Q: I caught a news item on MNN the other week about the human manure movement. Fascinating stuff, but never, ever in a million years would I give up the joy that is modern plumbing to compost Debbie dung.


So here’s my question: Despite my reservations about humanure composting, my boyfriend and I are toying with the idea of composting dog feces. We have a giant backyard complete with a small worm composter and a giant dog — a beautiful and loving Great Dane named Duke — that makes giant poops. Duke has free rein of the backyard and drops deuce pretty much wherever he pleases. We clean up after him by scooping the poop in old plastic shopping bags and then tossing them in the trash. However, lately we’ve been thinking that going the shovel-and-compost pile route may be a smarter, more natural way to dispose of Duke's droppings. Do you have any suggestions on how to properly compost pooch poop?


Trying to doo the right thing,


— Debbie, Des Moines, Iowa

Hey Debbie,

Give Duke a giant hug for me. Long before I was dispelling eco-advice, I worked as a dog walker while in graduate school, and one of my charges was a Great Dane … so I know what dealing with Great Dane number two clean-up is like. Pooches produce an average of 274 pounds of poo a year and I’m guessing that amount is doubled for GDs.

My answer here is simple: Yes, you can technically compost Duke doo but treat it like you would human waste (I know you’re touchy about the subject) while backwoods camping: Bury it in the ground — and bury it deep.

You mention that you’re already using a worm composter in your backyard do not mix dog waste with food scraps and other organic waste that you compost in the worm bin. Dog waste, as you might know, can contain hard-to-kill, disease-carrying pathogens, so you don’t want it mixing with your normal compost-to-fertilizer mix. If you fertilize edible plants with the stuff, you’re putting yourself at serious risk.

You’ll want to bury Duke’s poo in a somewhat remote area of your backyard, far away from any veggie gardens and also a good distance from streams, wells and other water sources, since there is the risk that it can contaminate groundwater supplies. The Natural Resources Defense Council recommends checking your water table before you bury pet poop. The NRDC recommends digging ditches at least five inches deep but I’ve read elsewhere that it should be at least a foot (remember it’s Duke you’re dealing with) to keep curious, non-domesticated critters away. Also, in lieu of some kind of poo shovel, you can scoop with a corn-based biodegradable pet waste bag and chuck it in the ditch. All in all, an easy process as long as you select an appropriate site.

And here’s another option: the Doggie Dooley, an in-ground pet waste disposal system that pretty much functions like a mini septic system for dogs. It costs under $100 and could be a wise investment if all that ditch-digging gets tiring.

However you ultimately decide to dispose of Duke’s poop, please make sure that you clean it up as soon as it hits the ground, whether in your backyard, in the park, or on the streets of Des Moines. If you don’t, those parasitic unsavories like E.coli and Giardia (aka Beaver Fever) that I mentioned before might get washed away and enter local water supplies. We wouldn’t want that hanging over Duke’s head, now would we? Thanks, Deb, and let me know how it goes.

-- Matt

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