By Faith Miller
Operations Manager at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.
Here at the Boot we accept a wide variety of undesirables. Rotten apples, moldy bread, pumpkins way past their prime and all manner of unidentifiable and rancid brown blobs make their way into our buckets. And we’re thrilled to have them! It’s amazing to watch Mother Nature turn foul ingredients into gorgeous, odor-free black gold. While we’re open to collect just about anything that can go into your mouth, Bootstrap is less keen on what comes out the other end. You know what I’m talking about- numero dos, feces, dung, night soil (that’s a term, I swear).
So why isn’t Bootstrap on the turd train? After all, human waste and animal manure have been used as fertilizer for millennia, so what gives? Well, poop is complicated. Composting food is a straightforward process: throw in some scraps and a dry carbon source, keep the pile damp, turn it now and then and voila, you’ll have compost. Composting excrement is a much more delicate subject. When handling waste, one has to be mindful of bacteria, pathogens and heavy metals. These factors vary depending on the kind of waste: cats, dogs, gerbils, birds, people, ponies. Each type seems to have its own composting quirks.
Let’s start with rodents because they get a thumbs up for composting. Bootstrap accepts the waste and bedding from rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and any other rodent friends. Since pet rodents are herbivores, there is less concern about pathogens infecting compost or plants. In addition, one can safely compost manure from chickens, horses, cows, and other herbivorous animals (even elephants!).
Unlike rodents, cat poop is a big no for composting. Felines can transmit a parasite through their feces that causes toxoplasmosis. An estimated 22% of the US population is thought to have toxoplasmosis and most recover without treatment. However, infected pregnant women can pass the infection to the fetus resulting in eye and nervous system deformities. For the sake of the children, please don’t let the cat poop out of the bag.
So what about Fido? Dogs fall into the yes-and-no category for composting. Because dog waste can be packed with parasites such as roundworms, it is recommended that finished compost be used on lawns and ornamental plants instead of the vegetable patch if you’re a home composter. In fact, there seems to be a niche market for doggy do composters.
Bird droppings get a maybe for composting. In fact, I had trouble finding any definitive answers for avian waste. Chickens seem to pass the test, but concerns were raised over transmission of Salmonella, E. coli, and parasites when I checked out parrots and pigeons. There also was apprehension about seeds in droppings surviving the composting process to become weeds. Composting of fowl scat might be strictly for the birds until I find a good answer.
I covered just about every animal on the ark. Now it’s time for the most contentious pooper of all: humans. Psych. That’s a tricky topic and you’ll have to wait until next time for the low-down on humanure. Keep your eyes peeled for post number two (zing!).