From gross to compost

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It has been a fun challenge over the past few years to learn how to reduce my waste through the several Rs of sustainability (refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle, repair and rot). Dog waste is still the unsolvable issue, especially when I have to package the otherwise biodegradable waste into a plastic bag. As we've gone through days this winter of melting snow and falling rain, surely anybody who shares their yard with a dog has been dealing with this ongoing battle of, well, what to do with all that doo.

I have three dogs and a cat. I've long assumed with great irritation that my only option for dealing with their post-meal dealings is to put it in a bag bound for the trash bin. For anybody trying to avoid using plastic bags, it may seem like a losing battle. Bags seem to have become a necessary evil in responsible pet ownerships. Biodegradable bags seem to be a good compromise. However, when tossed into the garbage, these aren't much better in the landfill than plastic.

Well now, gardening, composting, sustainability-minded, dog caretakers rejoice: there is an alternative. There are ways to safely compost dog (and even cat) waste in your yard. For years I heard that due to parasites, animal waste should never be included in compost. However, with the right precautions and perhaps a separate pile, doggy discard can take its place back in the natural cycle of soil. Do yourself the favor of checking out some websites on the matter of pet manure, as there are a lot of varying opinions. You may find an option that feels most comfortable for your individual compost needs and comfort level when dealing with the doo.

Here are the basics.The biggest worry with dog waste is roundworm and some other pathogens. These pathogens do not live long once a compost bin starts heating up. Depending on your space and how much carbon material is in your doggy compost pile, you can turn the poo into dirt at about the same rate as normal compost.

Cat waste is more difficult because the pathogen toxoplasmosis is scarier for people; it can cause serious damage for fetuses in the womb. These are the reasons composting dog and cat waste have been considered bad ideas.

There are some systems you can purchase or make on your own that create an animal-waste-specific compost hole. You can then put dog waste compost on any ornamental plant, grasses or fruiting plants where the edible fruit doesn't come in contact with the compost. (Again, cat waste is more complicated so proceed with caution). Some gardeners have a multi-bin compost system and simply start the dog waste in a separate one to give it extra time before adding it to the normal compost.

I don't want to play favorite-poop-expert-favorites, so find resources with whom you feel comfortable if you want to move forward on this project. My springtime plan will be to create a separate compost pile dedicated to the decomposition of both cat and dog waste. Once this pile is ready, I'll use it in areas of the yard that won't be creating food for human consumption. It may take longer, especially in Minnesota, for a compost pile like this to break down into usable manure. But if it reduces the load in my trashcan and eases my need for little plastic bags, it might be worth it. It may not be appropriate for every household and it takes some digging, both informational and literal. It is one more of many challenges out there from which we can choose to make our lifestyle a bit more green.