easy green pet solution: a dog poop composter!

UPDATE: Please see our 2013 update to this story.

You don’t know how hard it was for me to type that headline without laughing! I didn’t even know that composting pet waste was possible until I picked up a flier on it at my local natural pet store. (UPDATE: You can use the resulting compost for ornamental plants, but do NOT use it on vegetables or fruits. And you can use this for cat poop too, as long as any litter is biodegradable.) I’ve mentioned before that we have two large dogs, so you can imagine the amount of waste that went into our garbage every week. (Actually, try not to imagine it.) Now we have a place where we can deposit the deposits without using plastic bags. And it was really simple to make, too. Read on for instructions. –Mary T.

Click the link for the instructions. (No gross photos, promise.)


The dog poop composter is built using a garbage can with a lid — you probably have a banged-up old one lying around. You can use plastic or metal, though it might be easier to work with plastic. First you drill holes randomly around the can (though my husband made this look like an art form), making sure to leave a few inches around the top of the can with no holes.


Then cut off the bottom of the can. (We used a sawzall.)

Then you find a discreet spot and dig a hole large enough to cover the holes you drilled in the can.


Drop in the can, fill in around the can with dirt, and put some loose rocks on the bottom of the hole for drainage.


After that, add in what your dog left behind, throw in some septic starter (we got ours in the hardware aisle of a grocery store), sprinkle with a little water, and put on the lid. And you’re done!


The septic starter packaging will give you an idea of how much to use (and it’s impossible to use too much — it will only break down organic matter). Simple maintenance will require you to add a bit every few months.

From our partners
DJ

It’s pretty easy to compost the litter of herbivores, such as rabbits.

Kellita

Cool! I wonder if that would work for kitty poop as well?

this is perfect for us! we have 2 large dogs as well (one being a mastiff mix) and in a small-ish yard, it tends to take over! thanks for the easy step by step. we knew it was possible to compost it, but never found easy steps on how to do it! thank you!

This is FANTASTIC! Thanks so much for sharing! I’ll be linking to this.

Morgan

But what do you do when it fills up? You can’t put it on your plants? Do you have to just throw away the (hopefully broken-down) poop eventually anyhow? Or… where does the poop go?
But yay that there’s a way to pick up the poop with plastic!

Dana

My husband discovered something similar in a store a couple years back,but decided he didn’t want to pay that kind of money. He took a half a plastic barrel we had lying around and buried it in the far back corner of our yard. The doggie waste has been going in ever since, helped along with something similar to the septic starter you show. Et voila, no more doggie doo doo in the dump.

(Our municipality has announced it will be starting a green bin program into which we can dump our kitty litter, meat, dairy, etc. So now the organic waste that wasn’t going into either our food composter or our doggy composter will have somewhere other than the dump to go as well. I can’t wait to see how that impacts what we’re going to be seeing as far as actual garbage from now on.)

Mary T

PS Dana, what do you add to yours?

Mary T

Okay, I am clarifying a former comment (which I deleted): Morgan, most of it does break down thanks to the additive. However, you can use it to compost plants (I had to read up to figure that out) but NOT to use on vegetables or anything else you plan to eat. And yes, you can compost cat poop too as long as the litter, if there is any, is natural and biodegradable.

Tiffany S.

Does the septic starter neutralize some of the smell? Even our regular trash smells so foul now that I’m going to be giving the trash men a big tip at Christmas.

Mary T

Tiff, I’m just keeping my face out of it! : )

Jo

Just a note: Doggy poop composters of any sort will not work in areas with heavy clay soils. Part of the way the entire system works depends on drainage around the composter, and clay soils are simply too un-porous for the whole thing to compost properly.

Yes, I found this out by experience. I’m still working on ideas for an above-ground, high-heat doggy composter (along the lines of a non-electric composting toilet) that can be used in clay soil (ie, my yard).

Dana

Mary, my husband uses something he buys from the pet store that’s a compost starter for the doggy composters. We hadn’t thought of using regular septic starter until we saw this post, and now we’re going to price compare and see what’s less expensive…

jayme

Any idea of how this holds up during the winter? I’m in upstate New York so we have some frozen ground months during which regular composting slows. I’m worried that composting would stall out over the winter and I’d end up with a steaming defrosted pile of gross come spring.

Also wondering if this method does tolerate colder winters — if it would be too late to start now.

And does it attract any critters? Squirrels, raccoons, foxes, coyotes?

korinthe

So this is basically a small septic system, only without all of the design features that are supposed to keep E. coli and the other poop bugs from getting into the groundwater / your kid’s play space / etc.

Nice idea, but you’d be safer (and less likely to run afoul of your town’s septic/sewer ordinances) just flushing the doggie doo down the toilet with the rest of the fecal matter your household generates. If you think that’s a waste of water, look at it this way: are you willing to start putting your own poop in a bucket in the back yard?

Maybe you are, but I wouldn’t want to live downstream of that bucket. There are reasons we don’t have outhouses any more (besides the convenience of indoor plumbing).

korinthe

For a great explanation of how real septic systems actually work:
http://www.septicprotector.com/Howsepticsfunction.html

Mary T

Actually, korinthe, according to Seattle’s Earthworm Design, who supplied the flier that we used as a guide, while “leaving fecal mattter on the gorund can spread E.coli, salmonella, and giardia….When rain washes away unattended waste, it enters the drainage system…., [Composting pet waste] Turns waste into fertilizer; the enzymes in the septic starter breaks down fecal matter which disperses underground….”

Mary T

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I don’t think they’d be getting so popular nor sold in stores if they posed more of a health risk than one’s dog “going” outside to begin with. Thanks for weighing in.

James

Hi Mary,

Actually, all of the more formal studies I’ve been reading about say this is a really terrible health idea. I don’t think the popularity of the practice has anything to do with how safe it is. I don’t think most home and garden groups have a staff microbiologist. It seems like a good idea on the surface, but it just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

Mary T

James, could you provide a link or a cite please?

I flush my dog’s poops down the toilet with a flushable dog poop bag. Most eco-friendly way to get rid of poops.

There are flushable dog poop bags. The best answer probably because dog poop can get treated just as your poop is. Throwing dog poops into the trash overcrowds our landfills and pollutes our water system.

FlushDoggy.com offers FREE SAMPLE TO TRY !

karen

following on what james had to say: i, too, have read studies that say that composting pet doo is not a good idea. matter of fact, i keep seplaceing for one that says it *is.* examples follow.

http://www.ecocycle.org/askeco-cycle/2005/0701.cfm
Composting pet waste in the backyard may seem like a good idea but according to compost experts at the CSU Cooperative Extension, the pathogens and parasites within the waste are not properly treated or removed under most compost conditions. They strongly advise that pet waste should never be placed in your home compost bin or directly on your landscape.

http://mailman.cloudnet.com/pipermail/compost/2004-November/012659.html
… We took a sample of this one-year old soil-looking material and had it tested at BioVir Laboratories, Inc for Helminth Ova Assay, Salmonella Assay, Fecal Coliform Assay and Total Solids Assay. We then allowed the material to sit for another 6 months and tested it again, hoping time and microbial competition would bring the material into the “safe” level. It didn’t.

many, many, MANY more. http://www.google.com/seplace?q=composting+pet+waste&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

L

Thank you for this. We have two big dogs and live in an area where it’s commonplace to leave doggie poo in the yard. This seemed a better solution. My husband made a lid for it that is almost flush with the ground–a round piece of plywood hinged in the middle, the back half screwed into the trash can to hold it in place.

5BigDoggies

hi! Just a note these work very well, but if there is a pet with lots of fur…(sorry, to be gross, but it does get in the poop…), the fur will eventually stop up the drainage holes. We live in a warm area with lots of bugs and covering several large “deposits” with a wet layer of newspaper cuts down on stinkiness and the little gnats that somehow manage to get in there. Pouring water in the cotainer will also speed the breakdown process and encourages more worm activity. We never spread ours anywhere as it naturally breaks down faster than we could fill it. I imagine we will fill it one day, but we will probably just cover it up with topsoil, plant a tree there and more to our “drop spot” to another location.

shelterrific » Blog Archive » want it now: robotic pet poop composter!

[…] year, I was excited about our DIY dog poop composter, but that excitement waned once I started reading the comments and their links to all the negatives […]

Tracey

I think this is a wonderful idea! Please, please don’t allow the negative people (there will be some on every group, webpage, etc) to ruin what is a much better idea then throwing our plastic bags filled with dog waste into land fills. I will bet a hundred bucks you can find “links and proof” to almost every opinion out there. Do me a favor, just use common sense. I’m not saying people shouldn’t have their own opinion, just don’t leave neg comments. If you don’t like the idea, THEN DON’T HAVE A PET COMPOST IN YOUR YARD. Simple as that. I will be showing my husband these directions as we were just discussing building our own. We have 2 huge rotties and a decent size yard. I don’t intend to build it in my kid’s sandbox. Like I said, common sense, put in an area that is out of the way.

We own a small Hobby Kennel and we put one of these in for our dogs… Great Idea!!!

Tracey…. well said!!!! Some people are just mad that they never came up with this!!!! LOL

So far so good with our composter!!! Although we made ours different.. It is he same idea!! I love it, and it keeps the smell down!!!!

I read the links against composting and the ones they examined didn’t appear to use Septonic or a starter. Also the problem was with spreading it on your landscape plants, I think, not just having it sitting in the ground. I think it is probably not a good idea to spread it on the lilacs. Compost yes, but don’t use the resulting “soil”. Start a new one as someone suggested, if the first one ever fills up.
As for winter, I guess I’ll have to put it in the garbage in the winter and compost in the summer.
Kathy

Kim

I just purchased all of the supplies & will be making one TODAY! I have read on other sites that using grass clippings can help speed up the composting processes! I am very excited about this project! :D

Jay

I have one of these in my back yard. It works well but does fill up. I think I may have to add more of the septic starter stuff, or has anyone heard about adding worms to dog composters? and if that works?

Mark

Some of you say not to use the compost to grow vegetables or fruits. How you think they do this to begin with? Don’t they use Cow Manure when they plant fruits or vegetables? So what’s the difference between dog poop & cow manure? Also cant you also use Earth worms in conjuction with this type of composter? The worms will eat the poop.

Jaime

The big difference between dog poop and cow manure is that cows are vegetarians and dogs eat meat.

CP

For the last 5 years I’ve used Doggie Dooley Dog Toilets. Found at this link. http://uniquedistributors.com/doggiedooley.html

These things are expensive for the size I needed (I had 6 dogs at the time I bought my first one). They work great. As mentioned above, you need a good place that doesn’t have roots or bad soil (clay, like we have here in GA). You want to be careful with the smell because it will smell but it’s not nearly as bad as putting doggie bags in a garbage can. Every week, I would drag a garden hose to the toilet and add water which helped speed up the process. Here in GA the winters aren’t as bad as up North, but you will not be able to use this in the winter (unless it’s nearly empty) because decomposing doesn’t occur in frozen months.

Mary T, if you are still checking this, I have to tell you thank you for posting this. I’ve been wondering how I could make my own. I’m going to start digging!!

Rachel C.

I’ve been using a similar system for over a year now, and to answer an above question, yes, you can use worms in this composter (I use them instead of septic starter because we have small dogs and not as much waste). And CP, I, too, live in GA (northern) and used it during the winter months. Because it is in the ground and decomposition gives off heat, the waste still broke down in the winter, albeit slower than in the summer months.

Jen

Would this still work if I used biodegradable bags to put the poop in, THEN dropped it in the bucket?

Jen

I am wanting to start a “composting/reuse/ green friendly” dog scooping company but I am lost on how to do this when my customer level gets high. NO ONE in my state does this they just put in plastic bags and it goes to the land fill

Larry

Flush it down the toilet.

Ginger

I use to flush my kitty poo but discovered it clogged my toilet. I certainly hope those people flushing doggie bags of poo have good pipes! I am going to try this. With a shepard and a lab we have tons of poo! As well as kitties. Not sure though if the scoop kitty litter is biodegradable.

Michelle

The reason why you can’t use cat/dog poo in compost to be used on food is due to the possibility of zoonotic disease from parasites these animals can harbor. Roundworms, Hookworms, giardia are just a couple. If you are going to compost the stool it probably is a good idea to check stool samples regularly on your pet to make sure you are not concentrating these parasites that can live in the soil for years! Parasites in herbivore stool are not able to be spread to humans.

Kate

I had one of the commercial variations on this. We have sandy soil with very good drainage. It was difficult to keep the contents moist enough to break down. Eventually tree roots grew up through the bottom making the whole thing useless. Just keep that in mind. I have yet to see a better solution to this problem.

Brett Michaels

How do you deal with rats? I have found that rats love dog poop. Won’t they just eat a hole through the top?

Melissa

Now if we could just train the dogs to poop directly in it…

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Lindsey

I think this a great idea! Sure, poop of any type can carry potentially dangerous microbials, but my dogs poop in the yard and try as I might, I never get it all completely picked up. Residue is left behind on my grass and eventually seeps into the soil anyway. We also live in a semi rural area where there are hundreds of wild animals pooping everywhere and not flushing it down the toilet!!!! I won’t be using the “compost” or installing this near my kid’s sandbox… but it seems way more environmentally beneficial that plastic bags in the refuse bin or poop in the green waste bin.

Jana

Where I live there are raccoons, feral cats, coyotes, not to mention rats, voles, etc.: all of which eat meat, some of which eat poop, all of which poop freely. I find bird poop splattered on my deck and fence posts. Some of these birds eat carrion or prey on rodents (which eat poop). I’m sure many of these animals carry parasites. I live in the county, but quite a few of these creatures are adapted to city life as well.

The point is: your dog’s not the only carnivore pooping in your garden. Life’s a dirty business, filled with bacteria and living organisms. You’re never going to escape it, but you can make best efforts to manage it.

I like the garbage can idea. Flushing poop in so-called disposable plastic bags seems a huge waste of water.

Leslie

I also have 2 large dogs and this sounds like a great idea. I always figured there had to be a way to compost instead of adding to the landfill…I’m trying to figure out how to train my dogs to poop over the buried bucket and eliminate having to manually collect the poop! LOL Thanks for the great idea!

Pam

Yes you can do this but the problem is that much of what deteriorates from the poop ends up in groundwater, rivers, or streams. Just because you don’t see it anymore doesn’t mean it’s not still a problem. The truely environmentally responsible thing to do (though it’s not as easy) is pick it up regularly and dump it (without the bags) into the toilet where it will be treated at the treatment plant just like our poop.

Beth

This looks like a better option than what most people out in my area do and that is just bury it in a hole in the back yard.

Mary S

Hey, everyone: I’m working on an update to this story. Stay tuned!

Debbie

My dog eats her poop – so we HAVE to pick it up every time she goes. She is a rescue and this was what she had to do. One pro – no land minds in our backyard! I might try this though – as we go through a lot of bags!! Thanks!

Christian

I would love more info about this. We are already on a septic system and never thought to do something like that with our dogs poop.