We buy and use compostable doggie bags for our pup’s poops. But we typically toss them in the garbage so is there any point to compostable bags? Are they still better than non-compostable or biodegradable bags?
–Deb, Toronto, ON
You’ve come to the right place with your doggie doo dilemma. I share my home with two Canine Dots, both large, both prodigious producers of poop. Consequently, my bag-curious friend, I have considerable experience with doody sacks.
Let’s start by saying, please, all you hound huggers, for the love of all that’s sacred, pick up your pup’s poop. Turns out, only half to three quarters of people actually do, depending on your statistical source. And American dogs dump more than 10 million tons of poop each year, according to Virginia-based DoodyCalls, which has built a business around picking up your dog’s, errr, business. That’s a lot of poo-llution. Pet poop is teeming with bacteria, pathogens, and potential parasites, including various intestinal worms, giardia, salmonella, campylobacter, and more. All of these can harm local wildlife or get washed into waterways that provide drinking water. Indeed, a single gram of pet waste contains an average of 23 million fecal coliform bacteria, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Campaign.
But, some dog lovers counter, wildlife poops in the woods so why can’t I just leave my dog droppings? The difference is that wildlife also gets its meals in the woods so what comes out their back end holds the same nutrients and materials that went in the front end. It’s a closed loop, environmentally, and has benefits to the ecosystem such as helping seeds to germinate. The same isn’t true for our dogs, which aren’t eating plants and berries and seeds from the woods but, more likely, kibble or even raw food —nutrients that throw the ecosystem out of balance.
Now that we’ve established the value of picking up after your pet (evidently you, Deb, didn’t need convincing, but some others … ), let’s consider the best bags for the job. But first, let’s back up and consider the materials that make up typical poop bags.
Plastic bags are nasty for all the reasons you’re accustomed to hearing me blather about. Plastic is a petroleum product, it lasts for an eternity, and it gets into our trees, our waterways, and our bodies. But … the truth is most of us have at least some plastic bags for one reason or another. And given just how hard it is to recycle plastic bags, it is not the worst sin to repurpose that plastic for pup poop.
As for biodegradable and compostable, our friends at Treehugger clarify the difference. The site cites a scholarly study that determined that so-called biodegradable poop bags took three years or more to break down in water, soil, or open air. So technically biodegradable, but maybe not in your dog’s lifetime!
Compostable bags, say the experts, are the eco-friendly choice, and the same study revealed that they broke down in three months under the same conditions.
That said, if you’re tossing the poop-filled bags into the garbage, the difference between the two is negligible because the conditions of a landfill are not conducive to biodegradation or composting.
But, if your local dog park offers a repository that breaks down poop, then opt for the compostable versions. Or, you can eschew bags entirely by using a mini-rake-and-shovel contraption.
You can also create your own pet waste “digester”. Adding the required amount of septic starter will kickstart the bacteria that devours the doo. I’ve got the Doggie Dooly on my wishlist, though I’m working on convincing Mr. Dot to DIY our own Dooly. Stay tuned for (p)updates.
If you’re on a municipal water system rather than septic, you could flush your pet’s feces. NOT the bags, just the contents. And not if water shortages are an issue in your area.
But, if you’re like most of us, you’re buying bags. So which ones do the job?
Treehugger again steps in to help by testing some easily available bags. Fortunately, Treehugger’s picks line up with my own personal faves. I have two big dogs who unleash behemoth back-end bombs — sorry Deb, TMI? — so size matters. The Original Poop Bags do the job. (They must have exercised all their creative power designing the bags themselves because … “Poop Bags”?) They’re big enough for my giant poopers (and come in tie versions, which is a personal preference of mine). Says Treehugger, “they are made in the United States of plant matter including corn, vegetable oils, and compostable polymers, and they meet the ASTM D6400 standard for commercial compostability.”
Even if you’re not composting your bags “commercially”, which typically means at a municipal facility that is able to achieve the temperatures necessary to quickly and efficiently break down these bags, using compostable bags is still a better choice than petroleum products like plastic.
My other personal favorites are EarthRated compostable doggie doo bags, mostly because I can purchase them at the pet store near me and I love supporting local businesses, especially businesses that tell my pups they’re “good dogs” and give them treats. EarthRated is a Canadian company, but its products are available in the US, UK, and France, and it supports a variety of local charities, including those that are focused on humans, not just their pets.
Hope that helps you “doo” better next time you’re picking up your pup’s poops, Deb.