Tag Archives: manure

The BiG Stink: The Scoop on Poop, Part 2

By Faith Miller
Operations Manager at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

Welcome back to The BiG Stink and thanks for tuning in for Part 2 of the ins and outs of composting scat. Last time I covered the merits of composting cat, dog, rodent, and bird wastes but this week is all about your fellow man. So without further ado, let’s talk about composting human poo.

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The story on humanure? It may kill you or it may bless your garden.

There are two reactions to composting human waste; either you think it’s gross or you think it’s awesome. For those of you on team gross, the ick-factor is warranted. Human feces may contain pathogens such as Hepatitis A, norovirus, E. coli, and roundworms to name a few. Also, food contaminated by night soil (untreated human waste) has led to major public health scares in places such as China, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Since poop can kill, a little fecophobia is justified.

Given that human feces is packed with pathogens and could be deadly, why would one want to compost it? Turns out excrement is chock-full of nutrients plants need including phosphates, potassium, and nitrogen which are the same ingredients in synthetic fertilizers. Americans are flushing 8 million pounds of poop a year, letting a major nutrient source go down the toilet.

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An example of a composting toilet

There are in fact people collecting their waste and saving it from a watery grave. Dedicated composters are harnessing the power of their poop using specialty composting toilets or by simply collecting their waste in a bucket. Contents of the bucket are transferred to the compost pile and given a generous dose of sawdust to mask odors. After several months of curing, a humanure pile should test negative for coliform bacteria and be safe for use on edible crops. When the pile reaches high enough temperatures to kill off pathogens, it appears humanure can be perfectly safe.

That’s human waste composting at a small scale. What about large scale composting of poo? Mass quantities of human waste are composted in the form of biosolids. Biosolids are the organic materials resulting from the processing of sewage in a treatment facility. Biosolids are NOT sewage. Sewage is the untreated mush from everything we flush, throw down the kitchen sink, and wash down the bathroom shower. Biosolids are produced from a heavily regulated process overseen by the EPA and can be applied to crops. In fact, nearly 50% of biosolids produced in the U.S. are returned to farmland.

While a significant portion of human waste is being recovered for fertilizer, many people are concerned that the heavy metals, steroids, and pharmaceuticals found in human waste will make their way into soils and crops.  However, regular testing has found that soils treated with biosolids have heavy metal concentrations significantly below the maximum permissible levels. When tested, biosolids are found to have the same concentrations of pharmaceuticals and steroids as water, soil and human bodies. Which begs the question- if these contaminants already are in the environment, does it matter if they’re in biosolids?

That’s the story on humanure. It may kill you or it may bless your garden. As long as the pile reaches high temperatures and is allowed to cure, pathogens shouldn’t be an issue for home composters (or they can invest in a $960.00 composting toilet). As for biosolids, they contain no more heavy metals or pharmaceuticals than the background environment. My take? Excrement is complicated and one should take it seriously. Tackle the turds at your own risk.

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The BiG Stink: The Scoop on Poop, Part 1

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).

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Bootstrap’s resident pooper scoopees: Cooper and Kooskia

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!).

Compost Round Up: “Manure happens”

Although different than what we do, another common composting source is that of composting animal manure. What’s composting manure all about?

Here are 10 facts about composting manure:

1. Manure from animals such as horses, goats, chickens and cows can be composted.

2. Manure should not be viewed as waste, rather an alternative to fertilizers and thus an economic resource.

3. Few weed seeds remain viable in properly composted manure, which can reduce the amount of herbicide or tillage needed for weed control.

4. Composting reduces the volume and density of manure 50-65 percent.

5. Manure compost can supply slow-release micro-nutrients for crop production, improve soil structure and promote growth of earthworms.

6. Pile temperatures should exceed 131 degrees F for 15 days and be turned a minimum of 5 times to kill pathogens. Carbon/nitrogen ratios should be about 30/1, moisture content at 50% and oxygen needs to be incorporated through routine turning.

7. The site of the pile needs to be in an area not prone to groundwater contamination through leaching or where leachate can run off into surface water.

8. After heating cycles have subsided, manure compost should cure properly. Applying immature compost can cause insect swarms, nitrogen immobilization, malodors or phytotoxicity (plant injury).

9. Understanding how to manage manure is vital! Applying too little can result in low yields and nutrient deficiency. Applying too much could mean a phosphorous runoff, nitrate leaching, and excessive vegetative growth.

10. Play it safe and get your compost tested for nutrient levels!

In conclusion, composting food scraps and animal manure are similar in their ability to reuse waste, create healthy outcomes for crop production, and save money. Composting manure, however, needs to monitored in order to prevent water contamination, exposure to pathogens and pollution. Both methods have their pro’s and con’s and it’s important to explore the best fit for you! Learn more below: