Warning: The contents of this blog post might be disturbing, if you don’t like thinking about, or looking at, s**t.
Imagine hiking along a pristine trail in the Pacific Northwest with your dog. It’s a perfect spot with majestic trees, spring birds singing their first songs of spring. But your eye is caught by not one, but four or five little wads of plastic bags, placed carefully along the trail, loaded with a hiker’s canine crap. The numbers of plastic bags filled these days with dog waste on the trail can be quite shocking. Are pet owners intending to leave these plastic methane bombs there for me to pick up? Or, are they planning to come back one day to gather up the not-so-hermetically-sealed pathogen-filled goodies? I believe they think they’re doing the environment a favor by just bagging them up in plastic, assuming they’ve done their service to the planet, thinking, “No methane escaping today!”
I’m not going to get into the reasons why dog owners are bagging Fido’s fecal stuff. Suffice it to say, tail-wagger’s turds are one of the biggest contributors to water pollution in urban and suburban settings. We live on an island where we’re surrounded by Puget Sound. Everything ends up in our waters, given our torrential rains. So, doggie’s doodoo left in the rain can be considered the next nutrient to enter the Sound. But there’s definitely nothing nutritious about the stuff.
We use a Bokashi Pet Waste Composter for our cat’s waste, and since our dog mostly poops in one spot on our property, we’re doing our best to bring it inside and flush it down the toilet. He eats no meat, mostly our veggie meals, and a few bites of the cat’s dry food each day. The EPA says flushing is the most environmentally-sound thing we can do with Rover’s #2, considering we live just feet from Puget Sound. But putting your dog’s fecal matter into a plastic bag and leaving it on the trail to stay forever is, by my calculations, two counts of littering.
One of my favorite authors, Susan Freikel, who wrote Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, summarizes the situation perfectly in a recent article for LiveScience:
Dogs can harbor lots of viruses, bacteria and parasites — including harmful pathogens like e coli, giardia and salmonella. (A single gram contains an estimated 23 million bacteria.) Studies have traced 20 to 30 percent of the bacteria in water samples from urban watersheds to dog waste. Just two to three days of waste from 100 dogs can contribute enough bacteria, nitrogenand phosphorous to close 20 miles of a bay-watershed to swimmingand shellfishing, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.It also can get into the air we breathe: a recent study of air samples in Cleveland, Ohio, and Detroit, Mich., found that 10 to 50 percent of the bacteria came from dog poop.
I understand the reasoning behind bagging your pet’s waste. But (wait for it) I’ve seen hundreds of pet waste bags, still filled with said waste, washed up on beaches along our shorelines. These floaters stay extra-buoyant in their plastic packaging. It’s one kind of plastic waste we’ve had to leave out there on the beaches as we can’t bring ourselves to pick it up. I have visions of whales and sea lions ingesting the knotted bags of eco-dog-love left behind by doo-gooders of Puget Sound.
Is there a more environmentally friendly way to dispose of our pet’s waste? According to this Huffington Post article, Paul Canella’s Poop Bags are biodegradable. But, those presumably will just go into the landfill, with the same toxins and microbes deemed unhealthy to humans leaching into our watersheds. Some scientists suggest that burying your dog’s waste, as you would your own, might be the best method for disposal along the trail. One foot deep, below the runoff zone, is safe. Are you willing to start digging in your public park? Probably not.
We have a bit of a merde mess in our over-poopulated urban settings, but in a few places, like Portland and Boulder, enterprising people have developed pet waste processing companies that compost your four-legged friend’s feces. It turns out hot commercial composters could actually use Fido’s fuel. One dog-friendly park, in Gilbert, AZ, lets you toss your turds into a bin that turns it into a flame for a lantern in the park while you let your dog have some off-leash fun.
The plastic bagging of dog droppings just isn’t cutting it. We’re making a bigger mess of things in our wild places, watersheds, and maritime environments. There are now flushable bags made for caca collection, and this might be one of the easiest and eco-aware options out there.
Until we have anaerobic pet waste composters in each city, we’ll have to settle for the lesser evils available to us for disposing of it. And the next time I come across plastic-sealed scat, I have a pocketful of hand-written notes that I plan to leave behind, scribbled on paper, to accompany the abandoned excrement: “Did you forget this? This PPOO (plastic poo) needs a PPU (prompt pickup) by you.”