Composting Dog Waste
Fairbanks, Alaska, 1998
The Fairbanks North Star Borough estimates there are over 20,000 dogs within the 7,000 square mile borough. In Alaska, dogs are used for transportation, recreation and competitive sports. All these dogs produce a large volume of dog manure. Prior to this study the recommended disposal method for dog waste was to tightly seal it in plastic bags and haul it to the landfill. One musher reported that he threw dog waste over the river bank. Another said he tied the dogs on the river in the winter so the waste would wash away during the spring. Pollution from dog waste poses a serious threat to water quality, wildlife and public health.
Who Initiated the Project
The Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District requested 319 funds from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The objective of this program was to develop on-site composting systems that would destroy pathogens and produce a usable fertilizer and soil amendment. Composting the animal waste will keep it out of the landfill and protect wetlands and groundwater.
- Shovels and/or forks
- Compost thermometer
- Compost bin with cover
- A carbon source, such as sawdust or chopped straw
Prepare a sunny, well-drained site near the dog area for a compost bin. Add sawdust to the dog waste, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Gradually add small amounts of water until the compost mixture is as moist as a wrung out sponge. (50-60%)
Continue adding ingredients until the compost is 2-3 feet deep. Place the cover over the compost mixture and let the temperature rise. Once a bin is full, do not continue adding fresh materials.
Insert the compost thermometer daily and record an average internal temperature. When it starts to decline, in about two weeks, it is time to turn the compost.
Turn the whole compost pile, turning the outside to the inside in order to provide more complete composting. Repeat the turning process regularly until it is a crumbly, black, dirt-like mixture. Cooking time varies, usually from 4-8 weeks. If desired, the compost can be cured prior to land application.
The Fairbanks Soil and Water Concervation District received a grant award of $25,300 from the EPA 319 Fund, administered by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
In 1991, the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District started a study which showed that dog waste composting is practical in Interior Alaska. On-site composting systems can be used by any kennel. Interested mushers composted dog waste under different conditions. They took the internal temperature of the compost and recorded their results. Their experiences were very positive and most felt their composting systems worked well. "It was much simpler than I expected" was a common reaction.
Good composting on-site, eliminates transporting dog waste to a disposal facility. This saves time, energy and landfill space.
Good composting is essentially odorless and reduces the volume of waste by over 50%.
Good composting happens by bacterial and fungal action under warm, moist conditions. It contains a carbon source (brown organic material) and a nitrogen source (green organic material/animal waste). Moisture content and aeration are also important factors.
Good composting produces a quality soil additive that increases water and nutrient holding capacity. It improves both the physical condition and the fertility of a soil. This is particularly valuable in areas with low organic matter, where it improves aeration, root penetration and water infiltration.
Currently NRCS and FSWCD are teaching summer classes on how to compost at the local UAF experimental station garden. The Alaska Cooperative Extension also uses the educational materials generated in this project for educational classes.
Problems and/or Suggestions
This study was for dogs only. Composting cat or other pet waste is not recommended without other information. It usually requires 10-20 dogs to get enough volume of waste to compost effectively. For fewer dogs we recommend adding grass clippings to increase the volume of compost and provide enough insulation to achieve temperatures above 130 degrees F. at the center of the pile.
Health Concerns etc.
Be aware that dogs can transmit diseases to humans. Whether petting a dog or shoveling dog waste into a compost bin, recognize this problem. Health risks vary depending on the climate, so ask a local veteriniarian to recommend a parasite control program suitable for your area. All compost contains mold and fungus spores which may cause an allergic response in sensitive individuals.
Although there are many potential pathogens, the primary agents for disease are roundworm eggs. They are too small to see with the human eye. Dogs become infected with roundworms by swallowing the eggs in soil where other dogs have defecated. Female dogs can also pass on roundworms to their puppies. The eggs hatch in the dogs intestine, migrate through the liver and lungs and return to mature in the intestine. The adult roundworm lays eggs which are passed onto the soil, completing the life cycle. If humans ingest the eggs, they hatch in the intestine and migrate to other body tissue; like lungs, liver, spinal cord. The larvae can even attack the retinas in the eye.
In certain geographical areas, other parasites may also be a problem. The life cycles are similar to roundworms and disease transmission can be avoided by not coming in contact with the eggs. The tapeworm alternates between two hosts, usually a dog and a rodent, during its life cycle. One tapeworm, (Enchinococcus sp.), found in remote regions, can produce life-threatening cysts, if ingested.
For More Information:
Call or write:
Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCP)
1760 Westwood Way
Fairbanks, Alaska 99701