I’m betting that many of you don’t spend a lot of time analyzing the environmental impact of your dog’s poop deposits during a walk. You pull out a plastic bag, scoop up the stinky deposit and plop it in the nearest trash can. You feel good that you didn’t leave your dog’s doo-doo on a neighbor’s yard or on the edge of a hiking trail.
But did you know that dog poop and pee are causing major threats to our ecosystem? Fortunately, there is a growing movement aimed at changing how we dispose of these canine bodily functions in kinder-to-the-planet ways. And you can play a small but vital part.
Just ask Ryan Torres, vice president of parks operations at Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) in New York City. Fittingly, on Earth Day 2019, BPCA launched its Zero Waste Initiative and, more specifically, the Dog Waste Compost Pilot program. Since then, her agency has collected more than 3,200 pounds of dog poop from special bins located along three dog runs at Battery Park. The goal is to compost dog waste to remove all pathogens and then use it safely on its gardens and open spaces. That’s the goal set for 2022.
The agency has replaced conventional plastic dog bag containers with stations featuring cut newspaper sheets for people to use to grab their dogs’ poop and then put it inside specially marked bins.
“Newspaper sheets are a happy balance between not having to touch the poop with your hands and not overloading our carbon source by using plastic doggie bags,” Ryan explains.
In Colorado, Rose Seemann shares a similar quest. She is the owner of EnviroWagg, a company dedicated to collecting and composting dog waste into healthy, safe, nutrient-rich garden soil. She is also the author of The Pet Poo Pocket Guide that offers detailed reasons and ways to safely compost and recycle pet waste.
“Far too long, pet people have worried and focused on what goes in one end (food) but not paying attention to what comes out of the other end (poop and pee),” Rose says. “Dog poop can be composted and not taken to landfills in plastic bags where it produces methane.”
The stinky facts
Let’s back up a bit and look at why Ryan, Rose and others are so feces focused. Well, for starters, we need to zoom in on the three S’s: stinky statistics, sound science and suggested solutions.
1 dog = 274 pounds per year X 89 million dogs = 24.5 billion pounds of poop
The average dog produces about three-quarters of a pound of poop a day, or about 274 pounds of poop each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Now, factor in that there are more than 89 million dogs in American households pooping every single day. That brings the yearly total to more than 24.5 billion pounds of dog poop going into the environment, landfills or incinerators.
Bagged dog poop takes up about four times more space in landfills than discarded clothing and textiles. In fact, dog poop alone accounts for about 4% of everything in landfills, reports the EPA.
Dog poop is nasty. It contains bacteria and other foul parasites that can cause illness to people and contaminate waterways.
Dogs leave big carbon pawprints — about two times more damaging to planet Earth than gas-guzzling vehicles, according to Darcy Matheson, author of Greening Your Pet Care.
Dog poop meets science
When dog poop breaks down, it produces methane gas and other toxic fumes. That is far more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat and contributing to global warming.
The type of bag you use to pick up your dog’s doo-doo does matter to Planet Earth. Here are some tips to help you select smartly:
✔ Nix using plastic grocery bags. Yes, they are free, but our environment pays a price. These bags are typically made out of polyethylene, a material that does not degrade naturally.
✔ Read the bag label carefully. Not all biodegradable dog poop bags are truly eco-friendly. According to the Federal Trade Commission, some of these bags take a few months to degrade. Others do not break down at all. Tons of dog poop inside these bags cannot break down properly and end up producing methane gas in landfills.
Solution: Shop for biodegradable bags sporting an ASTM D6400 certification. This verifies these bags are made out of cornstarch and other eco-friendly ingredients and will break down within 90 days or less.
Flush it down by popping it down your toilet and toss away the emptied pick-up bag. But, if you have cats, do not attempt to flush your cat’s litter-covered poop down the toilet as you may need to pay for costly plumbing repairs.
Shop for dog bags made out of water-soluble polyvinyl alcohol (PVA). That ensures that the bags will dissolve in mere minutes once in contact with water and are safe to flush down your toilet. But first make sure your municipal’s wastewater treatment plants — and your toilets — can handle this doo-doo dump.
Ask your city’s officials to stock public dog poop stations with biodegradable bags.
If you have the yard space, learn how to compost your dog’s poop. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, canine compost can be used safely on your flower garden and potted plants as well as mulch material and as a soil additive booster. Done right, you can do your part to help remove doggie doo from polluting waterways and groundwater.
“There are so many reasons to compost dog poop,” Ryan says. “You would be reducing dog waste from being sent to the landfill. Dog poop releases gases that negatively impact the ozone level, especially when ‘cooking’ in plastic bags.”
BPCA’s efforts are featured in a 10-minute video called “One Small Step” produced by Joshua Pullar and Lucy Biggers of NowThisEarth.
She hopes that the Battery Park City’s Zero Waste Management movement takes hold in dog-
loving communities all over the globe.
For a step-by-step guide to composting dog waste at home, here is a helpful USDA document: nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/nrcs142p2_035763.pdf
“Ten years from now, I hope we are talking about dog poop in a positive way that is positive for the environment,” Ryan says.
Diluting the damage of dog urine
Blame canine chemistry for those brown, dead spots in your lawn. Dog urine contains a four-fold nasty threat to green turf known as the nitrogen cycle. Urea nitrogen, ammonium nitrogen, nitrite nitrogen and nitrate nitrogen team up to keep cells in grass blades from properly absorbing moisture needed to sport a lush, healthy green hue.
Heed the key word: nitrogen. So, don’t compound the problem by adding fertilizers that contain nitrogen. Be sure to let your local garden store know you have dogs and need guidance on picking out the right grass-growing fertilizers.
Factor in H20. How much water your dog drinks can also impact how benign or damaging his urine can be on your lawn. Urine is more diluted in dogs who drink a lot and, thus, causes less damage to your turf.
Bring out the garden hose and spray your dog’s fresh urine spots to dilute nitrogen damage whenever possible.
Finally, try to train your dog to head for a spot in the back or perimeters of your backyard to piddle. Or, treat him to a patch of artificial grass that you can easily keep clean and odor-free.
Great waste buys!
Shop for biodegradable bags sporting an ASTM D6400 certification, which verifies they are made of eco-friendly ingredients and will break down within 90 to 180 days.
Doggy Do Good Certified Compostable Premium Waste Bags, Small Handle. $9.99/60 bags. doggydogood.com
Earth Rated Certified Compostable Bags. $17.99/225 bags. earthrated.com
The Original Poop Bags Countdown Rolls. $34.99/960 bags. poopbags.com