Has anyone tried composting their pet waste?

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By: mslavick - CC BY 2.0
By: mslavickCC BY 2.0
After reading this article about how much doggy poo ends up in a landfill each year, I've been thinking about alternative methods to dispose of my dog's waste.

There seems to be some controversy over the best disposal method. I live in a suburban area, so there is limited yard space, high traffic areas, and a river nearby that I don't want to contaminate.

Has anyone tried composting pet waste? What system did you use, and have you had any problems with it? Is anyone aware of the environmental impacts of composting pet waste compared to throwing it in the garbage? -justanothersciencenerd

  1. I used a Doggie Dooley many years ago. All I remember is that it only seemed to smell when the lid was open, the grass around it was more lush and resplendent, and I had to be very careful not to look inside because inside there was a swirling mass of maggots which made me gag. (Maybe I was using it wrong though?) Based on the grass quality around it, it seemed to be doing what it promised, but I can't say for sure if it contaminated any nearby water source.

    2 agree
  2. I haven't but I've thought about it. Our pup is a vegan, so I don't see why his poop wouldn't compost well with the rest of the stuff.

    • Vegan doesn't mean that there isn't a lot of bacteria in his waste, which is the main concern. It's not like he just poops out vegetables, after all.

      24 agree
    • You don't compost meat because it attracts vermin and can cause the compost to get rancid. This does not mean that vegan/vegetarian poop is somehow safer than meat eating poop. There are lots of nasty things that live in the digestive system of all animals (and humans) that can make you sick if it gets on your food. No matter what your dog does or does not eat, his poop is not safe for compost that you are using on plants you plan to eat.

      11 agree
  3. First: do not use pet waste compost for fertilizing food plants. I recommend having a separate bin for the dog poo compost and using it for lawn and inedible flowers.
    Second, the USDA has a handy-dandy guide to doing just this!
    The real environmental concern about compost runoff is in the unmatured pile–keep it covered and make sure that the compost is damp, but not so wet you can grab a handful and wring it out. Be sure your bin/pile isn't placed on a slope, especially not a slope that aims toward a water source or drain.

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    • Right, even despite the ick factor, I would not use the pet compost for plants because you don't know if you reach the right temp to kill all the pathogens.

      Thanks for the great link!

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      • erm do you mean by pup as in a dog, is vegan because as someone with animal related qualifications this worries me. Cat and dog waste can contain toxoplasmosis which is can cause blindness in pregnant women and children. I don't know what the laws are in the US but here in the UK you can't use cat/waste as a compost although rabbit waste can be.

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        • Toxoplasmosis does not seem to be a problem in dog waste. Not here that I know of anyway. Cat waste is nasty shit and should not under any circumstances be composted. IMO, anyway.

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          • So I am unable to remember the source of this information, so take this with a grain of salt.
            But I think that it is not contagious for the first 1-2 days after the cat poops. And infected cats only excrete the parasite for a couple weeks after being infected, not all the time. So if you clean out the litter box daily, this might not be a problem.
            I was hoping that there would be a self-contained system where you could compost the poo and kill anything in it, but I think your suggestion of the plastic bin is the closest.

            1 agrees
  4. I grew up on a farm as a kid, and so we usually just shoveled & dumped pet waste (cats & dog) into a pile, and then covered with forest leaf litter. We didn't then harvest the nutrient soil, we just let it decompose and be part of the forest.
    Now as an adult, living on my own in apartments with cats, I've switched from clay litter to pine litter. In theory this is compostable, but I haven't tried composting it. The corn & wheat based litters are able to be flushed down your toilet. So if your city recycles/composts human waste, then grain-based litters are easily compostable.
    I switched from clay litter to a natural litter, because mining is so detrimental to the environment. On top of that, the scent used in clay litters were making me sick. I tried several brands until I decided to just use fine-shaved pine horse bedding in lieu of litter. My total cost for litter for 2 cats for last year was $7.

    5 agree
    • We use pellets with a sifting box intended for clay. It wasn't as cheap as $7/year but the savings are still huge. Our cat avoided the pellets for a bit, but after being in a bathroom for a few days with only those litter boxes he adapted quickly.

      Bonus: if your cat has asthma this is one way to remove an irritant! Jack went from several attacks a day to MAYBE one a month.

      2 agree
    • When I lived in an apartment with my cats and they had a litter box, I used a wheat litter called Swheat, and it worked really well. It clumps like clay without all the problems that come with clay based litter, plus it is flushable and I flushed it, having the litter box right beside the toilet made it so easy. Also, once scooped the remaining litter never got stinky they way clay litter can over time, now we have a cat door and no more litter box.
      I have not tried composting pet waste but I would probably have a separate compost for pet waste that I would use for shrubs and non-edible plants if I needed to do that.

      1 agrees
      • I tried Swheat and it attracted bugs! Within just 2 or 3 days, the bugs that were attracted laid eggs in the ventilation duct in my bathroom. I was killing flies for weeks after using it.
        I'm glad it works for you, because other than attracting bugs, it worked great for my cats, and I was happy to flush their waste.

        • Yeah, I'm pretty sure my in-laws have Swheat for their cat, and they have had some issues with mice getting into it.

          Another argument for not using the clay litter is that the stuff tends to produce clay dust (which, in addition to not being good for your kitty to inhale, it's not good for you, either…), and that stuff can get stuck all over the place…

          There was a discussion a few weeks ago about toilet training your cats, and I'm a huge fan of this, myself. While it requires a certain degree of patience at the outset (and the Litter Kwitter system costs a bit, too), once you have your cat trained, that = a cleaner setup (no scooping to do, just flushing, plus no tracked litter/litter dust/dirty-from-litter kitty paws) and you don't have to worry about buying litter again.

  5. We used to do it but we stopped for some reason. What we did was we took a plastic garbage can, cut the bottom off of it and drilled 3/4" holes all around it. We then dug a hole deep and wide enough to slide it in with just the rim sitting above. We would dump dog and cat waste into it and sprinkle septic treatment (basically bacteria to eat the waste) and put the lid on. Once it was about 3/4" full we would pull out the trash can and move the whole system and bury the waste in place.

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  6. We had three dogs and found that the dung beetles we purchased online worked extremely well. They kept our yard spotless.

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      • We did that years ago (and my late husband most likely googled the heck out of the best source in the USA for them) but I did a quick search and came up with this:
        http://dungbeetles.biz/

        . I don't know them & haven't tried ordering from them, but a quick search will show you lots of options. Good luck & hope you get to host a "poo shovel retirement party"!

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          • Ah corralling dung beetles. Totally imagining them with harnesses and saddles now.

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          • We just let them loose in our big fenced back yard. They stuck around the back yard since that was where they found all of the dog poo. They never bothered the dogs, and the dogs seemed to be uninterested in them. It would freak me out sometimes when I would catch a glimpse of the beetles in action- strange. But again, not shoveling= faaaaaabulous!

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          • Did they roll the doodie into balls and push it around? When I was little, I saw a scarab beetle doing this in our back yard with our dog's poo, and nobody believed me…until years and years later thanks to google, I was able to prove that there is a kind of scarab native to North Carolina! I would love to order some and have them around just for their sheer awesomeness.

            4 agree
        • oh, to live in a place that doesn't get cold enough to kill off the beetles…

          4 agree
  7. I called the city of Seattle a while back to ask if I could put cat litter (I use corn-based litter) in the yard waste container and they said no. The reason they gave is that the yard waste is collected and composted by the city and then spread around parks and play areas and that they can't guarantee the compost is safe for kids if it's full of pet poo.

    3 agree
  8. Well, I just spent the last 20 minutes typing out a comment about how I would go about composting dog poo, only to have it magically disappear. And now I have to go away from here, so hopefully someone else will weigh in with good advice.

    • I feel like BlueCanary just gave me blue balls. Also suspicious of BlueCanary being an evil villain teasing us with I had stuff to say but you don't get it now.

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      • LMAO…sorry, I had to go be useful out in the world briefly. I'm back on the couch now, never fear!

        Here is what I would do with my dog's poop, if I lived close to a water supply; get a container like a plastic bucket or trash can with a tight fitting lid. Also, get some sawdust or a bale of straw, and some garden lime. Put poop in the bucket, cover with sawdust/straw and a scoop of lime. Every time you add poop, also add sawdust/straw and lime. This is the principle behind a composting toilet, and over time it will break down the poop into compost that can be used on non edible plantings. It might smell when you open the bucket at first, but once things get going, if it smells you are not adding enough sawdust/straw and lime.

        Your other option is to "hot" compost the poop using something like a compost spinner, which unless you can find one somewhere cheap or free is a significant expenditure for creating compost that you can't use on your veggies. (Assuming that you grow veggies.)

        Since you are near a water supply, I would not compost poop by any method that does not keep it contained. Run-off from composting poop can get into the water and make other pets and wildlife sick, which I know you don't want. Good luck!

        2 agree
        • I do grow veggies in my tiny backyard, as do my neighbors, so no run-off is important for my immediate area as well as the nearby river!
          I have a compost bin for my veggie garden that I put kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, non-seeding weeds, and dry grass. I "manage" it very haphazardly. Sometimes it gets hot. Mostly it doesn't.

          So I am familiar with the principle of nitrogen and carbon in the compost pile, but what is the lime for?

          • Lime is to keep the PH environment very alkaline, which keeps the poop from being overly stinky as it breaks down (not sure how it works, just that it does work.) It wouldn't be something that you would put in regular compost, and it probably means that you would use the finished composted poo on plants that prefer alkaline soils.

            1 agrees
  9. I don't really have a solution…..we're horrible pet owners that don't scoop their dog poop….They tend to go in the far corner of the yard, so it doesn't get too stinky, and the grass back there is awesome. If we're having people over I go around the flat par of our yard and check for any stray poos, and use a shovel to chuck them up on the hill with the rest.

    On walks I just bag things up and chuck it in the trash…never really thought about it…now I am curious, so I'm following along to see what other options are out there!

    • For dogs you actually don't need to buy anything like the Lovable Loo (that's for people to sit on).

      You just need to make sure your compost gets up to the right temperature for the right amount of time, which the Humanure Handbook explains how to do. It's actually a pretty fascinating read! (I'm kind of a nerd when it comes to composting…). If it works with human waste, it should work with doggy waste, the issues are the same!

      Free at http://humanurehandbook.com/

      1 agrees
  10. This is fascinating! Growing up in the countryside, while we composted food scraps, we never did anything with dog poop or any outdoor pet waste in general–I guess you could say it just fertilized the ground where it was…

    A bit off topic, but I have a question: Now that I'm not in the country, I'm at a bit of a loss as to how to handle food scraps. When I had an apartment in a city, I just threw them in the trash, though I had wished I could have composted. We live in the suburbs now (rented townhouse), but it's along the edge of a forested area. Not sure if we would be allowed to compost in the first place, but even if we were, I'm wondering if a bin might attract wildlife (even bears are known to be in the general viscinity of where we now live). Do you think we should just keep throwing them out (which I hate to do, not only for the odor in our garbage, but the waste factor), or pursue a compost bin setup?

    • I compost in the burbs next to woods with a compost spinner that sits up off the ground. I haven't had a problem yet. You could also do a worm bin; they don't smell bad, you can stow them on a porch or under the sink, and you can make one with a Rubbermaid bin, some newspaper and some worms. I'd post a link but I'm on my phone. If you google it there are probably lots of tutorials. Even Martha Stewart does it!

      3 agree
    • I live right in the city, and I bought a covered compost bin that we keep in our tiny yard. Our landlord said we could do it as long as it did not attract wildlife. So far (over a year), it has been fine! I read that meat is what attracts animals, so if you keep meat out of the compost bin it should be ok.

      3 agree
    • Depending on where you live, you might have municipal composting. I'm in Austria right now, and they seem to have this option everywhere, right along with paper and plastic recycling. I know there are other European countries doing this, too.

      In America, some universities offer community compost drop-off. Another resource from universities may be some sort of community outreach office that does composting demos – this is my aunt's job at a university in America.
      So if you're already recycling, contact them about composting options.

    • We use one of these which is AWESOME: http://www.zingbokashi.co.nz/

      Of course, this is an NZ company, I'm not sure if they send overseas, or whether you can find something similar in the US. But if you've got any vegetable gardens to bury the stuff in, it's wicked, and if not, you can garbage it after it's "pickled".

      1 agrees
    • I have a plastic one that sits on the ground with a lid that lifts off. I put a weight on top (jug of stones) on top so it couldn't blow off in storms, and so far the racoons have not figured it out.

      (I use this for my garden, but a system like this would not work for poo in my area because it is not self-contained.)

  11. I have a doggie Dooley, but probably need another as I have 3 large dogs. It does work, and I've never experienced odor. It's important to add h20 every time you add to it, and waste digester once a week.

    I have rescue dogs and volunteer. I have friends that have more dogs than I do – one has 8! She lives on a farm and has tons of space, but needs to dispose of waste too. She made her own doggie septic system, same idea as a Dooley only much larger. I believe she used a regular green garbage bin. She dug it in the ground, flush, so that the lid can be used. With holes drilled in the bottom of the bin, I believe all you have to do is add water and waste digester. You might want to google home made pet waste systems. She's very happy with the system.

    Of course, when on walks in the city, I take compostable poop bags to clean up after my girls.

    Best of luck!

    1 agrees
  12. I feed our dogs raw so their poops are very small. After a few hours the poops are dry and you can step on them and they turn to dust.

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  13. I would suggest not using composted poop for gardening unless you feel really confident in your microbiology skills, but when I was younger my family and I did put compost containing cat poop in our garden and suffered no ill effects. We actually successfully composted cat poop and litter by putting it in a black plastic barrel-shaped container that turned on a stand, along with food and yard waste, and then closing it up and leaving it outside for a couple of years. I think this is pretty close to an actual established waste-composting method, but honestly we were just procrastinating because the container was full and horrible-smelling. When we eventually had to open it, we were pleasantly surprised to discover an ok-smelling soil-type substance. I think this worked because the closed space gave anaerobic microbes a good environment, and the heat from being a black container in the sun for part of the year and being turned occasionally helped also.

    • Oh no of course not. The composting would be an alternative to 1. Throwing it in the trash where it accumulates in a landfill and 2. Flushing it which takes it to the municipal water treatment center. Also I love dogs and the earth but not enough to carry their poop inside, haha.
      I have a black container for my garden compost, and I think that helps it go faster!

  14. I haven't seen anyone mention what we do with our dogs' poo – we have a worm farm for it. We already had two worm farms on the go for vegie scraps and grass clippings from the lawn mower, but my hubby read up about whether we could add our dogs' poop to it. Most websites said to have a separate worm farm for the poop though. So we used an old otto bin (can be bought from Bunnings or hardware stores). We bought worm eggs and they were various breeds. We have two kelpie crosses and the worms get through all of their poop each week. Following recommendations, we water the worms daily, but don't use any of the 'worm juice' on our plants (our two other worm farms have taps on the bottom, and you can collect the filtered water a.k.a. worm juice and add it to roses and plants as a great fertiliser).

    1 agrees
    • This is a great idea! What kind of worms, and where did you get them?

  15. We have a doggy doo-doo compost bin. It is separated from our food plants and we put a few grass clippings and fireplace ash in it also. We cut the bottom off a flip top bin and buried it up to the rim. We out it too close to the house at first and moved it – it does smell a little, especially when it rains. It works great and is very handy if you put it near where your dog poops. When it's full, we slide out the bin and put it somewhere new. We have lots of space so that helps.

    1 agrees
  16. I work at a dog/cat boarding facility so there's regularly 50+ dogs worth of poo being thrown away. There are a lot of interesting comments here, but is there anything productive we can do with THAT MUCH poo? Or is simply tossing it in the dumpster our only practical option?

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