The Nature Conservancy logo. Protecting nature. Preserving life.

Last week I went to a national pet store chain to pick up some dog bags, and for the third visit in a row, they were out of my favorite biodegradable bags. These bags are made from cornstarch, which completely decomposes in just four months. In fact, there were no biodegradable bags at all. (You know, not even the ones that say they are biodegradable, except as defined by the state of California.) 

But given that my supply of dog bags under the sink was getting dangerously close to red alert status, I picked up a small package of “regular plastic,” and headed to the cashier.

I remarked to the cashier that the biodegradable bags seem to have gotten more popular since they always seemed to be out of stock. Perhaps they needed to get orders in more often?

“Actually we stopped carrying all the biodegradable bags,” she said.


Stop the tape. All of them? In 2010? Turns out it wasn’t even just this particular store, it was the entire chain. In a world where it seems like everyone is trying to be greener (or at least make it appear that way), this was something I never would have expected.

[Update: After calling several branches of the chain, no one seems to be able to confirm that this is a national policy, but none of the stores I called have been carrying them for several months.]

The day after the pet store incident, an article reminded me of just how important cutting our plastic consumption really is. “Researchers fear that such ubiquitous bags may never fully decompose; instead they gradually just turn into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic,” according to the article.

Thoughts of my daily walks with Lucy and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch began to swirl together in my head and it got me thinking:

There are about 77.5 million owned dogs in the United States. If each dog uses an average of one plastic bag per day (considering that many use more than that and some dogs have yards in which they can do what they please), that is literally billions of bags per year. Sure, many of those are probably “re-used” from the last trip home from the grocery store, but those bags could have been recycled or never brought home in the first place.

We’ve had the message about using reusable bags at the grocery store hammered home over and over for the last few years. And it seems to have worked — every other person in line at the supermarket seems to be carrying their own tote bags these days. Why would these same people pay money for the same plastic at the pet store that they are rejecting at the grocery store?

We’re taking the most compostable product on earth and wrapping it in something that can take 100 years to break down, and will probably never fully decompose.

Dog owners make up nearly 40 percent of the population in the United States. Why are there no anti-plastic campaigns directed toward us? And why is finding biodegradable bags not getting any easier? What can we do to encourage dog owners to pick up after their dogs more responsibly?

What I plan to do is order a jumbo shipment of biodegradable bags made from cornstarch and encourage my dog-owning friends to do the same. What will you do?

— Text by Margaret SouthernCool Green Science Blog