Not as green as you think: dog poo bags and the environment
Have you ever stopped to think about what happens to all the dog poo that you pick up after your dachshund? We’ve always used poo bags that are labelled as biodegradable, and just assumed we’ve done right by the environment as a result. But a recent check online to see just how biodegradable dog poo bags really are stopped us in our tracks. Did you know that where you dispose of your used biodegradable dog poo bag makes all the difference?
Most dog owners are responsible
The good news is that the majority of dog owners take responsibility for cleaning up the mess left by their dog. Depending on who you ask, between 6 and 8 out of ten dog owners in the UK always pick up after their dog. Only 3% of owners say they would never pick up after their dog, according to the Keep Britain Tidy campaign. There’s an odd and growing problem of dog owners leaving full poo bags somewhere in a public place rather than finishing the job by carrying the bag to a bin.
What to use to pick up dog poo
We’d hazard a guess that most dog owners use the colourful plastic poo bags bags on a roll or in a packet, many of which are labelled nowadays as biodegradable or have some logo suggesting they are environmentally friendly. We’ve known people to re-use plastic shopping bags, which seemed sensible in the days before the damaging use of one-use plastic bags was widely understood. Our research found a re-usable fabric pouch for dog poo. No thanks! We don’t really fancy the idea of washing and reusing anything that once held dog poo. There are some beautifully designed paper/cardboard bags made by Canadian company K9Clean, but they are perhaps a little too expensive for everyday use, especially if you have more than one dog. We really like the look of the paper poo bags made in Germany by PooPick. Reusable Nation has instructions for making dog poo bags out of newspaper
Your biodegradable poo bags don't biodegrade in landfill
This is the problem. Even if plastic bags on a roll are described as biodegradable they are not likely to be disposed of in conditions which allow them to degrade. Most public waste in the UK and the USA generally goes to landfill or is incinerated. The lack of sunlight and oxygen in landfill sites precludes the photodegradation that is usually the only way to break down plastics. The rubbish is compressed and ‘mummified’ instead.
A high quality biodegradable plastic poo bag may compost in the right conditions, but this requires a high temperature compost heap, which is difficult to achieve for most domestic gardeners. Just tossing poo bags on your regular compost heap is risky. Dog waste can be harmful to people, animals and environments. Dog waste can carry parasites such as ringworms, salmonella and tapeworms, and contains E. Coli and other harmful bacteria. You don’t want to be spreading this around your garden via your compost. Initiatives in various countries for anaerobic digesters in the form of a dog-park biogas process - which convert dog waste into energy, are few and far between. One example is the Streetklean BIO project in the UK.
So it’s not really the fault of the biodegradable poo bag. For biodegradable poop bags to work effectively, they need to be disposed of correctly. Because this is all but impossible in most countries, there simply is no environmental benefit from a potentially biodegradable dog poo bag. In the USA, manufacturers and marketers of dog waste bags can no longer make environmental claims about degrading or composting, or any other environmental benefits, given that the ultimate destination of most public waste makes this impossible.
Time for a campaign?
The absence of dog waste collection bins and anaerobic digesters on a national scale in the UK means there are no responsible options for dog owners other than to pick up, bag, and then bin dog poo. How about we eliminate the use of plastic bags and make something good with the waste itself? It feels as though there’s scope for local and national campaigns for a coordinated approach to dog waste disposal in a way that can both divert plastic and dog waste from landfill, and generate energy.
Image: Disposal point in the City of Mississauga Dog Waste Energy Pilot Program, Canada. This is a fully in-ground concrete container that holds dog waste for up to six weeks. Storing the waste below ground where it is cooler and out of direct sunlight reduces odour and means that the waste can be collected when the container is full. The waste is emptied by a vacuum truck and taken to an organic waste plant where it will be safely converted into energy and fertilizer.