well as some of the interesting responses! I am a native born Mexican, from northern Mexico (Chihuahua) having been here in the US for about 40 yrs now. I can honestly tell you, it was a hard habit to break, BUT IT CAN BE DONE! :) However, I have to say my life has been very “gringo-ized” and even though I’ve broken the habit, I sometimes find myself wondering if I should “sometimes” use the aluminum pop-up lid can in our new home! We’re on a 1+ acre property w/ 3.5 baths (kitch/laundry/etc) built in the 80′s. And not being very saavy on septic systems, I sometimes wonder, should I? Anyway, it’s not an upper class, lower class, Mexican/Greek/Philliipino, etc thing. It’s what your parents taught you and since you respect your parents, you obey.

    For David: Someone is obviously communicating w/ your employees instructing them on company procedures, hiring processes, etc. Couldn’t they write a polite sign for your seasonal employees?

    Thanks for a very interesting article!

  49. In Nepal it is too cold to bury it, resulting in flags from Western tourists. Not a pretty sight. The Nepalese use a bottle of water to clean themselves. As a hiker, I started using the Nepalese technique. It took some practice to get really clean with a single bottle of water, but it is quite doable. Warm water works best. Paper is only needed for drying when in a hurry. After awhile, I wondered how we can stand ourselves with poop smeared around our butts. We use deodorant for some odors but can’t even smell others. I guess it’s what you get used to. Once you get used to being clean, you feel dirty going back. Works well when there is no paper.

  50. we spent an absolutely wonderful week at a beautiful hotel at playa del carmen. The hotel was magnificent and the beach so superb. we noticed lots of sand bags in the water off the beach area. Huge sand bags actusally. Anyway, after being in the water (so beautiful). we were so badly bitten it was unbelivable. There were some people in the water but not many. The water seemed so clean and beautiful. We had so many welts that we did not go back in. Someone mentioned to us that we were so badly bitten because the sewer pipes were actually under the sandbags. Ths sand filtered out the wastes but because of the immense population in the hotels a lot of the wastes went in the water and the parasites bit us. Can anyone let us know?

  51. Muchos,

    The “sand bags” you saw actually form a concrete breakwater to protect the shore of the nearby resort from erosion; they are not hiding anything, except perhaps a lack of planning when they built the new pier just north of it, which apparently changed the character of the waves. From what we’ve read and heard, everyone from local activists to the tourism board to the federal government of Mexico are quite vigilant about the environment along the Riviera Maya, especially water quality. We doubt anyone would get away with something as flagrant as dumping raw sewage into everyone’s tourism cash cow. The worst thing we know about that happens off-shore is dumping of garbage by the cruise lines, but they risk stiff fines if they’re caught.

    We don’t know of any “parasites” in the water there, and none that bite in general. If what you received looked like tiny welts, then you were likely the victim of the small jellyfish that often bother snorkelers. On the other hand, if it was more like a mosquito bite, the most probable offenders are “noseeums”, also called sand flies. You don’t know they’ve bitten you until some time afterward, so you may not associate the experience with being on the beach.

  52. We stumbled upon this blog after searching for info on septics…. we are building a home in Baja and were told that some banks will not give loans on homes that don’t have a “Americanized” , engineered septic system….so we were leaning towards the almost twice as expensive plastic system….have any of you heard of banks refusing loans because of the home’s septic?

  53. Any info would be appreciated folks….(added to receive notification of responses)

  54. Visualjohn, we’ve never heard of that here in Yucatan, but the rules may be different over there in Baja. One thought that came to mind is that there is sismic activity in many parts of Mexico that might crack a traditional cinderblock and plaster fosa septica, but we don’t have that issue here.

  55. We found Rasta’s on Cozumel had an even more stringent policy on bathroom use.

    Warning: contains profanity.
    http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2188/1658484748_f08ff4bd55.jpg

  56. Does anyone know if the FAST septic system is available in Mexico? In the U.S. it’s made by Bio-Microbics Inc. in Kansas. We’ve just purchased a house in Merida and are thinking of replacing the existing system with one of these.

  57. Wow this has been fascinating. We live in rural Spain and have a plastic septic tank which on the whole has worked well over the past 6 years, we have just had the “solids” chamber pumped out as we were having some problems. The biggest problem for us is the “clear” water that drains out further down the land and is supposed to drain into the soil doesn’t because the soil is solid clay. I want to use this “clean” water to irrigate my 2 acres of land, some is garden and some is olive trees. Anyone got any ideas how safe this is? We have severe drought here and it seems criminal to have this water just draining out and making a mess on the land.

  58. I read that the problem is not the septic tank. It is that the toilets are not vented. I don’t exactly understand the technology, but I gather that the absence of a vent from the plumbing causes the problem, not the septic tank.

  59. Christine, you may be wrongly informed. Most if not all toilets here are vented, some not very intelligently. As far as we can tell, that does not contribute to the situation.

  60. Hello from SE Asia, here they are just starting to put in sit on toilets with toilet paper.

    Traditionally the people here used squat toilets and water to clean their body off.

    I know it can be difficult for some to squat but it does help the flow of excrement through the body better than the normal sitting position and later a water hose or water recepticle is used to wash the backside, the left hand is used to gently massage the area clean in the water flow.

    Hands must be washed afterwards and you do not use the fingernail area for the wiping.

    My point? well no paper down the loo or smelly waste bins.

    I like this method and I believe it leaves the body cleaner than the paper wipe method.

  61. Andy, I totally agree. See my comment earlier.

    What you can do is bend your chest over to touch your knees when sitting. Not as good as squatting but has some of the same benefits.

    You can use a water bottle for washing.

    It is possible to get a water spray attached to the toilet unit too. Some even have them. Also, there are bidets.

    There is no reason to use paper like we do. It just wipes the shit around and leaves us a lot more stinky than we imagine. Really, not very clean or sanitary.

  62. Interesting. Along the Q Roo coast the limestone is a very poor filter and the effluent with all it’s pathogens enters the sea water with the natural tidal ebb and flow and has about destroyed the reef in densely populated areas. Akumal has mandated only “Wetland Treatment” (and maybe composting toilets which are generally high maintenance). That is the system we’re going to use north of Xcalak. Basically you create a sealed leech field and allow plants and soil microbes to digest the bad stuff in the liquid that exits the septic tank and discharge pure water into the soil Sizing has to be done properly.
    There are a few “approved” environmentally sound septic systems which are bad jokes. One uses a kind of RidX (a version on steroids, so to speak) and another actually uses sliced up plastic coke bottles to “digest” the contents of the tank. What none of these systems consider is that they don’t deal at all with the pathogens which is what is killing the reef!
    Odors…I have seen numerous “modern” design tanks vented, by design, at the ground level instead of sealed. Of course they stink!
    I emailed our architect a diagram of a basic plumbing system in the US but I don’t think he or the plumber paid much attention! Simple traps at each fixture (sinks, etc.) with vent(s) up to the roof (preventing the suctioning of the traps) prevent odors from entering the house. Registers, as already mentioned, aren’t necessary but clean outs are.
    Trying to get them to install this stuff is tough. I’ll probably “modify” what I can after they’re done!
    All tanks need to be pumped eventually. Relatively expensive (I think there’s a pumper in Chetumal and charges a few hundred USD to come out here) and I expect even systems that were originally pretty sound are now just a “pass through”, unfortunately.
    Chemicals (harsh cleaners, etc.) are the biggest problem, not paper unless there are obstructions which, after reading this thread, there seem to be. Guess we’ll stick with the paper in the can to be safe!

  63. Hello Marty:
    When my husband and I travel up and down the Riviera Maya, we kept wondering how the sewer/septic systems were being managed, you have just confirmed is not being done properly. Are you in the construction business? After much thought we have decided that when we build our house in Yucatan, we will build a septic system similar to what WA state has. Check out this link: http://www.metrokc.gov/health/wastewater/owners/index.htm – What we will do is provide blue prints of what we want and expect it to be done, we also considered building 2 septic systems, one specificaly for the toilets and another for the shower, washing mach. etc.
    Working Gringos: Are there any RV Parks in Yucatan or QR? If there are, who does the pumping?

  64. Hi EJ,
    I’m not a contractor but I tell ‘ya, after building our house down here (90% done), I might as well be. I’ll refer you to the excellent CEA website and their recommendations for waste water treatment. A relative of ours has studied, designed and implemented these wetland treatment systems in many states and countries, including Mexico, so he’s been a great help.
    I’m sure your comment on “provide blue prints …expect it to be done” will have many of us hysterically rolling on the floor. Sometimes you just can’t “get there from here”! No licensing for plumbers or electricians, no building codes, etc. The only hope is to find someone who has been recommended as a good plumber, etc. and keep your fingers crossed! Make sure, at least, to have whatever you build engineered so the builder doesn’t have to guess the sizes of beams, amount of rebar, etc. Even then, it can be a struggle to get the builder to follow the plans.

    Marty

    http://ceakumal.org/catalog_12233.html

  65. Good information. Good to know before going there, as far as what not to do. Good information to have before going to any foreign country.

  66. [...] even when it’s #2. I never questioned the “whys” behind this cardinal rule, but fortunately Yucatan Living did the research for me in this article. As gross as this initially was to my US-formed brain, I quickly got used to it and now don’t [...]

  67. Great article. Was nice to see detailed explanation as to the flushing paper issue.

    This looks like an interesting alternative http://wastewatergardens.com/
    There is talk about people wanting to get this system being used here on Ambergris Caye Belize. Not sure where water water gardens stand on the flushing paper issue though.

  68. In the 22 years I’ve owned my colonial house here, we’ve always flushed the paper and had no problem. Once it goes down the drain I prefer to remain in denial about what happens to it.
    However, we’re thinking about putting in a pool and I’m wondering how clean the water from our well, or anyone else’s, could possibly be. I understand the original wells in Centro are eight feet deep and most people I’ve talked to have drilled theirs down anywhere between ten and twenty feet to avoid pumping black water into their pools. But with almost a million people pooping away on a daily basis, I’m sure the black water goes down further than that – someone on this discussion mentioned twenty-eight feet. The pools in town look nice, but are people swimming in shit?

  69. I have good news and bad news. I have lived in Mexico since 1989 and have designed and installed several septic systems. I just built a new bodega for my machine shop and will install a traditional/modernized septic system (fosa septica) next week here in Queretaro. The paper that gets thrown into the waste basket is re-cycled, along with sanitary napkins and disposable diapers. That’s the good news. What is probably going to be considered bad news…the re-cycled product is a grey or reddish colored paper that is used to package many things, including food. The paper is innexpensive, called papel estrasa. If you buy tacos or tortas or tortillas, chances are that they will be wraped in papel estrasa.
    Because I have very little faith in the water purification systems here in Mexico, I filter all the water coming into the house and business with a double filter, the first paper, the second activated charcoal and finally an ultraviolet light. All parts of this system are rated for two years, but we change the filters and lights every year, just to be safe.

  70. I stumbled on this by accident looking for something else. I can’t believe all the myths regarding septic tanks that you are propagating. If you want to know all about septic tank design, construction and operation, goto these 2 sites. They are pdf documents. download and save before reading them. There is 800 pages.
    http://www.epa.gov/owm/septic/pubs/septic_1980_osdm_all.pdf
    http://www.epa.gov/owm/septic/pubs/septic_2002_osdm_all.pdf
    Now, in a nutshell. You can put toilet paper down the toilet. The bacteria which is in your intestine and colon will eat it.
    Do NOT put chemicals such as chlorine, antibacterial soap, lysol toilet cleaner, etc. down the drain. They will kill the bacteria in the tank which is composting your human waste. In short, if you can’t eat it, it doesn’t go down the drain.
    Don’t put kleanex, handy wipes or other paper products down the toilet. They have a plastic film between 2 layers of paper to stop them falling apart when wet ( like toilet paper does).
    On your sewer line, no traps etc. It must be clean pipe all the way from the water trap right below the appliance to the septic tank with a minimum drop of 1 inch in 10 feet. All branches must be vented above the roof line. Vents can be joined into 1 above the highest fixture. Your septic tank vents through the sewer to the roof of your house. If it can’t vent readily, it will stink, as a lot of Mexican septic systems do.
    There are a lot of ideas and solutions in these 2 documents. Take your time to read and digest. They will save you a lot of money and grief (and stink).

  71. Interesting. When I went to Yucatan, yes, everybody used the waste baskets instead of flushing the paper down the toilets. When I stayed with some relatives (Mexicans, not expatriates) in Chihuahua City several years ago, however, there were no such wastebaskets and, at least in the house I stayed at, everyone flushed the paper into the toilet. It was a very basic house and my relatives weren’t affluent or wealthy, so don’t say, “oh well that’s probably because they were rich and didn’t care about messing up the septic tanks.”

  72. Tony above is right. I said basically tyhe same think in an earlier post of Nov. 25th 2007 above. There is more technical info in that post but what Tony says here is a great summary!
    Ed

  73. An Interesting note, if you travel throughout Central and South America, you will find many countries to the same thing with the toilet paper – regardless of science, maybe we can learn something? I’ve kind of gotten used to it living North of Mahahual in Placer and like an earlier post – feel guilty flushing things down the toilet when I go to the US. . . ;-)

  74. Hi do you know how much money will I need to build a fosa septica for a house of probably 5 persons. Also I am kind of confuse. The waste goes to the fosa septica but where does the water from the kitchen and bathroom goes. Do you have anyone that did your house reliable or should I look at El Diario de Yucatan ads. Thanks for your help I am a little embarrass that you know more than me and I was born there but live all my life in Whittier,ca
    Thanks for your time :)

  75. Hola Juan,

    Our concrete fosa septica serves 5 toilets and cost around $1,800 USD to construct. Its design is much improved over the diagram in this article. The contractor and architect was Justiniano Cervera Mario Humberto, who also specialized in swimming pools. His telephone number is (999)947-5132.

    The so-called “gray water” from the kitchen and bathrooms also flows through the fosa septica.

    We grew up in California, but you probably know more about Whittier than we do!

  76. I will accept the information given and have followed the general rule of no flush the toilet paper without much more than an esthetic problem.

    Why don´t they have toilet seats? Sitting on the porcelain is very uncomfortable. There should be a course describing how to use el bano. Sometimes, my body parts hit the water so to speak and I find this very disquieting…a yuchy experience!

  77. I just got back from Merida, it was my first trip there and Mexico. I bought a house after being there 9 days after booking an appointment with Eric of Mexico International before I left Canada. I am from Burlington, Ontario, Canada. I fell in love with city and it’s people at first site. I have learned a lot from this site and now know what they mean when I saw the signs in the toilets there and now understand what they meant. I thought they were referring to paper towels, not toilet paper. Where I live I pay property taxes of $2,000.00 per year and the city is building parks, theaters, beautiful botanical gardens, pools, community centres and conservation areas but they charge you for parking your car and charge you to use all of these facilities. Not everybody can afford to spend $10.00 to go to a conservation area or $75.00 to go to a theatre which was paid for through their taxes. Merida has provided these for all of it’s citizens to use and enjoy, rich and poor. When I was there the National Ballet of Cuba was performing in front of the Cathedral for everybody, not just those who could afford to spend the $75.00 in a theatre which their tax dollars paid for. The city has something every day of the week for the people living there. It didn’t matter where I went, the people were so kind and tolerant of me, even though I speak no Spanish. The policeman who told me my camera strap was hanging from my bag and the Mexican lady who took a picture of me in front of a monument on the Paseo Montejo with my camera. The wonderful peope I met in the plazas. I have been all over Europe and the U.S.A. and have never felt as comfortable as I did in Merida. I only wish I had found about Merida earlier in my life. I first found out about Merida when I was watching a TV show called “House Hunter’s International” … a couple from the city next to me was buying a house there, my realtor told me they sold 45 houses because of this show. On a lighter note, @ Paul Bowley, are you bragging when you said your body parts are hitting the water? Just kidding.

  78. HI, I am assisting my parents in renovating a casa in san pancho, and we are at the septic tank stage. The house was partially completed when we purchased the house, and the septic system has not been installed. we are looking at a plastic tank system that will serve around 6 bedrooms. We just received a bid from our contractor for 95,000 pesos. Can anyone elaborate on whether or not this seems like an accurate cost for this system. in doing research it seems high compared to prices here in america, but then again that is a quick search on the internet.

    especially since an earlier post stated he got a concrete system for around 2000 grand.

  79. I live in South Africa where the inhabitants in the more rural areas make use of a waterless pit toilet. These smell, attract flies & mosquitoes (malaria), harbour waterborne diseases and get full. I market a “bioaugmentation” product (specially selected natural bacteria) that biodegrades & liquefies completely all organic matter, including paper, in the pit toilet and can empty naturally the contents within 10 to 20 days. It reduces the smell by over 85% within 48 hours and the waterborne diseases are neutralized in the pit. The effect on a septic tank is similar and will totally biodegrade and liquefy the solids and sludge residue normally found in the bottom of the tanks. This product will also open up the soakaway drainage rendering the system fully functional. You will not have to use a vacuum truck again. The product is extremely successful in the biodegrading of grease, fats and oils in grease traps (food prep & restaurants) and decongesting and liquefying the solid fats buidlup in “grey water” drainage systems. Solutions out of Africa can be used very successfully in the rest of the “other” world sewage systems.

  80. I live in the UK but spent several of my earlieryears in Libya and Oman. At first I wondered why the Arabs all carried a tin of water with them into a toilet. Quite simple really! No toilet paper. They simply washed their posteriors after any action. Having been forced into employing the same method I soon realised how much more hygienic it was. Naturally, ones hands have to do the washing (the left of course, the right is for eating ), but then that is what we do in the shower, isn’t it? Since returning to the UK I find using toilet paper quite disgusting (especially the cheaper brands ). I have now installed a flexible hose with a portable shower head beside all my 3 toilets. Toilet paper is simply no more. All you septic tank owners should seriously consider this “Do It Yourself” improved bidet method. You will be surprised how soon you become converted and how soon you will regard toilet paper users with disdain. By the way, I share a septic tank with my neighbour and we have a problem in that the final outflow is not soaking away due to the high level of clay below the top soil. I like one of your readers ideas whereby a stick of dynamite creates a sufficiently large subterranean soakaway crater. I might have a bit of a problem persuading my that this is the right route as the soakaway has to be in his garden.

  81. I live in San Cristobal and am building a house and will be using Roto-Plas septic tank. I have one question. How do you get the mud/waste out of the tank. I am not able to find a clear answer anywhere. I see the picture posted on this forum but don’t quite understand the procedure….thanks

  82. In the last picture in the article, the man on the left is using a hand pump made for the purpose. There are various types of devices used to pump the mud from the bottom.

    You could probably also ask the place where you buy the tank. They should be able to advise you.

  83. Steve from South Africa…

    Is your “bioaugmentation” product available in Mexico? More specifically Baja California Sur?

    Thanks

  84. I find it amazing that this subject has generated more comment than nearly any that I have read on your site in over three years. What I find particularly interesting is that some people consider this information “ridiculous” and “nonsense”. He obviously has never been around when it was necessary to pump a tank which had become clogged with paper from too many visiting gringos. My, what a stink. Like “working gringos” said, “you can flush it, just NOT IN OURS”. I have lived in and around relatives and friends who have lived with septic systems ever since I was very young and I guess it has become my habit to look for the little trash can to see what’s in it and whether I needed to be a good visitor too. Thanks for this very informative article. We are adding a bathroom to a three hundred year old house along with a kitchen and this has given me some ideas about where to put the sumidero , rather than UNDER the bathroom which is where I think my contractor intended to put it. Also, an excellent point to mention regarding systems near cenotes. I certainly would not want to swim in a cenote if the water indicated that someone’s fosa septica was leaching into the water supply for the cenote. Job well done.

  85. So who does the pumping on the coast here in yucatan, is there anyone with a contact number, or place? There has got to be some company?
    I think I have seen the truck pass me by.

  86. The fosa septica would be banned in Europe because of spot contamination of groundwater. Someone drinks the water that you contaminate.

  87. I have a crazy question, crazy but true. We were doing some construction nearby our septic tank, so we removed the cover. Unfortunately the Mexican workers allowed some dirt to fall into the tank, but I figured it will be okay. The next day a dead cat appeared on the property, so the owner throws the cat into the tank, and in doing so he inadvertantly kicked his shoes off and they fell into the tank as well. I am the only gringo here and all the Mexicans think this is not going to be a problem in the future. Who is correct? Me or them? By the way, the cover remains off the tank till this day. It is simply covered with some corrugated metal. I am thinking the cat will bring rats, mice, etc., as well as disease. Will the cat get flushed away? There is no backup as of yet, but it has only been 5 days since the genius put the cat and shoes in there. Thanks for any thoughts or replies.

  88. In the grand scheme of things, it probably isn’t that big a problem, but if we were you and since the lid is off anyway, why not have a septic tank pumping service take this opportunity to clean out the tank? Oh, and put the lid back on before somebody’s dog disappears. Thanks.

  89. This is nonsense. I’m a Mexican, and I have lived in Mexico City all my life. I’ve never heard this argument for not flushing toilet paper before. It wouldn’t damage the septic tanks and even if it does it’s an exaggeration to say that almost all Mexicans have septic tanks under their houses. It is actually around 3/10 people and most of them living in urban areas. The rest of the country has county sewage systems. I invite you all Americans to come to Mexico and get to know our country a little better before you start talking nonsense.

  90. Brilliant detailed explanation! I agree how we feel when having the possibility to flush when we are used to throw paper in to bags. What I have decided is to flush the first one or two papers I use, those contain 99% of shit while I throw the rest in the classic Mexican basket bag. I have a biodigestor SIRDO which is known for is environmental compromise.

  91. I’ve lived in Thailand for 13 years, and for the most part, local Thais (especially in rural Thailand) do not flush toilet paper down the commode.

    However, most toilets have a hand held water sprayer hanging on the wall where most of us have toilet paper rolls hanging. It is identical to the vegetable sprayers many US kitchens have at the sink. All it takes is a T-junction to be able to divert the water from the pipe in the wall to two directions: one to the commode and one to the sprayer.

    Took me a few uses to master the art of spraying my backside without unduly wetting the entire bathroom, but I swear by the thing now. Wiping with paper just seems unsanitary. Ditto for using your left hand and a bottle of water.

    Even better are the “washlets” of Japan, which are toilet seats with a built-in bidet function. A telescoping tube comes out the correct distance and rinses the appropriate area — a separate setting is used for women’s personal hygiene. Some models have a heating element for areas (like Japan) where the water might get too cold in winter to spray at your derrière.

    I still use a little toilet paper to dry myself off, but I know many (most?) people just pull up their pants/skirts and air dray naturally. Some of the fancier Japanese washlets have a fan to blow you dry with heated air.

  92. We live in the Sonoran desert in San Carlos . All the fosas here are basically a 10′ x8′ x 7′ deep hole in the ground. The bottom is dirt and the sides are staggered bricks to allow effluent to bleed off. There is no drain field just the hole in the ground. These work well here but need to be flushed and pumped every 15-20 years. We do not throw toilet paper in the toilet. I like the simplicity but feel that these may be too simplistic. Would like any comments and or suggestions

  93. I went to Mexico for the first time in my life and was shocked to know that the place I was staying at, which was not a big resort, did not allow us to flush the toilet paper down the toilet. Many times I had to ‘fish’ out the toilet paper from the toilet because I have been accustomed to flushing my toilet paper down the toilet. I now understand why people have always said that a person should only drink bottled water…if the waste water is not filtered properly and the water is not purified, it’s no wonder a person would get sick. I wish that I had read this article before going to Mexico because it was a ‘rude awakening’ for me. I now have a greater appreciation for my own country because I used to take things like that for granted…now I appreciate our sewage and water systems and realize how fortunate I am to live in a country that has proper sewage and water systems.

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