DIY: Waste Digester


Update April 19, 2011: I’ve recently gotten a few questions about this post, so I thought I’d repost it for those of you who may have missed it.  This is such a great idea for an Earth Day project!  Let me know if you make one yourself.

Last week I wrote about an environmentally friendly way to dispose of your dog’s poop using a waste digester—the Doggie Dooley or the Staywell Eco Clean.  They work like a miniature septic tank.  They can also cost a pretty penny and depending on how many dogs you have, may not be able to handle all your poop problems.

Happily you can make your own pet waste digester for dirt cheap.  You’ll need:

  • a large plastic garbage can with a lid hat fits tightly
  • a drill to make holes in the side of the can
  • something to cut the bottom out of the can
  • a shovel
  • a hole dug with that shovel
  • gravel or small rocks
  • septic tank enzyme available at hardware stores (Septonic, Septo-Bac, Roebic Septic Treatment, Drain Out, Rid-X)

Don’t locate your waste digester anywhere near edible plants.  And don’t put one of these too close to water, like a river bank, or anywhere where the water table is high. Waste digesters won’t work properly in very clayey soil and digestive activity stops below 40°F, but picks up again when the weather warms up.  If you live in a cool area, try to locate your digester in a sunnier part of your yard.  Also, too much chlorine in the water you add to the digester may slow digestive activity.

Check out the detailed slide show for a DIY waste digester and make your own.

The video tells you how it works and how to maintain you DIY Doggie Dooley.

45 Replies to “DIY: Waste Digester”

  1. My doggie “waste digester” is in and working beautifully. Thanks for the plans. Had some help with digging the hole (power auger by the fence installer) and am so happy not to be putting fresh poo into the trash for the garbage collectors to handle. Thanks, again!

  2. After years of reseeding my lawn every spring due to dog urine kill, I fenced in a section of my yard by the back door for the dog. That area is about 20 X 20 ft. I pick up the waste in the yard every week or so (not every day) and even less in the Winter when we have deep snow. My question is: How can I sanitize the yard after the waste is removed. There has to be all kinds of bad bacteria, etc left in and on the ground. Any sugestions?

  3. My dog does her business on walks away from the house. Can you put the biodegradable bags into this type of thing? I have to figure out how to transport it from wherever she chooses to do her thing to the composter. Want to make sure it’ll break down with those bags.

  4. Mary, plain old sunshine kills a lot of things. Other than that, I’m not sure what you could use. Let me know if you find something!

    Scott, biodegradable bags should be fine in a waste digester. I might experiment by poking a hole or making a tear in a bag and leaving some whole to see if they degrade at the same rate.

  5. What effect does a high water table have? The only area I have to put the system in is the back yard on a slope to a swampy forested area, but ground water seeps out at various places along the slope. Is the concern just that the hole will fill with water? Or will the system not work with the moisture?

  6. Dan, I think the system will be too wet. And that waste will be washed away by ground water before being digested, which will contaminate the area. Not safe and probably pretty gross.

  7. Question: Our home in Phoenix doesn’t have leafy plants. What else can we use for covering the doggy waste?

  8. @Susan Hi, your question got me curious about composting in desert gardens (’cause I’m a nerd like that) so I did a quick Google search to see what the equivalent of ‘leafy plants’ would be in Phoenix.

    the city of Phoenix has a useful guide with list of possible materials – even shredded newspaper, straw, and cactus clippings:

    It seems like composting in the desert is the same principle as here in the NW – you just use a combination of whatever “Brown and Green” materials are on hand. the important part of adding leaves to the doggie dooley is to create pockets where oxygen can circulate to help decompose everything so i bet you can improvise freely.

    Hope this helped. Good luck with the project!

  9. Hi Robin, Susan Miner, Sarah, Dan, Scott, Mary Meeker, Babbette jablonski….

    I love this contraption, but I’m wondering what I should do with the garbage can afterwards?

  10. I used 2 5 gallon plastic buckets inside of each other. Cut the bottoms out both & drilled multiple holes; placed 1 inch stones, about 4 inches in the bottom. Added dog droppings & added septic starter. (Lowe’s)It has been the ground for about 1 month, what I am seeing white hairy fungus but no sign of digesting happening. We live in Eugene OR, heavey clay soil. What would you suggest?

  11. How close is too close to an edible garden? I have raised beds for fruits and vegetables and plan on digging a hole about 30 feet away on the downhill side of these raised beds. Is that to close?

  12. Andrew–I’m not an expert, but 30 ft, plus being downhill, sounds fine. That’s more space than I’ll have when I put mine in. I’d love to see a pic of the work. I know it’s just a hole in the ground, but it’d be great to post an update where people can see someone’s results. 🙂

  13. My doggie “waste digester” is still working. The poo level is now about 10 inches below the rim. I religiously added buckets of rainwater and rid-ex starting in the spring. For the heckofit, I poked a stick down to the bottom in multiple places and found that it was really quite liquid–there was no “forcing” the stick at all. It’s been over one year, added one dog, and wondering what the future of my doggie septic tank holds–hopefully a lot more poo!

  14. Yea, Babbette! That’s is so awesome! I know—weird to be excited about dog poo, but I’m thrilled it’s working for you. Thank you so much for leaving a comment!

  15. Someone here commented on sanitizing your back yard after clean up of dog poop. I have used at the advice of a veterinarian the white powder lime. I think technically it is called AG lime. It is supposed to kill parasite larvae and eggs according to the vet that told me this information. You might water it in and let it dry before letting your dog back out on it but this works for me very well.
    Like you i clean up once or twice a week but this is due to my work schedule in the winter months. But in the summer i will clean up more often.
    I hope this works for you.

  16. We feed our dogs heartguard to prevent worms and sth to prevent fleas too. Does this medicated poo breakdown in the composter too?

  17. Robbie, thanks for that information. I’d be interested in other people’s experience with lime too.
    Eve, the medicated poop should break down too. I think even poop with antibiotics in it will break down too.

  18. How often do I need to add water for a 20 gal? It drains pretty rapidly. Should it stay dry for the most part?


  19. Help! It worked great for about 2 weeks now I have a full buried can that is a soupy mess. What I do wrong?

  20. I have the same problem as Terry, so wondering what I’m doing wrong. I have 2 golden retrievers and tons of poop. Mine is full of thick soupy stuff. Plus my dogs eat grass so that’s in there too from their poop. Any suggestions?

  21. You mention cutting the bottom of the barrel out and setting it on the bed of gravel. When I looked at chess pool or septic tank, it seems like there is a solid waste area with leaching above the bottom. If you cut out the bottom, would this require more enzyme and water to continue the process vs. Leaving the bottom and drill the leach holes higher up on the barrel?

  22. Two drawbacks to do it yourself disposal are:
    The lid should be extra tight or surrounded by a fence so a small child or a dog doesn’t fall into it. (it happened to my little dog)
    The commercial Dogey Dooley has a little opening so no such danger is possible.
    None of the do it yourself dog waster disposal suggestions mention this.
    The garbage can, the fencing and the break down product cost me a little more then the commercial dog waste disposal.

  23. I am moving and have 3 large dogs. Will need some way to digest their poop.
    Winters in NH are cold. Have a limited area to use for their yard. What happens when it gets freezing temps. I clean up every day in good weather. But Snow covers everything for a long time. Spring is then clean-up time.

  24. Do I have to dig a hole and cut out the bottom? Can I just use a garbage can with the bottom inand so the other steps to break it down?

  25. I’ve been interested in a disposal for awhile. The catalogs don’t offer what I need due to have 5 dogs ( dalmatian, 3 Shiba’s and a Beagle). I like the DIY idea but am wondering what addition measures I would need to take with 5 dogs?

  26. Would the smae concept work as a food waste/yard waste digester?

    I don’t have dogs but organic is organic right! In the summer how fast does the waste break down? Does it ever have to be emptied. I built a backyard digester the same way with a 60 gallon barrel. Right now it is winter in Alberta Canada and its a frozen lump. Hoping that it will break down fast and disappear so I can add to it continuaously without having to empty it.

  27. Most sites and articles cover dog waste, even when they say ‘Pet,’ so I’m wondering what the differences are in composting for them. Is it totally different or can you address this? Thanks.

  28. I have a Good Boy dog waste receptacle with 6 liquid waste enzyme bubbles. Can I use a commercial septic tank enzyme product which won’t hurt my dogs?

  29. I am starting research on the pet waste systems and determining what is right for us, my main concern is the maintenance portion of the system. I have not found any articles that address this specifically. Can anyone tell me more on this process, what do you do, how often, what products.. etc… thanks so much in advanced.

  30. I don’t know how it will work with pet waste but the buried digester that I use for kitchen waste fills up in about 1 year. Mine is a 60 gallon barrel with holes drilled in the sides and bottom. I buried it so that about 10″ are sticking out of the ground. I put a cement ring and firpit bricks around the top and have an old disc blade for a lid so four legged pests are not a problem. The lid has holes in it so it allows ventilation and access by bugs which lead to maggots. Last year when we harvested the garden I shoveled it out and right now it is approx 3/4 full. There are 2 living in my house and we have an average amount of company. I add ALL kitchen waste to it over winter and summer and then start over again in the fall. After shovelling it out I get the garden tilled which gets rid of the awful smell. The waste does not break down much but by spring after after another tilling you can’t recognize anything except some of the bones. It is also beautiful fertilizer for the garden but pet waste is not usually recomended to put near edible plants. Hope this helps.

  31. Will be using a 5 gallon pail with a tight lid. I have two dogs medium size how much water would you suggest to add to the poop?

    Live in the South Carolina area any suggestions about digging the hole?

    Plus, should I place 2 inches of gravel or rocks at the bottom?

    Thank you

  32. Hi there.
    This is great!
    The problem is, we have about 6 or 7 dogs every day!
    How many bins would we have to submerge?
    Would rather like your help!
    Many thanks

  33. Oh…forgot to say..when we go for walks we pick up and put in poop bags.
    Can we put those into the compost? The bags are supposed to be compos table!
    Thanks a lot!

  34. Is there a way for this to work without burying it/cutting out the bottom (for apartment /rental dwellers)?

  35. Hi There, I showed my husband info about doing this project. He dug a 4 ft hole and decided to forgo the garbage can and the rocks. So now we just have a hole in the ground with a piece of flagstone fitting snuggly over the top. Can we do without the trash can and the rocks at the bottom? Hubby seems to think we dont need these things!

    Thank you

  36. I live in the high desert with rock hard soil. I want to use an environmentally friendly dog waste system. Will I need to dig deeper and mulch and compost the rocky soil before putting in a system?
    Also, it’s pretty hot here (105) in summer
    And below 32 degrees in winter.

  37. I made a DIY dog composer out of a storage tote. Following directions from this post i added Roebic septic treatment to jump start the microbes. unfortunately during the process of adding the septic starter my lovely dog bumped me and i fell in the hole. : / so the entire bottle of septic starter was added. The bottle says it is used to treat up to 500 gal. I do not plan on using the compost at all. Should i be concerned? will the septic starter cause any problems? what can i do ??

  38. Just as an add on to the digester project: I built a 7 x 15 area that is 2 bricks tall, filled it with compacted sand and covered it all with ‘astroturf’. It allows all of the liquid to permeate, the sand filters nicely and poo doesnt really stick to the faux grass. Easy clean up, right into the digester. Training to go only on that area took about a week, now she runs across 200 feet of yard to only use her potty spot.
    Also, if gaurdia or amy other parasite rears it’s head, I can bleach the potty spot with a garden sprayer.

  39. I built mine with a salvaged 60gallon tank from an old air compressor. I kept the bottom 10” solid but cut big slots in the sides for drainage. I thought that way it would always be moist and the bottom section would drain as I add more poop. In the summer I pick it up daily in a flower pot with a small shovel and then add a couple cups of water before dumping it into the digester. Just helps it run out of the flower pot. I just put it in a week ago but it’s still below the slots so so far so good.

    I’m curious to see how it will be after winter. I’m guessing nothing will happen since it will be frozen. I will also be adding some snow with each deposit to avoid brown marks on the yard and make sure there’s lots of water available in the spring to get the process started. Being 60gallons should be plenty of room for the winters worth of snow and poop.

    I have not added septic starter yet but will if it looks like the process is slowing down.

  40. I should clarify. I posted earlier about another digester. I now have 2. 1 for food waste and one for dog poop

  41. My dog waste digester is not really draining as fast as I had expected. The water is above the drain holes so I’m guessing the area below the unit is saturated with water. I’m hoping the liquid seeps into the ground before winter so it does not heave the unit part way out when it freezes. I have contacted a vac truck guy that can suck it out if it becomes a problem and does not drain.

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