“Green” Poop Disposal is Harder Than You Think!
What? Eco-Friendly Dog Poop Bags aren’t environmentally friendly in most cases??
This, believe it or not, is the totally surprising information I discovered while researching this article. It was not what I was expecting. Not even close.
My plan was to research eco-friendly dog poop bags and tell the reader which bags were truly eco-friendly and which were frauds. I was already aware that there are a lot of bag companies out there making false claims; it makes it hard to determine which bags are truly compostable.
The cold hard truth that I found out is, when you put a compostable, legit eco-friendly poop bag into a landfill, it doesn’t compost. Ever.
Read on to learn why, and how you can be eco-friendly when disposing of dog poop.
Hey, it’s Only One Poop, What’s the Big Deal?
Let’s start with the basics. If you have one dog, and you pick up its poop using a plastic bag three times a day, that will put 1,095 bags in the landfill each year. Per dog. And if you have two or three dogs? Yikes.
When you throw away your poop bag, it goes to a landfill. Landfills must conform to EPA requirements. These requirements block out critical factors needed for composting or biodegrading to occur: air, sunlight, and moisture.
Here is an overview of how your biodegradable or compostable poop bag decomposes:
So, SHOOT –what can eco-friendly dog owners do with their dog’s poop?
Can’t I Just Leave it In the Woods?
I will be the first one to admit: until I wrote this article, I thought that I was being eco-friendly when my dog pooped deep in the woods. Since it wasn’t on the trail where people walk, I figured I didn’t need to pick it up and could avoid adding another plastic bag to the landfills.
I mean, wild animals poop in the woods, right? So, my dog’s poop – as long as I don’t leave it on a trail where someone could step on it and get a shoe full – will decompose and turn to dirt just like the wild animal’s will.
Not so fast.
It turns out that pet food is full of nutrients to make our pets healthy, but unfortunately some of those nutrients (like nitrogen and phosphorus) will be present in our dog’s poop and can damage healthy ecosystems over time.
Since wild animal poop comes from eating plants and animals in that ecosystem, it doesn’t have this harmful effect.
This nutrient imbalance can enter lakes, rivers, and streams and create a habitat in which algae and other invasive weeds grow and slowly kill off local fish and plant life.
If the poop is left near trails, it kills sensitive native plants and encourages tough invasive weed growth.
Tony McReynolds of the American Animal Hospital Association wrote the article about ecosystem damage that burst my bubble on this approach to poop disposal. In one cited study, researchers determined that roughly 60,000 pounds of dog poop are left in open space and mountain parks in Boulder, CO each year.
That’s a lot of poop.
I did not see that one coming – who would have thought that leaving your dog’s poop to decompose could be a bad thing?
Eco-Friendly Dog Poop Disposal Options
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Dog Poop Composting
Many states have industrial composting sites, but most don’t accept dog poop in compostable bags.
So, is composting your dog’s poop an option? There are a variety of solutions you can consider.
Private Poop Composting Companies
In Portland, Washington, a company called Green Pet Composting is a great example of ingenuity in the eco-friendly dog poop disposal business. In a nutshell, they pick up your dog poop and compost it at their site, turning it into organic soil.
Homeowners can choose to have the company pick up the poop in their yard weekly, or the homeowner can pick the poop up themselves and pay to have a bucket at their house which the company picks up and replaces each week.
According to Steve Dreiling of Green Pet, composting turns the poop into a pathogen-free and odor-free soil amendment. The lightweight soil is sold to homeowners, landscapers, and donated to charitable organizations. These organizations mix it into plant beds or spread in a thin layer over lawns and landscaping.
The company also collects dog poop from doggie daycares, boarding facilities, pet-friendly multi-unit residential buildings, and any business that caters to dogs.
Can you imagine the quantity of dog poop, cat poop and plastic bags they keep out of landfills?
Anaerobic Digesters at Dog Parks
Anaerobic digesters break down the dog poop, producing 1) a biogas that can be used for energy and 2) a material that can be used as fertilizer on plants, or can safely seep into the ground.
These digesters are out there, but not as common as I hope they will be down the road.
In Gilbert, Arizona, students in the College of Technology and Innovation’s iProject Program made a crazy-cool below-ground dog waste digester that generates energy used to power a light at the dog park. People deposit their dog’s waste into the system through creatively designed openings, and can aid the digestion process by manually turning a wheel that stirs the contents.
The Park Spark Project installed a similar system, this one with above ground tanks, in a Cambridge, Massachusetts park. The Park Spark Project focused on replacing the common trash can and plastic bag with a public methane digester and biodegradable bag. The collected dog waste is then converted into usable energy.
In Toronto, Ontario, a condo association installed bright green receptacles for residents to use for dog poop disposal. The poop drops into a below-ground container and is sent to a facility that converts it into energy.
I hope public dog poop composting systems will become more commonplace, but for now they are, unfortunately, pretty uncommon.
Home-Use Dog Poop Digesters & Composting Bins
This product was a total shocker for me, I did not have one ounce of interest in something like this before I wrote the article. Now I’m seriously contemplating buying one.
If you like the concept of the dog park waste systems I just talked about, you might be interested in a home-use pet waste digester.
To do this, you can make your own pet waste digester, all you need to purchase is a container and pet waste enzymes. Here is a video showing the process:
Alternatively, you can buy a premade system like the Doggy Dooley that comes with both the receptacle and the enzyme mix.
These poop digestion systems, if constructed and maintained correctly, do not smell since the enzymes you add to the water break down the dog waste.
The dog poop biodegrades and flows into the subsoil. Using this method prevents runoff and the resulting ecosystem upset that occurs if you leave your dog’s poop on the ground, . It also prevents using plastic bags and filling landfills.
Dog Poop Composting
Dog poop composting is different than digestion. Compost systems are above ground; they use heat and added carbon-rich materials to break down the poop into safe, nutrient-rich compost.
Williamsburg River State Park in Brooklyn, New York, created a compost program for visitors to use. Visiting dog owners use biodegradable paper bags or scoopers to dump their dogs’ poop onto the compost pile. Sawdust is added to create the correct carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, and the park staff monitors the pile to ensure it reaches temperatures high enough to kill pathogens. The resulting fertilizer is used on plants and flowers throughout the park.
In general, resources recommend you use this type of compost on flower beds (not food gardens).
For do-it-yourselfers, this option is definitely more labor-intensive; I read it and immediately knew it was more work than I can handle. You need to be willing to periodically turn (mix up) the compost mix and add organic material.
If you’re curious, the USDA step-by-step guide for successful dog waste composting explains exactly how to make a home-use poop compost system.
Can I Just Flush my Dog’s Poop?
In most cases, no. A majority of municipalities forbid it because their systems aren’t set up to handle the pathogens in pet waste.
And do you really want to pick up a yard full of poop, cart it into the house, and empty it into the toilet? Not too appealing.
Hiking Dog Poop Disposal Options
We discussed the negative effects that dog poop left in the woods can have on the ecosystem. So, when you are traveling with dogs or going for a hike …what’s a person to do?
Use a Smell-Proof Container
Use one of these smell-proof containers to store your dog’s poop while you’re on the trail.
The PooVault is a hard-sided container that has a belt clip or carabiner for attaching it to your pack, leash, or belt. To give you a rough idea of what it holds, the website says it holds 2 poops from their 70 lb Labrador. That said, because dog poop varies in size depending on what the dog eats and other factors they say it’s best for dogs 55 lbs and under. The size is 5x4x3.5” so you could picture that next time you have a bag of dog waste and decide if it would fit.
Another alternative is the Ruffwear Pack Out Bag. This odor-resistant bag comes in two sizes so you can choose the one that has the capacity you need. Attach the Pack Out Bag to a pack, belt, or leash for easy transport.
In each of these options, it’s best to bag the poop before putting it in the container.
Put it in a Composting Toilet
If you are hiking a popular backpacking trail, it may have composting toilets along the way. Empty your bags of dog poop (home-compostable certified bags are OK) into the toilet and let the composting begin.
The Real Truth About Biodegradable Dog Poop Bags
If you look online, there is a lot of confusing information about biodegradable and compostable dog poop bags.
First, you have companies falsely claiming to have biodegradable bags. More on that in a minute.
Next, you have companies that make legitimate, eco-friendly bags that decompose in a matter of months.
Here’s the part they don’t tell you: They are only going to break down if you dispose of them correctly. Which means they can’t go in the trash.
Your biodegradable poop bags and compostable poop bags cannot break down in a landfill. No matter what they are made of and how bio-friendly they are.
For a bag to break down, it needs certain conditions, including air, sunlight and moisture. Most landfills have none of these; the contents of the landfill are tightly compressed. This prevents even the most eco-friendly dog poop bags from breaking down and decomposing.
Most compostable bags need to be placed in a commercial composting facility. But, since most commercial facilities will not accept animal waste, finding a location to dispose of a bag of poop where it can decompose is a dead-end road in most places.
If you want to buy or make your own dog poop compost bin and need bags that you can put in it, you need to make sure the bag you buy is TUV Austria Home (not Industrial) certified.
Compostapoop is an example of a bag you could use in a home composter. Highlights include:
- Home compostable (TUV Austria Home certification)
- Made from plant-based material
- Rolls are suitable refills for most standard dispensers
- Box made from recycled materials
- Each roll has a recyclable core
These bags would be great for hikes also, where you plan to put your dog’s waste in the composting toilets along the trail.
How do I Know if the “Biodegradable” Word on the Label is True?
There are a boatload of poop bags on the market using words like “oxo-biodegradable” and “biodegradable” on the label. Unfortunately, due to unregulated guidelines for these words on poop bag packaging, false usage can mislead the consumer.
The only cases I read about which used biodegradable bags were the dog park poop digesters and commercial/industrial composting facilities. So unless you plan to deposit the poop in those places, it doesn’t seem worth buying.
If you are looking for biodegradable bags, the key is to look for the ASTM D6400 certification on the package. The ASTM International Standards define the level to which a plastic is biodegradable. The criteria for ASTM D6400 certification is very stringent; plastic products must be compostable in a commercial/industrial composting facility to receive it.
Companies that meet this standard have proven the compostability of their products.
Side note: do not buy bags touting that they are “oxo-biodegradable.” Oxo-biodegradable bags contain chemical additives that break down plastic in smaller fragments, but these additives may still cause the same damage to the planet that other plastics do.
A truly compostable bag will break down naturally (no chemical additives needed) and be consumed as food by microorganisms.
Want to Learn More?
Rose Seemann, owner of EnviroWagg, a dog poop composting business in Aurora, CO, has written a book on this subject called The Pet Poo Pocket Guide: How to Safely Compost and Recycle Pet Waste.
EnviroWagg has partnered with a multitude of companies in their area such as doggy day cares, dog poop pick-up companies, city dog parks, and more. The company composts the dog waste from these places, and sells the resulting nutrient-rich, safe fertilizer.
The Eco-Friendly Dog Poop Bag Myth
My investigation into the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of dog poop did not go as expected.
When I first began to think about this subject, I figured I would just Google “eco-friendly dog poop bags,” pick one, and be on my way to being a good citizen of the earth.
I had no idea that eco-friendly dog poop bags are a waste of money if you throw them in the trash, nor did I realize that decomposed dog poop that you don’t pick up can affect the ecosystem.
Obviously there is no perfect solution, but knowing what works and what doesn’t helps each of us decide what is best for our specific situation.
If you want to lessen the impact of dog poop disposal on the environment, here are some ideas:
- Consider buying or making a dog poop digester or compost bin for your yard.
- Check if your city has any dog poop digesters or dog poop compost companies like the ones mentioned in this article.
- Ask your local dog park to investigate options for on-site dog poop composting.
- If you hike a lot, consider picking up your dog’s poop so it doesn’t negatively impact the ecosystem.
Have you tried an eco-friendly dog poop disposal system like a dog poop digester or a dog poop compost bin? I would love to hear how they worked for you; I may be adding one to my summer project list!
Tell us your experience in the comment section; you will help other people become better stewards of the environment.
Until next time-
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