Picking up poop on walks is a big part of any dog owner’s life (unless you live out in the woods)! If you’re trying to use less plastic, you may wonder what environmentally friendly options there are for dog poop bags. And beware, these products aren’t always what they claim!
Why You Should Always Pick Up Dog Poop
Aside from just being a good neighbor when you’re out on walks, you should pick up dog poop even in your own yard. Here are some reasons why …
- A 2014 analysis by Simple Ecology reported that a 75-pound dog can generate over 500 pounds of waste per year. That’s a huge amount of poop … and most of it ends up in plastic pet waste bags … in landfills.
- Dog poop can contain pathogens like cryptosporidium, campylobacteriosis, toxoplasmosis, giardia, salmonella, hookworms, ringworms, tapeworms, whipworms, parvovirus, corona virus, and coccidia. These can make you, your children, and other dogs sick.
- Research shows that when dog waste spreads through stormwater runoff, bacteria levels can spread coli, giardia, and salmonella. Dog waste can also contain antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
- Poop you leave out on your grass doesn’t just wash away with the rain (nor is it a “fertilizer”). It runs off into waterways (including rivers, beaches, and drinking water), compromising public health with water pollution
How Long Do Poop Bags Take to Decompose?
There’s a lot of focus on how much plastic we use, and rightly so. Traditional plastic bags can take 300 to 1000 years to decompose fully. And even when they do break down, they leave tiny particles that contaminate the soil. This is a huge environmental pollution problem.
Many countries and cities are banning plastic bags or at least incentivizing the use of more eco-friendly materials. You pick up your dog’s poop a few times a day, so using regular plastic poop bags every time is very wasteful. What are some more eco-friendly options?
Biodegradable Poop Bags Aren’t as Eco-Friendly As You Think
When something is labeled as biodegradable, you assume it’s environmentally friendly. The truth is, many so-called biodegradable dog poop bags are made with oxo-biodegradable plastic, which isn’t good for the environment at all!
Biodegradable plastics are not just magically easier to break down. They have certain metals added that help them break down under certain conditions. But these additives only help break down the plastic into smaller fragments. In other words, there’s no guarantee the plastic will completely decompose.
And you know what is harder to clean up than a single plastic bag? A bunch of tiny fragments of plastic! These tiny plastic pieces, or microplastics, are pollutants that can accumulate in our oceans. There’s still debate about whether microbes can break down these fragments or not.
This is why oxo-degradable plastics were banned in Europe. They’re not suitable for recycling, long-term use, or composting.
Biodegradable vs Compostable: Which Poop Bags are Best?
Biodegradable poop bags take a few years to decompose, depending on the climate. Compostable bags are a subset of biodegradable bags. All compostable bags are biodegradable, but not all biodegradable plastics are compostable.
Some compostable bags have been third-party certified to break down within three months in industrial composting facilities. This guarantees that the leftover compost will be toxin-free.
Some poop bags meet the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) strict standards for products that break down under specific conditions. However, these will only break down in a dog-waste-only compost bin or an industrial facility.
So, the type of poop bag that’s best for you depends on how where you can dispose of it.
Can I Put Dog Poop In my Compost?
No, you shouldn’t put dog poop in your own compost pile. Poop can have pathogens and parasites that won’t be killed at normal home compost temperatures. For example, roundworm eggs can get into your intestines and hatch there. They can even travel to other organs like the liver or lungs, or cause blindness if they get into the eyes.
Can I Compost Dog Poop Separately?
Yes, you can. But you’ll need to take some special steps. Dog poop needs to be composted at least at 145oF for several days to destroy pathogens. You can buy a special pet waste composter that you bury in the ground … this creates an in-ground septic system. Otherwise, follow these detailed instructions from the USDA.
But even if you do compost your dog waste, don’t ever use it to fertilize edible plants. It’s OK to use it around trees and bushes, however. But keep in mind your children and dogs may be playing in these areas so use caution.
In some areas, there are companies that will pick up your dog’s waste for composting. Search online or check your local service directories to find one.
It’s a lot of work to compost dog poop … so the best approach is to use compostable bags and dispose of them in the right place.
Eco-Friendly Poop-Bags: What to Look For
The most environmentally friendly way to dispose of dog poop would be to not use any bags at all. But sometimes when you’re walking in public places, bags are the only feasible way to pick up poop … and carry it home! Here are a few ideas for disposing of your dog’s poop in the most environmentally friendly way possible.
Compostable Dog Poop Bags
Beware of deceptive advertising when you shop for poop bags! Some manufacturers sell green bags that might look eco-friendly but are still plastic. Others make biodegradable or compostable claims that aren’t true. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission warned of 20 companies doing that in 2015.
Make sure you pick a plant-based bag that is certified as compostable according to ASTM D6400 standards. These are often made from corn starch … in some cases even non-GMO corn.
But remember, you can’t just throw it in the regular trash. Composting does not happen in landfills! These bags are designed to break down under certain conditions, so you need to make sure your used bag goes to the right place. There might be a pet waste station at your local park. Otherwise, check whether your town has an industrial compost facility and take it there.
Bags Or Pouches Made From Recycled Paper
Choose a bag that does not contain any plastics at all. You can buy bags and sheets that are made from 100% recycled paper and won’t lead to any microplastics when they break down. These might be a bit trickier to use than plastic bags, but it’s a small price to pay for protecting the environment!
Use A Newspaper To Pick Up Poop
If you’re committed to being more eco-friendly, newspapers are a great material to use for scooping your dog’s poop. Fold it into a pouch in your pocket and use it to collect your dog’s poop.
Flush The Poop
According to the EPA, flushing dog poop is the most eco-friendly way to handle it. Apparently, it’s no worse than human poop. Only do this if you’re on a municipal sewer system (not septic). But don’t flush the bags. Even though you can buy poop bags that claim to be flushable, they don’t work very well and can clog up your drains. And some may fall apart in your pocket before you get home!
Now you know why so-called biodegradable poop bags are not exactly as environmentally friendly as you thought they were. So, you can make an informed decision next time you decide how to scoop your dog’s poop!
Abdelmoez, W. Bio- and oxo-degradable plastics: Insights on facts and challenges. Polymers for Advanced Technologies.2021 Feb.
ASTM International. (2012). ASTM D6400 – 12: Standard specification for labelling plastic designed to be aerobically composted in municipal or industrial facilities. Conshocken, PA: ASTM.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (2001). Managing pet and wildlife waste to prevent contamination of drinking water. Washington, DC: EPA.
Jacobsen, S. (2005). Plastic bag pollution. Los Angeles, CA: Department of Public Works (DPM).
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). (2005). Composting dog waste. Palmer, AK: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.