Monday, June 23, 2008

What a Waste

SUMMARY: Recycling and doggie droppings.

Back in high school in the early 1970s (there, I admit it), I wrote a couple of speeches about ecology and the environment, and then I got all hot under the collar about Things We Can Do At Home To Save The Earth. This was back when recycling was something you did to get back on a bicycle. Or else weird counterculture stuff. I believe that I was the instigator for my parents to start recycling bottles and cans. This was back when you had to buy your own containers for recycling, if you wanted it separate from garbage, and then you had to go find someplace that would take your recyclables and transport them there, and sort them yourself into the appropriate bins, after crushing all the cans to save space, of course.

I think I let my parents do most of the actual work. Although when I moved out on my own I did all that stuff.

Also, just to be a good person, I have always picked up my dogs's messes in public. I used to get complimented because I'd walk around picking up after my dogs. Now people swear at me because my dogs poop in public. Weird world. Anyway. In your own yard (if it's not a giant ranch in, say, Marfa), you need to pick it up or else reencounter it in many unexpected and not necessarily pleasant ways.

Eventually, when I grew up a little bit, like in 1995 or so, I went through the program to become a Master Composter because I learned that soil is SO much happier with organic matter added, and besides it makes so much more sense to process your own yard waste. (Ask me someday for why. I'm a Master Composter. I have a very long list of reasons.)

Then there was the doggie droppings thing. When I walked out in public, we used to carry a trowel and a small paper bag. Then I'd scoop the poop into the bag and then throw out the bag. When I started doing Dog Activities with Dog People, I realized that plastic bags were way more convenient in so many ways: Moisture doesn't leak through them. Before use, they crush easily into a pocket. You can do the grab and lift and don't need a trowel. You can buy them on a very condensed roll and attach them to your leash.

When I had a Really Big Yard, during the winter, when it rained, we'd mostly leave the doggie deposits where they lay, as they'd fade into the soil under their own power. But the rest of the time, we used to gather it all into a large grocery bag and toss it in the trash.

So, Taj MuttHall Mom, What's Your Main Point?

And so, here's my main point. With my Concern For The Environment and finally being a Master Composter, I decided that I needed to find some way to deal with all of the solid waste produced by my canids.

So I bought a Doggie Dooley digester, which is basically a big plastic box with a lid that you bury in the ground, like a mini doggie-doo septic tank, and you periodically throw in your dog waste and some Doggie Dooley Digester Enzymes. It's supposed to just vanish in a trice and sink into the soil in an unobtrusive way.

Well, I tried for probably 3 years to get that thing to work. I added more liquid. Less liquid. More enzymes. A lot more enzymes. Fewer enzymes. I kept a big pole by the (very-rapidly-completely-filled) Dooley and stirred it and aerated it. A really fun thing to do on weekends. But I never, never got it to work. There were notes about clay soil not being perfect, but since our clay soil drained very well, I thought it wouldn't be an issue. But noooo--- I gave up finally.

I have corresponded with people in other parts of the country who have had good success with the thing. But not here.

So here are some other possibilities:

* Put in a plastic bag and into the trash. Actually, at least one agility site near here REQUIRES that the dog poo must be in plastic bags before it goes into their trash. But--all those plastic bags!

* Put into a paper bag and into the trash. However, some municipalities now apparently ban pet waste in the garbage entirely (hmm, trying to find a reference for that and can't. I believe it was Pacific Northwest somewhere). Plus, really, stuff that goes into the landfill gets buried so quickly and thoroughly that a lot of it just doesn't break down, or won't for centuries. I don't think paper or plastic really matters.

* Compost it. Ugh. Doggie poo (and that of most omnivorous/carnivorous animals) can or usually does contain all kinds of ugly pathogens that normal backyard composting won't kill and you don't want in contact with you, your vegetables, or your children. Not a good solution.

* Same applies, maybe, to leaving it lying around the yard to break down on its own, if you have a large-enough yard. But in this case, it would be far enough from where you're usually in direct contact with it that it wouldn't matter so much. But how many of us have yards that big?

* Flush it down the toilet. Gak, carrying that through the house?

* Put it into the sewer in some other manner, like build a sewer connection in your back yard. Expensive, although maybe cost effective for larger kennels. But now there's some indication that many of those pet pathogens are not destroyed in the water treatment process and are finding their way into the waters of the world. (Limited references available; mostly applies to cat waste.)

So what's an ecoconscious dog owner to do? I dunno. My current strategy is plastic bags into trash, both for public poos (small convenient-sized bags) and for backyard cleanup (one large bag weekly).

But someone just pointed out this gadget. Looks like an interesting idea, if it really works. And if you have $400 left over after doing dog agility. Anyone out there have any experience with this thang?

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Compost Happens

SUMMARY: An award from one of my other lives.

In April of 1995, I enrolled in my first agility class. In October of 1995, I went through the County of Santa Clara's Master Composter program and became a--yes, you guessed it--Master Composter. The program was free, except, wait, you had to agree to give 50 hours related to composting back to the community.

In January of 1996, I entered my first agility trial, and eventually entered another 5 during that year. Back then, the World Wide Web was young, email was (relatively) young (who ever heard of spam?), wouldn't come into being for another 2 years, Taj MuttHall wasn't even a gleam in TMH-mom's eye. In other words--I had time!

I gave dozens of workshops to the community. I worked tables at fairs and home shows. I went to schools and gave talks. I answered questions by email. I constructed PVC sign frames for the program. I helped harvest the big demo worm bins and fill demo compost bins at Emma Prusch Park. I worked at city-wide and county-wide bin-sale days. I gave demo presentations for new classes of Master Composters. I put in many, many, many hours and I had a blast.

I earned my polo shirt for graduating, my sweatshirt for putting in 50 hours, my hat for 100 hours. And I kept going; for the next couple of years I must have put in, oh, 300 hours at least.

But then, as you also may guess, something insidious and really addictive started to take up all my weekends, and evenings, and spare moments everywhere, and gradually dog agility displaced most of my Master Composter activities. I clung to being an active member of the group, though. At one point I thought that my life's work might be as a compost evangelist, although I'm probably less likely now to produce shovels full of compost for party guests and say, "See? Doesn't it smell great?" Maybe only a little less likely. I've been working only maybe one or two compost-related events each of the last several years, just to keep my hands in it, so to speak.

Of course I compost volumes in my yard.

Well, the Home Composting Education Program did something new last night: Together with handing out certificates for the new graduating class of 25, they had an awards banquet for existing Master Composters. I sat with some gung-ho folks from the '04 and '05 classes who are already up in the 300-400-hour range. We saw some slides with impressive statistics about how many hours were volunteered back to the community during the last fiscal year. We saw that there is at least one person still active from every class dating back to the program's origin in 1995 (guess who!).

And then they handed out the really new thing: Pins for people based on how many hours they've worked. This is where I discovered that I've put in something like 465 volunteer hours, and I got my 250-hour pin.

Of the people attending, only 3 had more hours than I had. But, dagnabbit, there's a 500-hour pin, too! And I'm so close! Not that I'm competitive or anything, but...well... I want that pin! But where the heck in the next year am I going to find 35 hours free of dog-agility-related effort to put in those hours? Sheesh! They sure know how to give a kick in the pants to compost-crazy, award-motivated maniacs like myself. I'll do it--somehow, I'll get that pin by next May!

See you at the compost pile.


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