Your dog squats and you diligently zoom in behind him, scooping up his deposit as soon as it hits the ground. Picking up waste isn't the most exciting part about having a dog, but responsible pet owners do it.
You may think you're being environmentally smart with the bags you use or how you dispose of your dog's poop, but there's a good chance there's a better way. Here's a look at the most common methods people use to get rid of dog poop and the pros and cons of each way.
A lot of people give their plastic grocery, produce or newspaper bags a second life by using them for poop scooping duty. Just scrunch a few in your pocket when you hit the sidewalk and you're ready to erase any odoriferous present your pet leaves behind.
On a positive note, at least these upcycled bags are getting some use before they get tossed in the trash and head to the landfill. But many places (like grocery stores) will recycle them, which is a much better solution.
The other option is to choose "biodegradable" bags. Check out any pet store aisle and you'll find dozens of options these would seem to be the perfect way to ease your conscience. They promise the bags will break down quickly. However, as Simple Ecology points out, "biodegradable" is a marketing term with no legal definition. Several years ago, the Federal Trade Commission warned manufacturers and marketers of 20 dog waste bags that they had deceptively labeled their products as "compostable" and "biodegradable." So that bag you hope will decompose quickly could be sitting in the landfill for nearly as long as a plastic grocery bag.
There are several types of biodegradable bags on the market, and they are primarily made of petroleum or corn. Corn bags cost more, but they meet a tougher standard for biodegradable and compostable qualifications. But even the best dog poop bags will still have a hard time decomposing in a landfill, according to One Green Planet. Modern landfills are designed so that almost no decomposition occurs. But some experts still believe this is the best option.
"For the health and safety of my family, my friends, and my community, I’m going to bag the poop and send it to the landfill, which is specifically designed to contain pathogens and prevent the spread of disease," Jessie Payne, water-quality communications manager with the state of Washington Department of Ecology, told Whole Dog Journal.
If you want to avoid the landfill, there are also some bags that are flushable. The bags are made of polyvinyl alcohol film and are water soluble, according to Grist. The film dissolves in water, with the premise that the rest of the bag and its contents should dissolve in about 30 days. According to reviewers for one flushable product sold on Amazon, the product starts breaking down if the contents are very wet or if you get rained on mid-walk. You have to avoid knotting the bag if you want it to actually flush and sometimes you have to flush twice or more. You also may want to check with your local water and sewage treatment center to make sure your system can truly handle the flushable bags.
Composting or burial
You can compost your dog's waste, but you can't do it in your normal compost bin. You'll need to create a separate composting system using nitrogen-rich and carbon-rich materials. Here's a very detailed how-to from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
If you don't want to go the DIY route, you can buy a canine waste disposal system like a Doggie Dooley. It works like a mini septic tank that you bury in your backyard, occasionally adding water and powdered enzymes to your collection of waste.
And then there's the less intricate method where you just dig a hole at least six inches deep and simply bury your dog's deposits. This obviously requires some regular digging and will create a bunch of 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. Any illnesses (from worms to diseases) can show up in your dog's stool and you don't want to handle them or spread those germs around your yard.
You should also know that not everyone thinks composting or burying poop is a great solution.
The public works department in Snohomish County outside Seattle conducted a four-year study on pet waste composting.
"Composting and burial are not good ideas. They do not kill hazardous pathogens that may be in the waste and can pollute water," says the county's FAQs on waste disposal. They say that most home compost piles don't reach temperatures 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.
If you don't want to throw it away or bury it, another option is taking your pet's poop inside and flushing it. Use a scoop when you pick it up and march it indoors so nothing goes into the toilet other than feces.
There may be something a little unseemly about carrying pet poo through your living room. But cat owners let their pet's waste sit in the house all the time.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests flushing as the most environmentally friendly way of disposing of dog poop. "Flush it down the toilet. 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 an EPA pamphlet on pet waste and water quality.
Just check with your water and sewage treatment center to make sure they can handle the pathogens in pet waste. Some California centers, for example, recommend against flushing.
No perfect solution
America's 83 million pet dogs create about 10.6 million tons of poop every year, yet only about 60 percent of dog owners pick up after their pets.
Flushing, burying or scooping? Every pet owner has to decide which disposal method is right for them, based on your dog, your lifestyle and your community.
Just don't leave it where your dog dropped it.