Dog Poop and What to Do with It
You’ve picked up after your dog. Now what?
Do laws requiring us to pick up after our dogs make environmental sense, or are they mainly a matter of protecting people’s shoes? On rainy days, especially, you might be tempted to think of dog poop as just another potential fertilizer, like cow or horse manure. Can’t you leave it there? Just this once?
Alas, no. Unless you live by yourself in the woods, pick up that poop. In places where relatively few people live and where the land is well covered in vegetation, the microbes and parasites in dog feces are filtered through soil when it rains. As a result, they don’t reach the groundwater. But in a city or suburb, much of the land is paved. So rather than gradually being absorbed through the soil, dog feces is likely to be swept into a storm drain. From there, it makes its way into local waters -- streams, lakes, and the ocean. If you ever go to the beach or eat shellfish, there’s your incentive to clean up.
Dog Poop Bags
OK, you’re holding the bag. What’s it made of, and what will you do with it? The answer to the first question depends partly on the answer to the second.
Suppose your bag is going to a typical sealed landfill. The conditions inside the landfill are anaerobic, oxygen-less, and as a result the garbage isn’t going to decompose in your lifetime. On the other hand, a supposedly sealed landfill may nevertheless leak into its surroundings, contaminating local soil and water. If such a landfill is your only option, you may as well use a plastic bag; at least it supplies one more barrier between the feces and the landfill’s neighborhood.
Buying plastic bags, though, is a waste of money. And it’s ridiculous to make bags out of petroleum just so they can be discarded. Unless you’re running a puppy mill, you can easily find all the bags you need. You can collect the unused produce bags that many people leave in their shopping carts or drop on the floor of the grocery store. You can also reuse the bags newspapers are delivered in, and ask dogless neighbors to save you theirs. I have no shame, either, about harvesting clean-looking plastic shopping bags from streets and sidewalks. Paper money is probably just as dirty. Scavenge, then go home and wash your hands.
Some landfills are managed so as to encourage decomposition. In that case, it’s worth springing for cornstarch-based bags. Don’t bother with so-called degradable or recyclable plastics. They break down into tiny pieces – but tiny pieces of plastic; they don’t return to their component molecules.
Flush the Dog Poop Down the Drain
A better option for dog poop disposal is to flush it. After all, the wastewater treatment facility was built to handle waste. Obviously, flushing calls for water-soluble bags. My sources came up short with respect to how to judge whether your pipes can handle a bolus of bagged poop. Common sense suggests dropping the feces into the toilet first, then toileting the emptied bag. If that makes you squeamish, remember how you felt the first time you picked up after your dog. Square your shoulders and man up. Or, you know, woman up.
Dog Poop Compost?
If you have a backyard, you have three choices for avoiding the waste stream entirely – installing a mini septic tank such as a Doggie Dooley; burying the waste; and composting. However, if you live in an urbanized area, check with your local government’s environmental arm before you start. Where much of the land is paved or built over, even backyards and lawns are never far from storm drains. You’ll want to be sure that there’s enough ground between your dog poop and the storm drains to filter out the microorganisms that make the feces a problem in the first place.
For your septic system, burial, or composting, choose a site well away from food plants and bodies of water. And composting dog feces requires more care than composting your vegetable peelings. You’ll need to supply a so-called carbon base – sawdust, for example – and to cover each new layer of feces with the base. As for your finished compost, experts are nearly unanimous: use it on ornamentals only, never on food plants.
Today The Dog Trainer also has a word about cats. Different considerations apply to their litter and feces. For more information on living green with pets, check out the links on this episode’s page at my site, dogtrainer.quickanddirtytips.com. Please phone with your questions and comments -- 206-600-5661. Or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I may use your questions in a future show. Goodbye for now, and thanks for listening.
Christie Keith, “The Environmental Impact of Pets,” SFGate. 2 parts:
“Composting Dog Waste,” Florida’s Online Composting Center
Sheryl Eisenberg, “Pets and Their Poop,” Natural Resources Defense Council, January 2008
Michigan State University Extension article on waste management, with info about nondecomposition of landfill contents