What's With All the Dog Poop Bags?

Do pet owners forget the bags or leave them behind on purpose?

dog poop bag in the woods
Andreas O. / Getty Images

No matter where you walk, you’ve probably seen them: colorful little stinky bags of discarded dog poop. Sometimes they’re along sidewalks. They’re also in the woods or even tied from tree branches like Christmas ornaments.

As no one really wants Mother Nature decorated with these smelly pouches of poo, why do people discard their pet droppings? After all, they went to the trouble of bagging it, why not actually haul it away?

Check out any conversation on social media or on Nextdoor and there will no doubt be theories.

Maybe the offender dropped off the bag with every intention of picking it up on their way back from the walk. But then they went a different way home. Or got distracted and totally forgot.

Maybe the dog owner had no plans on carrying a reeking sack with them on their lovely stroll at all. They figured bagging it was enough of an effort. Someone else can pick it up.

Or maybe bagging and tossing—particularly on a trail—is someone’s mistaken belief that biodegradable bags will quickly break down. Biodegradable bags can be made out of corn or petroleum and contain microorganisms to help break down the bag.

But “biodegradable” is merely a marketing term with no standard or legal definition. In 2015, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent letters warning manufacturers and marketers of 20 dog waste bags that labeling their products as "compostable" and "biodegradable" may be deceptive.

A study published in 2019 in the journal Environmental Science and Technology found that several bags that were marketed as "biodegradable" survived in the open air, buried in soil, and submerged in seawater for three years or more.

Compostable bags, on the other hand, are made of plant starch. They contain no plastics and are generally more expensive. In the study, the compostable bag dissolved in seawater in three months.

The Poop Tree

Recently, on my neighborhood Nextdoor, there was a discussion about the “poop tree” at a local park.

Someone posted sarcastically about what she said must be a new tradition where dog owners leave canine waste around a certain tree, "sort of like a shrine." On one particular day, she counted 17 bags.

“I assume one dog owner did it and then other dog owners thought, ‘Wow! While I am out here walking my dog, I too will bag it up and then leave it under this tree! Now I don't have to walk to one of the six trash cans on the trail to dispose of it,’" she wrote.

Dozens of people weighed in on the post and the accompanying photo, pointing out that the closest trash can was a mere 50 yards away. Eventually, someone said a man carted all 17 bags away.

Why Can’t a Dog Poop in the Woods?

In a related note, some dog owners won’t clean up after their pets in any form when out in nature. Perhaps they figure that if a bear (or a deer or a fox) can let their droppings go unhindered in the woods, then why must a dog’s be bagged up and carted away?

But wild animals eat resources that are in the ecosystem and their scat returns nutrients to the ground. 

In 2017, Rocky Mountain National Park planted bear scat mixed with soil and more than 1,200 seedlings of Oregon-grape and chokecherry sprouted from the soil.

“Animals are great seed dispersers and of course what comes in one way goes out the other. After defecation, seeds are left in a rich, moist medium that nourishes the growing seedling,” the park posted when showing off the new plants.

Dogs, however, aren’t eating chokeberries. They’re eating diets rich in protein and added nutrients that throw the ecosystem out of whack when their poop hits the ground.

As No Trace Left Behind points out:

Pet waste adds excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus to the environment. Excess of these nutrients in many ecosystems creates unstable conditions that allow algae blooms to cloud our rivers, lakes, and streams, and create an easy habitat for invasive weeds to grow.

The group estimates the 83 million pet dogs in the United States produced 21.2 billion pounds of feces each year, which adds lots of extra nutrients to the ecosystem when not disposed of in the right way.

What’s the Solution?

If you don’t want to spend the rest of your walk with a dangling bag of poo from your hand, there are plenty of ways to be responsible and not be grossed out.

  • Tie the bag to your leash.
  • Have your dog wear a backpack and pop it in there.
  • Get a poop bag carrier that you can wear around your waist or on your leash.

My dog gets so excited when he sees the leash that I usually just let him go in the backyard before we go out and he does his business in our own yard, so this typically isn't an issue. But if I end up having a package to tote, I either carry it or tie it to the leash.

What do you do?

View Article Sources
  1. Cho, Renee. "The Truth About Bioplastics." Columbia Climate School, 2017.

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

  3. Napper, Imogen E., and Richard C. Thompson. "Environmental Deterioration of Biodegradable, Oxo-Biodegradable, Compostable, and Conventional Plastic Carrier Bags in the Sea, Soil, and Open-Air Over a 3-Year Period." Environmental Science & Technology, vol. 53, no. 9, 2019, pp. 4775-4783, doi:10.1021/acs.est.8b06984

  4. "Compostable vs degradable and biodegradable bags." EastWaste.

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