Related: Compost Bin
ROL: What was the most fascinating discovery you made in researching and writing the book?
RS: I had heard of bokashi (a Japanese method of composting) before I started my research but had the idea that it was an esoteric process for dedicated zealots. I was so wrong. Bokashi composting is simple, and the pleasantly pungent stuff speeds up and enhances all forms of organic degradation. It’s also a probiotic and a deodorizer, and it can even unclog your drain. There’s no end to its creative uses. I make it in batches and scatter it like Tinkerbell.
ROL: Do you have any pets of your own?
RS: My husband Chuck and I have a smart, sensitive tuxedo cat named Max. He thinks he’s a tiny human, and he pretty much rules our roost. We use small animal bedding (pine pellets) in his litter, which I compost with our food scraps. I feed the finished soil amendment to ornamentals in the yard.
ROL: Has your garden improved since you started composting pet waste?
RS: I make a point to never use compost with pet waste near edible crops (and anyone who is interested in pet poop compost should know that it can only be used to fertilize ornamentals). For my decorative garden, I chose plants based on those I saw around gas stations and mall parking lots—I figured they’d be hard to kill. I planted trees, shrubs, and flowers; each fall I till in compost to nourish the roots. Now that the plants are established, they need almost no maintenance. The blue mist spirea, Jupiter’s beard, speedwell—all of the perennials—are flourishing, and the flowers put on quite a colorful show.
ROL: What compost system do you use?
RS: I use a bucket-to-compost-to-ditch-to-tumbler method. I put food scraps in a bag and tuck that into a corner of the freezer. When it’s full, I dump it into one of several lidded cat litter buckets that I keep next to a 1-by-5-foot composting trench on the side of the house. I lace the scraps liberally with bokashi to eliminate odor and help with the degradation process. When the buckets get full, I empty them into one end of the trench and use a shovel to turn the scraps with sawdust and waste from Max’s litter box. As the material gets nice and earthy, I move it down the trench and eventually into a 30-by-22-inch barrel tumbler. When the end product smells lovely and has a nice texture, voila! It’s compost! I usually let it rest in lidded buckets until I’m ready to use it.
ROL: Do you ever get tired of touching your cat's (ahem) leftovers?
RS: Trust me—I like to work smart, not hard. Composting family pet waste is easier than it sounds because the microorganisms do all the work. Plus, there’s something magic about turning garbage into something that can nourish life, and frankly, I like the way composting smells. Scientists have found that the microorganisms in a compost pile release geosmin fumes, which some believe boost serotonin and norepinephrine levels. You just can’t stay sad when you’re turning compost!
ROL: Has composting animal waste saved you money?
RS: The poo-plus-food-scrap compost eliminates any need to buy bagged compost or fertilizer for our landscaping. I also use the compost to make my own potting soil and fertilizer for houseplants, since we don’t use pesticides or herbicides. I can’t guarantee that home compost is a cure-all, but well-amended soil goes a long way toward keeping plants healthy.
ROL: For those who are totally grossed out by the idea of composting pet poop, what advice would you offer?
RS: There are ways to make it less icky. You can simply throw dog poo into a cool do-it-yourself septic bin. No gross-out, all-eco brownie points! I should note that septic bins don’t work with raw cat waste, but you can use compostable litter and bury the waste in the ground (like a feral cat).
ROL: Will we ever compost animal feces on a municipal level?
RS: As landfill space becomes scarce, tipping fees increase, and communities set zero-waste goals, officials will need to figure out what to do with pet waste and disposable diapers—4 to 5 percent of our residential trash. We can’t treat it like nuclear waste forever. Environmentally advanced cities, including Toronto, Brattleboro in Vermont), and Madison, are already recycling pet poo with other organic municipal waste. Sooner or later, pet waste recycling will be coming to your city or town.
ROL: What’s next for pet sustainability?
RS: I’d like to see a big switch from clay to compostable litter. Clay mining is fossil fuel intensive and destructive to the environment. Clay litter is often infused with deodorizing chemicals.