What to Do with Dog Poo?

A man’s best friend or an infinite poop-producing machine? As much as we love our canine best friends, they can create a lot of waste. There is not a lot of information or even talk about what to do with their endless waste. Do you put it in the trash bin? You could, but it’s unsustainable and creates an unpleasant smell that no one wants. Can you compost it? Well, it depends.

One solution that has grown popular is Biodegradable poop bags. But one of the major problems with this solution is that these bio bags are meant to be composted, not landfilled, yet that’s where they usually end up. While meant to be better for the environment, sending compostable bags can be worse than sending regular plastic bags. According to a San Francisco zero-waste coordinator, “Anything that goes into the landfill and degrades is worse than something that goes in and doesn’t.” Once they start degrading, they produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Compostable bags should be composted(1).

But, where can you compost dog poop? Can you put it in the yard scraps bin? Not necessarily, many municipal composting facilities don’t want dog poop. There is an option of composting the poop yourself, but it’s much more complicated than regular composting. Animal waste contains pathogens that can be harmful to humans, so avoid mixing it with your food scraps. One website will show you step-by-step how you can create your own dog poo composter(2), or buy a pre-made dog poo composter(3). 

Another option is to offer flushable poop bags, but that means facilities would have to flush large amounts of poop down the toilet, overwhelming septic systems, and putting a drain on water when there is already a drought. The other alternative would be for the dog owner to take the poop bag home, which is highly unlikely. Poop also has the potential to become a source of energy. It can be anaerobically digested, where it is broken down into organic materials, producing biogas that can be used for energy and a residue that can be used as compost on plants. Wasatch Resource Recovery, in North Salt Lake, has an anaerobic digester they use to turn organics into energy, but they don’t allow dog poop just yet. 

There is still uncertainty around what is the best solution to deal with dog poop. There are working options, but many require expensive facilities. In Salt Lake City, there are dog poo services that will pick up your dog poop for you, but they ultimately end up dumping their pickings in garbage cans. 

So what is the best method for disposing of dog poo? First, the poop must be picked up. Poop does not just “eventually go away.” It harbors lots of viruses, bacteria, and parasites, many of which are harmful to human health. The best solution for disposal, while not desirable, is to send it to the landfill, a case of catch-22. 

If you decide to use biodegradable bags, you must make sure the bags have undergone rigorous testing to prove their claims. A good sign is if they make a representation of what conditions their products were tested under. Paper bags are also a more sustainable option compared to plastic, but no matter what bag you choose, we, unfortunately, have to throw them in the trash for now. 

In conclusion, I reached out to the sustainability departments in Portland, OR, and Santa Cruz, and my research was confirmed. Both cities also currently have no option for animal waste except to landfill it. For now, it is a waiting game with the best foreseeable option being a biodigester.

By Anna Duffy

Recycle Utah Intern, 2022