Many of us don’t put much thought into the dog waste bags we buy in bulk from the pet store or pick up for free from dog poop bag dispensers at public parks or trailheads. You pick up the poop, promptly dump it into a nearby receptacle, and don’t give it another thought again.
After all, if it looks and feels like it’s biodegradable, it’ll just become one with nature anyway, right? Unfortunately, no.
“It may come as an unwelcome surprise to some, but marketers of dog waste bags may be deceiving customers with the use of their unqualified ‘biodegradable’ claim,” says Casper Ohm, a marine biologist and advocate for fighting water pollution.
So, what’s a responsible, eco-conscious pet parent to do?
Read on to learn everything you need to know about biodegradable dog poop bags, including what’s actually behind the label, where they end up after you toss them, and what you can do to deal with your dog’s poop while also caring for the planet.
The Truth About Biodegradable Dog Poop Bags
Recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) called out 20 manufacturers and marketers for environmental claims that “may be deceptive” based on labels like “biodegradable” and “compostable.”
“We call this a case of industry greenwashing,” says Achyut Patel, vice president of operations for beyondGREEN, a biotech company that produces compostable pet waste bags from renewable materials as well as at-home composters. To the average person, these words sound like they mean a bag can just break down in your backyard compost pile or out in the woods.
But in many cases, they don’t. In order to mean what they say, bags must fully break down within one year, per the FTC Green Guides. But some bags require specific, controlled conditions in a composting facility to fully biodegrade—and the vast majority of composters in the U.S. do not accept pet waste (even if they would accept the bag that you put it in).
What’s more? You generally cannot safely add compostable bags to your own compost pile because you could risk spreading harmful parasites and germs, per the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).
As a result, dog poop bags—even those that are marked as biodegradable—often end up in landfills just like conventional single-use plastic bags (a.k.a. SUPs) where tons of waste speed up climate change. Because these would-be biodegradable bags don’t have access to enough oxygen or the correct temperatures needed to totally break down, they essentially fossilize with the rest of our trash. Or, sadly, they could also get picked up by the wind or rain and end up in our waterways and oceans, contributing to pollution and threatening seabirds, mammals, and fish who could mistake bags or pieces of them for food. In fact, one study found “biodegradable” bags released into the environment could stay intact for years.
So, where does all of this leave us, exactly? And what’s the best way to get rid of dog poop?
Eco-Friendly Ways to Dispose of Dog Poop
As is often the case with systemic problems that require systemic solutions, there’s no easy answer for consumers right now. What’s needed is the infrastructure to process earth-friendly products—and in the U.S., we’re just not there yet, per a 2020 report on biodegradable plastics published by Greenpeace.
However, there are a few sustainable and eco-friendly ways to help with this problem.
Choose the Best Dog Poop Bags
You can vote with your dollar by choosing biodegradable pet waste bags that are up to ASTM International D6400 standards which specify products designed to biodegrade along with other compostable items. All it takes is a little research. Bags from BioBags, Earth Rated, EcoPettie, and UNNI fit the bill. “This is the closest thing we have to an actual parameter that defines how ‘eco-friendly’ a poop bag can be,” says Ohm.
Purchasing the best biodegradable dog poop bags tells manufacturers and composters alike that you want to be able to make the most sustainable choice. Another option: Opt for bags you can compost at home like those from beyondGREEN.
Contact Local Composting Facilities
While they’re rare, you can also look for a dog-waste-only composting bin or industrial pet waste composting facility in your area. If there isn’t one, “contact your local government recycling office to ask about pet waste composting options,” suggests Justen Garrity, founder and president of Veteran Compost. While you’re at it, you might also call your local composter to see if they’ll consider accepting pet waste in the future, increasing the demand for more accessible options in your area.
Reduce the Number of Bags You Use
Reducing your overall waste is another smart move. So, use a poop-scooper and collect dog poop in a larger compostable bag when possible. While this might not be easy to do while out on a walk, it could make a big difference at home.
Be Eco-Conscious About Your Decision Making
Finally, remember: “Sustainability is about the full spectrum of decisions we make,” says Wendell Simonson, marketing director for the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), a science-driven organization that promotes the use of materials and products that are designed to fully biodegrade.
Carpooling, using public transportation, starting a backyard compost bin (even if you can’t put dog poo in it!), and simply buying less stuff are all ways you can contribute to a healthier planet. You can also consider sustainability and environmentally manufacturing processes when shopping for products—including pet products.And if you’re going to take the step and dog waste bags that are up to ASTM International D6400 standards, it’s only fitting to purchase a sustainable dog poop bag holder to keep them accessible on walks. Remember, these little steps can add up to big differences.