HomeThe CSWD BlogTrashTo bag or not to bag? The straight dope on dog poop

To bag or not to bag? The straight dope on dog poop

To: Sarah Reeves, CSWD General Manager
Jeffrey J.
Dogs……and their poop. I have a dog, and he poops. A lot. I always bag it up and toss it. But I wonder about the balance between keeping dog poop out of the rain runoff, and adding thousands of little plastic bags of a biodegradable substance. Is it all that clear that bagging the poop is that much better?

To: Jeffrey J.
Sarah Reeves, CSWD General Manager
RE: Dogs…

Dear Jeffrey,
Ah, the wonders of what appears in one’s email inbox every day. Life in the solid waste industry is never boring!

Your question is a good one. Our advice is to do exactly what you are doing: Bag the waste and place it in the trash.

I appreciate your sensitivity to the “better of two evils” conundrum. Bagging pet waste is preferred for many reasons.

In an urban or suburban setting, cleaning up after our pets provides both a societal, neighborly benefit and a health benefit, particularly at this time of the year.

I remember when I was a kid that I would regularly refuse shoes in the summer. And I would occasionally step in dog waste. Aside from the “ick” factor there’s the real concern about the waste causing a bacterial infection if there are cuts or abrasions on the feet.

If the waste is flushed or swept into storm drains, it then becomes the problem of the wastewater treatment plants, most of which are not calibrated to manage the pathogens in animal waste.

Just as the pathogens aren’t suitably treated by wastewater treatment facilities, they’re also not suitable for backyard or community composting. Most backyard composters simply won’t reach the proper temperatures to kill the bacteria.

This truly leaves the landfill as the only disposal option.

For any material to break down, the right mixture of water, air, and light needs to be available. Modern landfills are designed in a way that keeps those three ingredients out. There are some products in our Western world that simply have no other place to go, which is why we still need landfills for the foreseeable future.

And because landfilling is the best option for pet waste, we need a satisfactory delivery method to get that waste to the landfill. Single use plastic bags, such as grocery bags, bread bags, etc. fit the bill for now.

And yes, thousands of single use bags in a landfill is disturbing—unless those bags are serving another purpose. In this case, they are. They are no longer “single use.” They are being reused for a different purpose—a necessary purpose—and you can feel OK about that.

I have a dog, too. I totally understand your concern. One of the things I do is use a variety of bags for my shopping, always keeping reusables in my car.

I know how many trips down the street my dog needs every day, and I only accept enough plastic bags to fulfill his needs. Otherwise, I’ll occasionally ask for paper bags to corral my junk mail, and use my reusables for daily shopping. It is an additional step in my grocery shopping thought process, but now that it’s routine, it’s just part of what my family does.

Thank you again for reaching out — I appreciate the time you took to write!

Sarah Reeves

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Clare has lived in Tennessee, New Mexico, California, Virginia, Connecticut, Texas, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and, for the past 10 years, Vermont. She can be found peering into recycling bins everywhere to see what works and is frequently quizzed about recycling and composting in random places when people find out where she works. She spends as much time as possible playing ukulele and roaming through Vermont’s spectacular mountains and forests.