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Sustainable Solutions for Pet Waste Disposal

Image of a litter and dog waste disposal bin in a park setting

Just one of the articles from Pet Care Pro Quarterly, IBPSA’s digital magazine for pet care services professionals. Read the current issue online here.

The Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. has posted on its website “Do You Scoop the Poop?” an informational PDF produced by Rhode Island Stormwater Solutions. In it, as part of a discussion on animal waste as “one of the many seemingly small sources of pollution that can add up to big problems for water quality, and even human health,” is this “be prepared” action item:

“Picking up after your pet is easy, if you’re prepared. Simply carry a plastic bag with you on every walk with your dog, and you’ll have the equipment to remove your dog’s waste. Then throw it in the nearest trash can, and you’re done!”

You may be done, but what happens to that dog poop once it’s been disposed of using those bags? Research how long it takes for plastic bags to break down and typical estimates range from 500 to 1,000 years. From the “The Poop Problem: What To Do With 10 Million Tons of Dog Waste,” a 2014 op-ed published by Live Science:

“In most places, it goes to a landfill. There’s something unsettling, if not downright disgusting, to think of tons of plastic-wrapped dog turds being entombed underground. What will future civilizations make of our dedication to preserving dog crap?”

For pet care providers, pet poop and the quick and proper disposal thereof requires much consideration and timely execution. When it comes to waste, there’s no time to waste. While their owners’ yards may have dog poop idling in it for days, pet owners expect a constantly poop-free environment when their pet is in a professional’s hands. Whether you’re a pet boarding facility or an independent pet care provider, poop bags are the go-to for a quick pick up. But along with expedient excrement elimination, what if environmental friendliness and sustainability is also part of your disposal equation? Melissa Bauer, Member Sustainability Manager for the Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC), weighs in with pet waste disposal insight.

Which type of waste bag is more sustainable or environmentally friendly? For example, which is better: compostable waste bags or biodegradable ones? Is there a best product choice for pet care providers?

There are many pet waste bags on the market and, with the market constantly evolving, I don’t know that there is one “best product.” Labeling can also be very confusing and the difference between compostable pet waste bags versus bags labeled as biodegradable might seem small. However, there is a significant difference. Two things to consider when making a decision are: what are the bags made of and what are the end of life implications.  

Pet waste bags labeled as “biodegradable” are made from fossil fuel-based materials, combined with a chemical called EPI that enables the bag to break down into microplastic sized pieces when exposed to oxygen. These are often low-cost products. Because of varying regulations, companies outside the U.S. are able to label such products as “biodegradable,” but that labeling can be misleading. These microplastic particles often enter our waterways, contaminate our oceans, and kill our marine creatures who ingest the plastic as if it is food. Because of this, many parts of the U.S. have started banning these “biodegradable” products, or at least the labels associated with them.

Alternatively, compostable bags are made from organic materials, such as corn and maize, and have the ability to completely decompose back to organic material. This means that in both the production and disposal of these bags no plastic is entering the ground or waterways.  

How can a pet care provider encourage the vendors that they purchase from to use compostable materials in their packaging?

As always, the best way to encourage vendors is with your purchasing power!

Compostable packaging materials, especially in the flexible packaging space (dog food bags, kitty litter bags, etc.), are really just at the developing technology scale. However, new options are coming out every day. The best way to encourage vendors to use this kind of packaging is to support the brands that are using this kind of technology. There are also a lot of exciting new options coming out with recyclable packaging. Pet care providers can support this sector in a number of ways, from making sure to support the brands using compostable and recycling packaging, to having packaging take-back bins in their business.

How could a pet care provider analyze whether they have the space to start composting their own waste? How do dog poop collection companies compost the waste they pick up?

The large dog poop collection companies are utilizing large scale commercial composting facilities. If commercial composting isn’t an option in your area and you want to start composting on your site this requires very little space and can make a significant positive impact on your business. For example, a modest-sized kennel of 20 dogs can dispose of more than two tons of dog waste annually. A report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that the space required can be as little as a three feet by five feet piece of land, but it does recommend that you need a facility with at least 15 to 20 pets daily to make compost safely. A full set of instructions along with troubleshooting tips can be found in the USDA’s Composting Dog Waste free guide.

Any more sustainability tips for pet care providers?

If you want to know more about recycling options for packaging, building a sustainability team, building efficiency, or many other topic areas related to sustainability, make sure to check out the PSC’s Toolkit. This free resource is designed to support the development of your sustainability program regardless of whether you are just starting out or if you are a sustainability master. We have created and curated a broad range of tools and resources just for you and organized them into six performance areas. From setting up a team to telling your stakeholders about your successes, we walk you through every step needed to kick-start your sustainability program. 

Note for members of IBPSA: PSC’s five-part series “Is Your Pet Care Business Sustainable? Creating Financial, Environmental, and Workplace Success” is available on-demand through your member dashboard. For those interested in reducing waste, in particular, check out the Week 5 of 5 presentation.