There are nearly 90 million pet dogs in the United States and 94 million pet cats, according to the American Pet Products Association. With that many pets, tons of pet waste – much of it in plastic bags – ends up in the garbage each year. But with a little bit of space, pet owners can help reduce the amount of poop-filled plastic bags going into the landfill and beautify their gardens in the process.
Composting pet waste is nothing new; even George Washington mixed his compost scraps with horse manure. Maybe you don’t have a horse hanging around to contribute to your compost pile, but if you have a dog or cat, you can compost their poop for your lawn or ornamental plants.
The possibility of pathogens lurking in dog and cat waste has generated some controversy about whether people should compost pet waste. Because dogs and cats are omnivores, their waste can harbor harmful microorganisms that could cause trouble if they found their way onto food or into waterways. However, composting pet waste is seen as an acceptable practice, just remember to keep it away from edible plants and waterways, and only to use fecal matter from healthy pets. If your pet is on medication or is ill, it’s best to dispose of that waste in the trash.
Using care and good practices, composting pet waste can be simple and beneficial for the planet.
Here are 5 steps to get started decreasing the amount of pet waste headed to the landfill.
- Make the switch: Switch to biodegradable kitty litter if you haven’t already. This could be pine or paper-based litter, but clay-based litter won’t break down like you need it to.
- Keep it isolated: Set aside space for this compost pile away from waterways, food sources and any compost that you’ll be using on your vegetables. As mentioned above, pet waste compost is great for ornamental plants and lawns, but not for edible plants or waterways.
- Mix it up: Mix the waste with carbon (shredded newspaper, saw dust or straw, for instance) in a ratio of one part carbon to two parts waste, and keep it as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Make sure you cover your compost!
- Get it hot: Get the temperature up to kill the pathogens that could be lurking in your pet’s poop. Using a compost bin, instead of an uncontained pile, will help get the temperature up, as will keeping it covered. Turn the pile about once a week, and when the temperature drops and won’t climb anymore when you turn it, decomposition is done.
- Let it cure: Letting the compost sit for many months, even a year or two, helps the pH stabilize and ensures that decomposition is complete.
Now you’re ready to use the compost! Remember: compost from dog and cat waste should not be used on edible plants. A hot compost pile can reduce the number of parasites, but it’s best not to take chances.
If you’re worried about the smell, you can sink a bin into the ground and let the compost do its work below ground.
Composting pet waste is a great way to reduce the amount of trash, including plastic, that gets sent to the landfill, and to help your garden grow.