What Should You Do With Your Dog's Poop?

There's no perfect way to throw out your canine companion's waste, but here are some thoughts.

Woman picking up her dog's poop with bag on sidewalk
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It isn't the most glamorous part of having a pet, per se, but it's a duty every responsible dog owner grows accustomed to—picking up poop. There are many ways to dispose of dog waste, from the traditional bagging method to flushing it down the toilet to burying it or composting it; and although none seems to be especially environmentally friendly, you can rest assured they're better for the planet than leaving dog droppings to decompose on the ground.

The Environmental Protection Agency deems dog poop an environmental and human health hazard. "Animal waste contains two main types of pollutants that harm local waters: nutrients and pathogens," says one Rhode Island Stormwater Solutions fact sheet. "When this waste ends up in water bodies, it decomposes, releasing nutrients that cause excessive growth of algae and weeds. This makes the water murky, green, smelly, and even unusable for swimming, boating, or fishing."

Needless to say, it's important to pick up your dog's poop and do something with it. Here's a look at the different disposal methods and the pros and cons of each. Please keep in mind that different regions provide different guidelines, based on their waste management systems. Check with your city or town to see what it has to say about pet waste.

1. Throwing Poop in the Trash

Person with dog, throwing a bag of poop into trash
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Bagging dog poop and pitching it in the trash is the most common and socially acceptable method of disposal, but it's perhaps not the greenest one. Dog poop in a landfill has a similar impact as leaving it on the ground. The poop eventually produces methane and could wind up contaminating important waterways.

Some waste management services ban pet waste for this reason. Others encourage pet owners to put waste in the green bin with other biodegradable household products, as long as it's wrapped in newspaper or compostable bags.

Then, there's the bagging issue. Many use dog poop as an excuse to give their plastic grocery, produce, or newspaper bags a second life. The bag method is doubtless the most convenient when you're out at a park or on a walk because bags are lightweight in your pocket and can be pitched easily into the nearest garbage bin. And sure, it gives old plastic bags a bit of use before they go into the trash. But these bags still wind up in landfills, where they take a reported 1,000 years to break down (and even then into equally terrible microplastics).

Biodegradable vs. Compostable Bags

Green dog poop bags on wooden background
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For the eco-minded dog owner who must pick up their dog's poop at the dog park but doesn't want to become known for carrying around a shovel, biodegradable bags could provide an alternative that's better for the environment without compromising on convenience. Available in most pet stores, these bags are made primarily of petroleum or corn and contain microorganisms meant to break the bag down in about a year.

It's important to note, however, that the term "biodegradable" is merely a marketing term with no legal definition. In 2015, the Federal Trade Commission warned manufacturers and marketers of 20 dog waste bags that they had deceptively labeled their products as "compostable" and "biodegradable." A 2019 study showed that a variety of bags labeled "biodegradable" could, in fact, survive the natural elements for three or more years.

It's also important to note the difference between biodegradable and compostable dog poop bags. Biodegradable bags can still be made of plastic—albeit quick-dissolving plastic—and don't necessarily cut down on microplastic pollution. Compostable bags, on the other hand, are typically made of natural plant starch, making them nontoxic. Compostable bags are generally more expensive but are likely the best bag option.

Newspaper is even better, but has potential for messiness if you're not careful. Or you can check out this innovative Pooch Paper.

2. Composting or Burying

Dog digging a deep hole in the garden
Cindy Shebley / Getty Images

You can compost your dog's waste but not in your normal compost bin. You'll need to create a separate composting system using nitrogen-rich and carbon-rich materials, on which the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides a very detailed explainer.

If you don't want to go the DIY route, you can buy a canine waste disposal system, which essentially works like a mini septic tank that you bury in your backyard, occasionally adding water and powdered enzymes. A less intricate method, you can also simply dig a hole (at least six inches deep) and bury the dog's deposits. This requires commitment as it involves regular digging and will lead to having several temporary holes in your yard.

Whether you choose to compost or bury your dog's waste, be sure to keep it away from any edible gardens and, as always, make sure your dog is healthy before doing so. Any illnesses (from worms to diseases) can show up in your dog's stool and therefore shouldn't be handled or spread around your yard.

Not everyone is fond of this method. The public works department in Snohomish County outside Seattle conducted a four-year study on pet waste composting and found that home compost piles didn't get hot enough to kill many dangerous pathogens like E. coli and salmonella. Plus, roundworms can survive for as long as four years when buried in soil.

3. Flushing

Jack Russell terrier with a paw on the toilet
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The EPA suggests that the most environmentally friendly way of disposing of dog poop is to flush it. "The water in your toilet goes to a sewage treatment plant that removes most pollutants before the water reaches a river or stream," says the Salt Lake County Engineering Division.

Scooping it up from the yard and dumping it straight in the toilet is the safest and most eco-friendly way to do this, but there are also water-soluble bags that are made of polyvinyl alcohol film and designed to be flushed. The film dissolves in water, and the rest of the bag and its contents should dissolve in about 30 days. Never do this unless you're absolutely certain the bag is water-soluble.

These aren't entirely reliable if the contents of the bag are especially wet or if you happen to get rained on mid-walk, and they shouldn't be flushed in your toilet if you have dubious plumbing. You should check with your water and sewage treatment center to make sure it can handle the pathogens in pet waste before trying this method. It isn't advised for people who have septic systems because the hair and ash found in pet waste can overwhelm them. So, again, be sure to call your local waste management program to see what it recommends.

Which Is the Best Method?

No dog pooping sign in the park
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According to Leave No Trace, America's 83 million dogs produce about 10.6 million tons of pet waste every year, yet only about 60% to 70% of dog owners pick up after their pets. Neither bagging, composting, burying, or flushing are perfect methods. Which is right for you depends largely on your lifestyle and resources: Where do you live and what's recommended there? Do you have room in your yard to compost it properly? Time to bury it? A hardy water system that can handle and treat it after it's been flushed? How large is your dog and how much waste are you handling on a daily basis?

A mixture of these methods might be the best way to dispose of dog waste, thus reducing your pet's carbon footprint. The one method that is never acceptable is to leave it where your dog dropped it.

View Article Sources
  1. "Do You Scoop the Poop?" Rhode Island Stormwater Solutions.

  2. "10 Facts About Single-Use Plastic Bags." The Center for Biological Diversity.

  3. "FTC Staff Warns Marketers and Sellers of Dog Waste Bags That Their Biodegradable and Compostable Claims May Be Deceptive." Federal Trade Commission. 2015.

  4. Napper, I. and Thompson, R., 2019. Environmental Deterioration of Biodegradable, Oxo-biodegradable, Compostable, and Conventional Plastic Carrier Bags in the Sea, Soil, and Open-Air Over a 3-Year PeriodEnvironmental Science & Technology, 53(9), pp.4775-4783. doi:10.1021/acs.est.8b06984

  5. "Safe Pet Waste Disposal Methods & Frequently Asked Questions." Snohomish County Public Works Surface Water Management. 2018.

  6. "Pet Waste and Water Quality." Environmental Protection Agency Salt Lake County Engineering Division.

  7. "Wildlife Poop Versus Dog Poop: Explained." Leave No Trace. 2017.

  8. McKenzie-Mohr & Associates. "Reducing Pet Waste." Southwest Florida Water Management District.