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Green Cleaning Up After Pets

Author: Cara.B

Bagging up dog wasteToday on my morning walk with my dog, Jeff, I thought of the late comedian George Carlin as I picked up dog poop with a plastic bag. This is not because I spew profanity while I clean up after my dog, but because he had a great bit about picking up dog poop. The message of his rant (and of course I have to paraphrase) is that we take the most biodegradable substance imaginable -- poop -- and make it unbiodegradable by enclosing it in a plastic bag.

My green guilt immediately took over so now I'm on a mission to figure out a more environmentally friendly approach to dog doodie duty.

First I thought about what would happen if I just left the poop somewhere out of the way. There'd be no energy needed to create the bag and no hermetically sealed poop in a landfill. Interesting, but it won't work. It turns out that unclaimed dog poop has a significant impact on the environment. Did you know that 20% to 30% of all pollutants in waterways are attributed to dog waste? Some researchers estimate that dog owners leave behind over 4 million tons of dog waste every year!

Another option I considered is biodegradable poop bags made from renewable resources such as corn. While this sounds ideal in theory, anything that is customarily disposed of in a locked landfill will not biodegrade even if it is biodegradable under other circumstances. Of course, if I had access to an open or turned landfill they would biodegrade, but unfortunately in my area the only option is a locked landfill. However, biodegradable poop bags will degrade in industrial composting conditions, so I'll have to find out if my local facility will accept poop bags.

Amazingly, there are now flushable poop bags made from polyvinyl alcohol which is a naturally-derived film that dissolves in water. Again, in theory this sounds like a great idea -- made with renewable resources, no contribution to landfills, no waterway pollution. But will the poop bags get stuck in my plumbing? Will they start to dissolve once the poop is picked up?

Have any of you used the polyvinyl bags? Are there any other green options for cleaning up after pets that you've discovered? Let me know. For now, I'm going to stick with the regular blue poop bags.

photo: jayneandd


deadlycurlz05 picture
To me, dog waste is just like human waste so why not flush it? When my dog is at home, I'll flush his poo down the toilet. It usually works well because I'll clean up after him when I also have to "go" and then I don't have to flush twice. On the street or in the park, it is a different story. I have used those biobags but they don't work very well; They'll sometimes tear just as I'm trying to pick up after my dog...which means I must also carry with wipes/tissue to clean my hands! YUCK! If we're at the park and he happens to "go" by the bathrooms, I'll certainly pick it up and flush it. But if we're nowhere near a toilet, the trash it is...inside a blue bag. :(
autumnsong picture
For my cats I use Feline Pine. It's great. I just scoop the poop daily and flush it down the toilet. I have a septic tank and have never had any problems. And it basically turns into pine dust when it's been peed on. You can use it around plants. Personally, I use it to fill holes in my yard where moles dig. It's a win-win.
shearwater picture
I run into a slightly different problem. I pick up trash from local natural areas and have recently begun finding that people bag their poop in plastic bags but then leave it lay. So like George Carlin said, now we have a biodegradable substance wrapped in plastic and left along streams or other sensitive natural areas.
mm6580 picture
bbott picture
With four cats and I dog I can relate this issue. For kitty litter I use a pine cat litter. It's wonderful and all natural. When I scoop the boxes, which is once a day, I throw the waste in a Biobag made for a 13 gallon pail. I only empty this pail once a week when I empty the cat boxes. One bag is used for a weeks worth of kitty poo and full contents of three cat boxes. So I hope with a biobag and pine kitty litter I am doing my part. By the way, with the pine litter there is no smell. So having the poo sit for a week in a pail, no problem. As far as the dog. She is a German Shepherd and her poo is huge! A paper bag would not work here. I use the biodegradable "plastic" poo bags you get at your local pet store. We travel in an rv so having a doggie back yard composter would not work here. You can find these baggies anywhere. I feel this is my only option to try to be green.
ddrdoyle picture
05/27/10 There is also a company in turkey or pakistan called bioplast that makes biodegradable bags
mripple picture
I have always used a Doggie Dooley and loved it! However, here in Florida it biodegrades into the waterways and underground water system. I found out that the main issue was the beef that I was feeding my dogs! So now I feed them a low ingredient vegetarian or fish based food. Now I don't feel guilty about the poop in my doggie dooley! When I am on a walk I use the biodegradable dog bags. I sell them in my shop as well. I try to stay 'Green' in my shop as much as I can! Also, for my cat litter, I use a clayfree Wheat scoopable that can be flushed. I have a septic tank but I have had no problems with it. I also feed my cats a beef free diet. Hope this helps!
mariekoran picture
I've seen instructions online for making a poo composter out of a bucket or trash can at home. You cut the bottom off, poke some holes around and up the sides of the bucket, make a lid, or use the one that may have come with the bucket. Deposit poop, periodically sprinkling it with sewer digester. There may be more to it, cant remember, just look it up. here's one way : Unfortunately I havn't tried it yet, to give a review. One obstacle I've thought of is : Putting poop in the composter would be easy when cleaning up the yard, but when on a walk, we use a plastic newspaper bag, which encloses it in the forementioned nondegradeable bag. Buy degradeable corn bags or paper bags, then the N. bag gets wasted. Dump the poop from the N.bag into composter, bag still gets used, though poop rots faster. I like the idea to treain dog to poop in yard, but dogs being territoral as they are like to spread it around. This isn't an easy thing to train. But I've been able to trick her some of the time, especially lately in her old age. Also, for those of you who posted your experiences with the different dissolving bags, thanks for sharing your review.
henrynat picture
Have you checked this out? I am curious whether it will still contribute to pollutants in the waterways. If so, I wonder if it would be less severe, or the same.
lisambarrett picture
I should have added in my original post: We "dogsat" for my brother's Basset Hound for a week and was also able to utilize the paper lunch bag but we accommodated for his larger output by upgrading to the slightly larger bag (our local store carries two bag sizes). Naturally, it takes a little extra maneuvering as a paper bag isn't as pliable as plastic but I'd turn the bag inside out, stick my hand in, grab as needed and they pull the sides down the bag thereby turning it right side out again. Viola. All bags then are put into the garbage can for weekly pick-up. I never thought of using newspaper but think that's a fantastic idea worth considering.
Dmcgaw picture
Babies R US sells biodegradable small plastic bags meant for diapers but works great for your doggie as well. They aren't very expensive at all either. I would reccomend them for anyone who wants to be part of the solution and not the problem. :)
sbdavidso picture
Just use newspaper. More biodegradable than plastic, naturally. That's what is done in NYC anyway (except by those who STILL insist on using plastic) :(
dobicd picture
i bought a case of these and they work well. i'm not a chemist so, i wonder about the impact polvinyl alcohol has on the environment. you can't use these if you're walking the dogs in the rain! if i'm on a particularly long walk sometimes they'll start dissolving to the point where i need to double bag. to avoid clogs follow the directions, flush one at a time and dump out of the bag first if large volume. limited utility other than walks around your home where you know you will return to a toilet. ie i don't use these at the dog park or on the trails. i think the best option is as described in other comments - section off a spot of your yard or train your dog, pick up with TP, flush, then go for walk...
GeorgiaGibbs picture
Hi there. As someone with 3 dogs I call this the eternal struggle. Here is what I discovered: As mentioned above many water agencies (specifically Seattle) recommend flushing it as they are already equipped to handle waste and it keeps it out of landfill. The second recommendation by agency sites I reviewed was to leave it out with the regular garbage so that it would not be left in place and seep into the area water table or create conditions that support disease/illness. As to the flush-able bags, my plumber told me on the last visit (when he was required to scrape clean the pipes down to the street)that no one should flush anything except toilet paper and waste. Even the small cloths to clean up babies or to sanitize hands that say they degrade take a long time, easily catching in the system and creating a dam of sorts and leading to a $300. plumbers bill; he was much happier than I was that day. Cat feces and kitty litter should get a special note: There is a parasite present in cat feces which creates serious health risks for people suffering from immune deficiencies, pregnant women and the unborn child. This has been found to also kill sea otters exposed to it as a result of flushed kitty litter and waste. In 2007 California passed a bill requiring warning labels on kitty litter. This 'cause and affect' is documented by the research group at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. There may be many other wildlife links that just have not been established yet. Thanks for this article. It is a good thing to discuss and increase awareness about and it will be great to find a solution for all of us who love having 4-leggers in our lives. Georgia, Bay Area
kayote picture
For those who would like to compost but don't want to carry it on the walk--train your dog to go before you leave on the walk, then clean up after them when you get home or just now and then. My folks' dog was trained to poop near the back fence and my dad would go out and shovel it up from time to time. When I dogsit I stay in my yard until the dog has pooped, THEN we go on the walk. I still take a bag (things happen) but usually it's a much more pleasant walk with no poop smell to complement it. There is no reason the dog has to poop on a brisk walk rather than before, then you can clean it all up and compost, just as you want to! (But do put the result on your flowers, not your garden.)
mjg9129 picture
Carnivore waste cannot be composted the way herbivore waste is composted. It's the diet that makes the waste "dangerous". So you can't ever equate dog and cat waste with cow or horse waste. Putting the waste into a toilet on a septic system is likely to be the best option environmentally. They are designed to break down the worse animal waste, that of humans. The only downside to the septic option is if you have a large number of dogs or cats, making it necessary to have the system pumped a bit more often.
brendaberlowski picture
For all who are tossing poo in the trash make sure your local municipality allows this. In Madison WI the city does not allow people to put pet waste in the trash cans as it makes to much of a mess in the garbage trucks etc. So while I am sure many people are not even aware of this and toss it any way there are rules in areas against it. Thus the composting or toilet are the only good disposal methods.
elizabeth karre picture
elizabeth karre
I'm composting my cat's waste (we use s'wheat for the litter box), but in a separate bin. Waste from animals that eat meat (dogs, cats) is different than herbivores (cows, chickens). You shouldn't put this compost on a food garden. But under the shrubs, etc. should be fine. I think the key is trying to replicate what nature does anyway to take care of waste. I like the bucket idea--how about a small tupperware? Seems gross but really no grosser than carrying it around in a bag anyway.
jacygarrison picture
I work in the surface water quality field and try to help people understand how storm water pollution can impact the health of our lakes, rivers and streams. Pet waste pickup is one of the big ones on the list to help reduce bacterial and nutrient pollution to our waterways. Flushing pet waste is a good option. If it goes to a wastewater treatment plant, the water is treated and although yes, that water is discharged back to waterways, it must meet strict water quality standards and no longer contains the harmful bacteria or nutrients that would otherwise be in runoff coming from pet waste on the sidewalk that can enter storm drains and get discharged directly to a waterway. If you have a septic system, it's still okay. The solids from the tank should get pumped every 3-5 years and the liquid that leaches into the drainfield and hence into the ground where it gets filtered by the billions of beneficial organisms in the earth. I imagine that's what the pet composter would do similiarly - just make sure there is no chance of any leachate that could drain to a nearby waterway - same way you would site a septic system properly so that it could in no way impact surface water quality.
neelonweel picture
I've been told that you shouldnt let the waste seep into the ground....does this digester work so that the "bad" aspects are no longer an issue? I understand the research that says the poo is bad for the water systems/rivers etc....but flushing/throwing it away will eventually have the same affect wouldnt it? There has to be something that can be done to make it compost friendly....obviously cow poo is :)
veejay picture
Four years ago I began recycling and composting which meant that I no longer needed to have garbage pick-up. That was fine except that I have two dogs and needed a way to handle the waste. The solution was to use a doggie dooley (a septic system for dog waste). You need to dig a hole about 2' deep in an area with good drainage; install the dooley and backfill the hole so that only the lid of the dooley is showing. Then all you need to do is place the waste in the dooley and add digester powder (sold at any pet store) once a week and keep it filled with water. The digester dissolves the waste and the water helps it seek into the ground. It works great. picture
We purchased an implement from our local chain - Petsmart. It's a scooper that came with it's own disposable bags. We scoop and deposit in trash. I have since come to realize that there are always leaves on the ground so instead of using bags I just scoop up the leaves first then the deposit. I disinfect the scooper every now and then.
Debbie2008 picture
It seems to me it'd be easier to put the toilet-wrapped poo in a "poo pail" and dump the contents in the toilet when you get home. What are you going to do with the poo polluted brown paper bag? Also, wouldn't a poo pail a better solution that a poo-filled plastic bag?
bluecdreams_2 picture
Check out this great resource: Cali
hutchinsm picture
You certainly can flush the poo, but that is not without impacts either. It adds to the load at your local waste water treatment plant (which likely discharges to a river or stream) or in your home's septic system (which discharges to groundwater). In my opinion, the back yard composting option is probably the greenest, and that is what I usually do with our dog and rabbit waste.
klcashwell picture
Re: Flush the poo! A lot of people take their dogs on walks and this is when poo happens. Who really wants to finish the walk with poo toilet paper in their hands?? So far the brown paper bags seems more people and environment friendly. A good balance.
Debbie2008 picture
What's the matter with just picking it up with toilet paper and then just flushing it down the toilet?
brearene picture
I have green guilt of this too! PLease let us know what you find out! Paper bags seem like a good option for litter boxes, but not idea for dog walking.
lisambarrett picture
While we have cats rather than dogs, I've wrestled with the same issue - how to best dispose of the daily waste generated by 5 cats? Unfortunately the biodegradable bags were simply too expensive as we clean the litter boxes twice daily. I eventually hit upon the idea of using paper lunch bags. It too has it's drawbacks but thus far it seems to be the best idea out of less than ideal options. But the quest for an even better option is ever-present. I've considered composting with worms but again the volume generated made that option seem unreasonable.
pennystocks picture
Nice post. Thanks for sharing.
rbourassa99 picture
I always struggle with the "greenness" or lack thereof of my dog's waste. There are some alternatives. If you have a back yard, you can get a dog poo composter (something like this) or make one (google it). It breaks everything down much like a septic tank. However, since I often have to pick it up in the early part of a 3 mile run and I really don't want to carry poo for the remaining 2.8 miles or so, I bring along vegetable/fruit bags (the ones you put your apples, corn, etc. in) from my local health food store that I would normally throw away anyways. They are great since they never have holes, they are small enough to fit in my pocket and I can just toss them in the nearest trash can. They also tend to be biodegradable and made as sustainably as those types of products can be since the health food stores put extra thought into these products, not like the grocery store chains. Hope that helps!