What Should You Do With Your Dog's Poop?

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, be it the traditional bagging method, by flushing it, burying it, or pitching it into a compost pile at home. And though none is perfect, some methods are more planet-friendly than others.

Here's a look at how to dispose of dog poop, including the pros and cons of each method.

Using Bags

Person with dog, throwing a bag of poop into trash
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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.

On a positive note, this gives old plastic bags a bit of use before they go into the trash. But on the downside, these bags still wind up in landfills, where they take a reported 500 or more years to decompose and even when they do break down, the microplastics they leave behind continue to wreak havoc on the environment. A better option is to recycle those bags at a nearby Plastic Film Recycling drop-off location so that they can be turned into new plastic bags or plastic lumber.

Biodegradable and Compostable Bags

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

However, it's important to note that the term "biodegradable" is merely a marketing term with no legal definition, and that 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 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.

Composting or Burial

Dog digging a deep hole in the garden
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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.

Flushing

Jack Russell terrier with a paw on the toilet
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The Environmental Protection Agency 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," according to a pamphlet on pet waste and water quality.

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.

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.

No Perfect Solution

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 percent 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: Do you have room in your yard to compost it properly? Time to bury it? A hearty water system that can handle and treat it?

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