Got a dog? Then you’ve got poop! Getting everyday dog waste out of your life not only has an “ick” factor, but you may also be struggling with some eco-guilt. No one really wants to send more poo or poo bags to the landfill.
Tossing poop off into the tall grass at the edge of your lawn with a shovel is no good either. Let’s face it -- sh*t still stinks, even if it’s out of sight. More importantly, other pets, wildlife or even kids can get infected by parasites and pathogens shed in poop. All the extra nitrogen in dog waste can run off and harm local waterways, too.
You may have wondered about greener alternatives. Could your dog’s poop find a final resting spot in your compost bin?
How much does one dog actually poop?
How much poop are we talking about? Believe it or not, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has data on this canine poo-factor. They estimate that that the typical dog excretes three quarters of a pound of poo per day. That’s 274 pounds per year – quite a bit of poop! (Curious? Humans poop about 320 pounds yearly). Of course, the real volume will differ between tiny Pomeranians and grand Great Danes.
What is composting?
Composting is the natural process of breaking down organic matter into nutrient-rich humus and then reusing it in agriculture or landscaping. Compost helps to add nutrients to depleted soils. A compost pile is a fascinating ecosystem. All sorts of organisms get into the act of decomposition.
- Primary consumers like earthworms, slugs, and sowbugs eat the organic matter.
- Secondary consumers eat the primary consumers and their organic residue (a fancy word for the primary consumers’ poo).
- Tertiary consumers, like centipedes and beetles, eat the secondary consumers.
- Humans have a role, too. When we turn the pile, we add more oxygen to the process.
As microorganisms break down the organic material in a compost pile, they use oxygen and release heat, so compost piles often get quite hot.
If I do compost, will it be safe to use the composted dog poop in my vegetable garden?
In general, no – you’ll want to find other uses for your com-“poost.”
Dogs and cats can be infected with parasites like roundworm, hookworm, tapeworm and more that are shed in feces. Bacteria like salmonella, E. coli and giardia can also be found in a dog’s stool. Some of these are killed by the heat of composting, so composting is a much better alternative to tossing dog waste off into the grass. But you can’t really be sure your own small backyard compost pile or bin will reach the 140-145 degrees F needed to kill off all the unhealthy nasties throughout the entire pile. There still could be some lingering in your finished compost.
An electric composter can give your backyard composting parasite and pathogen-killing superpowers if you are willing to invest some green in your greening. This beyondGREEN all electric pet waste composter not only boosts the temperature to 160 degrees F, it does all the mixing and aerating for you as well, producing compost in a much shorter time.
Generally, it’s best to keep poo-generated compost away from your food-producing plants and any place where other people or animals may work or play in the soil. It makes a great additive when you are planting trees or shrubs and other landscaping projects.
What will I need to compost my dog’s poop in my own yard?
Not much! If you have the space, composting is pretty simple. You’ll need:
- Nitrogen-rich material like dog waste, vegetable food waste, grass clippings, etc.
- Carbon-rich material like sawdust, dried leaves, shredded newspaper, etc.
- A stick-type thermometer to make sure your compost is heating up. You can find one at a garden store.
- A pitchfork or shovel to turn and transfer your compost.
- A bin, which helps keep compost in and curious critters out – including your dog! Decaying veggies aren’t good for your pup’s stomach, and you won’t much enjoy how a dog smells after he’s had a happy roll in a loose compost pile.
The 1-2-3 (and 4) of composting
- Place your bin in a sunny well-drained location, away from your house and any waterways.
- In general, add 2 parts dog poo – or any other nitrogen rich material you are composting in your household -- to 1 part carbon rich material.
- When the material has accumulated to about 3 feet deep, it will be time to turn your pile.
- You may need to add water if the composting material is dry when you turn it or add more carbon if it is sopping wet.
Organic waste can turn into compost in as quickly as 6 weeks. It can take quite a bit longer if your bin is a “toss it and forget it” effort.
If you really want to geek out on the subject – especially if your family has a pack of pooches and lots of poo – the USDA took a deep look composting dog waste to protect the fragile ecosystem in Alaska, where sled dogs are still vital to some communities.
Will my city compost my dog’s poop for me?
If you’re lucky, you may live in a municipality that allows residents to drop off organic material for composting, instead of sending everything to a landfill. They may even accept dog waste in certified compostable bags or wrapped in paper toweling. Industrial composting systems get very hot and are better able to break down biodegradable poop bags and kill pathogens that backyard compost bins can’t handle. Give your solid waste disposal office a call or check their website to see if they’ll take your dog’s poo off your hands, bagged or unbagged.
What’s the difference between a digester and a composter?
A pet waste digester is basically a tiny septic tank buried in a well-drained area of your lawn, away from gardens or streams. Bacteria, enzymes and microorganisms break down the waste, which is slowly dispersed below ground as a liquid. This prevents nitrogen and pathogens from being rapidly washed off the surface of the ground into nearby streams or storm drains.
Some digesters can handle up to 13 pounds (6 kilograms) of waste a week and work well for years before they fill up. A removeable lid allows you to easily tip in your dog’s daily poo and keep an eye on the waste level. It’s a good idea to add additional bacteria with a commercial septic accelerator. You may also need to add warm water now and then. Properly installed digesters even keep chugging along in winter, although decomposition will slow down because the microorganisms are less efficient when the temperature is low.
Ready-to-install pet waste digesters are an affordable disposal option, with a price tag that’s usually well under $100. You can also make a DIY digester yourself from a buried garbage can.
If you don’t mind the up-front effort of digging a suitable hole for a digester, and you don’t want to maintain a compost bin, a digester may be your favored choice for poop disposal.
That’s the poop on compost!
Remember to be just as responsible about dog-doo disposal when you are away from home. Pack it up and avoid the “ick” factor by slinging it into your handy dooloop for the trip to the nearest waste receptacle. Trash can, compost bin, or digester? It’s up to you.
It’s the right thing to -- doo.