The final frontier: no more excuses! by Laura Waldo-Semken 1/16/2020

Sticky and Olive; buddies for life!

Are you a cat owner wishing you could let go of your addiction to free plastic shopping bags? Composting kitty litter allows a cat owner to break free. Here’s how. It’s kind of a long story since free plastic shopping bags are so much a part of our practical lifestyle.

Where to begin?!? First, single use plastic bags are bad. But so practical. But bad. 10 reasons why they are bad:

https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/population_and_sustainability/sustainability/plastic_bag_facts.html?fbclid=IwAR1Mcxq9-mByILR1qsaj_fyeIOmJKb6aSkYFsFPIdPFALtXfi3UN1-0vnwc

It all began with this understanding (that plastic bags are bad). Biodegradable bags are still plastic, they just break down faster. Compostable bags are usually corn based and can be put in a compost pile.

The full set up 3 steps from my back door.

Here is what you need to break free:

Pine bedding for horses from a farm supply store (Orscheln in Columbia, Thiesens in Iowa City)

Composting structure/bin (3 foot x 10 foot hardware cloth, wire cutters) for the active pile

Another bin, like a 40 gallon trash can with the bottom cut off and holes drilled for collecting stuff while the other is actively cooking, or another hardware cloth bin

Kitty pooper scooper

Upcycled Potato chip bags or cereal bags or any other bag used in our industrial food packaging system

Collector bin; an upcycled 40-gallon trash can with no bottom!
The compost cooker; 3 feet x 10 feet of hardware cloth creates 3 cubic feet

I used to teach soil science at Kirkwood Community College. Somehow in my research for interesting articles about fertilizer I found one about a company in England that bought the rights to human urine from porta potties for urine only. They then bottle it and sell it as fertilizer. What?! Yep. In addition to the obvious nitrogen, human urine also contains phosphorus and potassium, which are essential in plant health. If you include wood ash in your compost, you’ve replicated most commercial fertilizers without the harmful chemicals (https://104homestead.com/pee-in-the-compost/).

How about feline urine? Why not? I have 4 cats! I used to need plastic shopping bags for all the clay kitty litter. Clay kitty litter (sodium bentonite) comes to us by plowing the tops off mountains in Montana and 9 other states by strip mining. This destroys the mountain. The United States Geological Society estimates that 85 percent of the 2.54 million tons of clay used in this country every year is used for absorption of pet waste, with cat litter being the dominant. (For detailed information on clay mining operations, see “U.S. Geological Survey, Minerals Information 1996” and “U.S. Geological Survey Minerals Yearbook 2001” both by Robert L. Virta.)


When I volunteered for an animal shelter in Cedar Rapids, I found out about pine horse bedding. For horses you add water, for cats you do not add water. It comes in pellet form, and it’s a renewable resource. Plus it’s sawdust, a great addition to your compost pile. Lightbulb!

But wait, how do you compost again? You need a bin, ideally 3 cubic feet or larger (see photo). I used to have a Geobin. It was great but cost $32! If you have wire cutters you can make one for less than $20. I used the wire from the 3 foot x 10 foot roll of hardware cloth to wire it to the fence plus staked it into the earth with tent stakes salvaged from campgrounds. You also need a pitchfork or something to stir it with. Do you have an extra large (40 plus gallons) plastic bin sitting around? Add some drain/aeration holes and use it for your collector bin. Then you need to save all your kitchen vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and eggshells. I use a 6-8 quart glass jar with a lid but I’ve seen lidded clay pots and metal pots too. Green grass clippings and vegetable scraps are your “green” (nitrogen). A compost pile needs to be about 1/3 green stuff (nitrogen) and about 2/3 “brown” stuff (carbon). Brown stuff includes sawdust and dead leaves, coffee grounds and egg shells. Most home composters use too much green and not enough brown. This causes rot which releases methane, a greenhouse gas 20x more potent that carbon dioxide and smells horrible. Yikes! So getting the brown carbon in your pile is important.

Back to lightbulb! Use horse bedding for kitty litter, scoop poop into upcycled plastic sacks like tortilla chip bags or cereal bags and store in a lidded container (small metal trash can?). Dump kitty litter in compost pile. Dump vegetable scraps in compost pile. Stir maybe 1x a week. Add water if its super dry outside. Water speeds up the process. Within about 3 month you will have a newly composted nutrient rich addition to add to your garden! No mountain top removal, no single use plastic grocery bags, and compost for my native flowers and vegetables! Here is more info about composting: https://learn.eartheasy.com/guides/composting/

I did some digging on the internet to find out alternatives to bagging pet waste and found out that you can compost pet waste (if you are vigilant about turning it and adding moisture) but then you cannot use your rich composted soil amendment for growing vegetables, only flower beds and lawn restoration. Here is how: https://www.the-compost-gardener.com/composting-pet-waste.html

This NRCS document is also very helpful.

The secret to composting and saving kitchen scraps is too make it as easy as possible. Put the compost pile near your back door if possible so you do not have to walk too far to dump stuff. If the ratio of green to brown is good, and you stir it, then it won’t smell bad. Empty your food scraps at least once a week or else they get stinky and in the warm months, fruit fly larva begin wiggling 😊 And pat yourself on the back for learning how to be like a mushroom; a groovy decomposer that turns “waste” into nutrient gold for our beloved Mother Earth.

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