Image via Monika Wisniewska/Shutterstock
By Deanna deBara
The state of the environment is a huge concern for today’s generation, and as a result, today’s consumers—including pet parents—are committed to making the most eco-friendly choices possible.
Pet parents are becoming more and more environmentally aware when it comes to how they care for their dogs. But one of the biggest challenges of lowering their pet’s ecological footprint is dog poop cleanup.
Getting rid of your pup’s waste in a way that’s environmentally friendly can be tricky. What do you do after you scoop it up with your dog pooper scooper? What are the most eco-friendly methods of pet waste removal and disposal? And why are they the best options?
Dog Poop Disposal Methods to Avoid
Before we jump into which dog poop disposal method is the most eco-friendly, let’s talk about the methods that you’ll definitely want to avoid if you’re trying to be green.
The first might be surprising: Flushing dog poop down the toilet.
A lot of pet parents think that since we flush human waste down the toilet, it only makes sense to do the same with pet waste. But the truth is, flushing your dog’s poop down the toilet just isn’t environmentally conscious or safe. “When you flush [dog waste] down the toilet, you can spread cryptosporidium, which is not removed at the sewage treatment plant and then enters the waterways,” says Robert Horowitz, supervising environmental scientist at the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) in Sacramento. Cryptosporidium (also known as “Crypto”) is a parasite found in animal waste that can cause diarrhea in humans, and it’s a leading cause of waterborne illness. A Crypto outbreak can cause humans to use more resources to manage their illness (like excessive toilet flushing) and can have a negative impact on the environment.
Another pet waste removal method you should avoid is dog poop composting. “Pet waste contains a variety of pathogens,” says Horowitz. “Folks should not try to compost pet waste at home; they will not achieve high enough temperatures to kill pathogens.” While bringing your dog poop to a commercial composting site could be an option, it’s not ideal—and larger composting facilities aren’t really interested. “The temperatures [that are necessary to kill pathogens] are routinely achieved at commercial composting facilities because of the larger volume of materials,” says Horowitz. “While commercial composters may never notice a little bit of pet waste in the large volumes of feedstocks they receive daily … nobody is actively soliciting these materials because it could impact their ability to sell the finished product.”
Dog Poop Belongs in the Landfill
So if flushing your dog’s poop down the toilet or dog poop composting are not viable pet waste removal options, then what eco-friendly dog poop cleanup choices do pet owners have?
When it comes to pet waste removal, it seems that the landfill is the best (and most environmentally friendly) option. “My opinion is that pet waste should go to the landfill,” says Horowitz.
Since your pet waste is going to end up at the landfill if you throw it in the garbage, the question then becomes how to package it in a way that allows it to decompose quickly and safely.
And that’s where dog poop bags come in.
Biodegradable Bags: Eco-Friendly or Not?
The most popular product for environmentally conscious puppy parents in recent years has been biodegradable poop bags. But do they actually work? Are they more environmentally friendly than other types of dog poop bags?
“Biodegradable is a tough area, and here’s why,” says Amanda Basta, staff attorney with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In order to claim a product is biodegradable, the company needs to have “competent and reliable scientific evidence” that the product will biodegrade in a reasonable amount of time—typically one year. The only way companies can gather that kind of evidence is through testing that replicates typical landfill conditions—and unfortunately, most companies can’t do this. “In our experience, very few companies have that type of testing—and that’s why the Green Guide ... advises companies not to make unqualified biodegradable claims unless they have appropriate testing to back that up,” says Basta. The Green Guides, a resource published by the FTC, aims to help marketers avoid making deceptive, untrue or misleading marketing claims in relationship to being environmentally friendly. And even if a company does test their products, it’s important to consider the conditions under which they test. “Landfills have variable conditions; if something is buried very deep in landfills, it’s not going to be exposed to the same condition as something at the top of the landfill. So for [a company manufacturing pet waste bags] to just say ‘biodegradable,’ that’s sort of a representation that it will degrade or biodegrade in a landfill—and that’s a really broad claim to support.”
The best thing consumers can do when sourcing biodegradable poop bags is to do their own research to find out which companies have the testing to back up their biodegradable claims. “Just looking at the bag or looking at the claims on a bag or on a box doesn’t really tell you much,” says Basta. “A consumer can look to see whether a company is talking about the type of testing they have to support those claims, and if they’re making a representation about what conditions their products were tested under … they have to dig a little bit deeper in order to figure that out—and if companies aren't talking about testing at all, consumers should be skeptical.”
Eco-Friendly Tips for Disposing of Dog Waste
If you want to dispose of dog poop in the most eco-friendly way, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Avoid flushing your dog’s poop down the toilet.
- Don’t take composting into your own hands (at-home composting methods aren’t strong enough to kill all the pathogens in dog poop).
- Do research on the most eco-friendly dog poop bags, and choose a company that has testing to back up their biodegradable claims.
Cleaning up your dog’s poop in a way that works for you and the environment can be tricky. But with a little research, you can help lower the impact your dog’s poop has on the environment.