By Heather McGregor
Ramsey Bond dearly loves her dog, Summit, but she is all too familiar with the “back end” of dog ownership. In preparing to soon earn her bachelor’s degree in sustainability studies at Colorado Mountain College, Bond is taking that “back end” challenge head-on through animal waste composting.
Bond teamed up with the Colorado Animal Rescue shelter in Spring Valley, which is adjacent to the college’s veterinary technology farm, to build an outdoor animal waste composting system. The three-bin composter will convert a mixture of the shelter’s animal waste and a local woodworker’s sawdust into composted soil that’s safe for lawns, shrubbery and flower gardens.
“I knew our campus had a vet tech school,” Bond said. The vet tech program is closely affiliated with the shelter. “I wanted to see how we could reduce pet waste from that facility. Because I own a dog, I have always seen it as a problem.”
In her research, Bond came across EnviroWagg, an animal waste composting company operating in Longmont, Colorado. She contacted the owner, Rose Seemann, and is now completing an internship with EnviroWagg as part of her CMC studies.
“This is an area where there is a great deal of denial,” Seemann said. “Dogs produce about 270 pounds of waste per year, but nobody wants to think about the back end.” Seemann said pet waste accounts for about 4 percent of all residential waste.
Bringing information to community
Using what she learned at EnviroWagg, Bond visited CARE, where the shelter staff immediately grasped the advantages.
“They really wanted to be a part of it,” she said. “It went along with their mission of helping animals go back into the community. Now we can use the waste to keep their landscaping healthy.”
Over the years, CARE has worked to increase its sustainability by recycling, using wood pellets for cat litter and installing solar panels for electricity, said the shelter’s executive director, Wes Boyd.
“This is our next addition for sustainability, and we really appreciate it,” he said.
System kills pathogens
Until this spring, CARE staff collected the shelter’s daily animal waste in a plastic garbage bag and carried it to the dumpster, said Tracey Yajko, CARE’s community outreach manager and a longtime shelter staffer.
With the new composting system, shelter staffers collect waste through the day in a heavy-duty plastic bucket with a screw-top lid, and empty it into the outdoor compost bin at the end of the day.
Bond built the three side-by-side composting bins in an enclosed area on the warm south side of the shelter building. Fellow student Aaron Anderson, president of the CMC Sustainability Club, helped with clearing a space within the enclosed area and with building the bins.
They used scavenged shipping pallets for the framework and attached scrounged one-inch wire mesh on the sides to keep the composting material in and critters out. The bin lids are topped with corrugated sheet metal, which was donated and cut to fit by Umbrella Roofing Co.
Near the bins, Bond placed two large plastic trash barrels with lids, each full of sweet-smelling sawdust. It’s provided by Daniel Oldenburg at Summit Construction, and is another waste byproduct that previously went to the landfill. A few scoops of sawdust go in on top of each day’s waste.
The new CARE composter is based on a three-stage system developed and tested in other communities: building, working and curing.
The first bin already has a growing pile of animal waste and sawdust. Even on a recent warm spring day, there was no odor. Once the pile is about three feet high, the label on this “building” bin will switch to become a “working” bin, and the CARE staff will start piling new waste and sawdust in a new “building” bin.
Meanwhile, composting starts in the first bin, managed by the CMC Spring Valley Sustainability Club.
Students will add water, aiming for the pile to be damp from top to bottom. Using a long-stemmed thermometer, they monitor the pile’s core temperature. Natural composting heats the pile to about 150 to 160 degrees, which kills off the pathogens and parasites that might be present in animal waste, Bond said. As it cools down, students use a pitchfork to turn the pile.
The heating, cooling and turning process happens three or four times over several weeks, until the pile no longer heats up. At that point, the “working” bin shifts to the “curing” stage. The composted waste sits, exposed to the weather, for several more months. After about a year, Bond said, it will be ready for use in landscaping.
Bond is using her capstone project, another requirement for completing her bachelor’s degree, to visit dog parks from Aspen to Carbondale and survey 50 pet owners about dog waste.
She plans to analyze the survey results to see what types of animal waste collection and composting could work in the community, and whether it could be a sustainable business.
Seemann said Bond has gone past the “ick” factor to seek practical solutions for diverting animal waste from landfills.
“It takes a certain kind of person to think about the responsible way of dealing with things,” Seemann said. “There’s a huge sustainability problem here, and Ramsey Bond recognizes it.”
Composting backyard pet waste
Here are a few resources to help you learn more about pet waste composting:
“The Pet Poo Pocket Guide: How to safely compost and recycle pet waste,” by Rose Seemann (available through Amazon); https://www.amazon.com/Pet-Poo-Pocket-Guide-2015-05-26/dp/B01FKWURAU/
“Composting Dog Waste,” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service and Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District (free, available online); https://prod.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/nrcs142p2_035763.pdf