The Plastic Free Dog Owners Guide
As dog owners we face a bewildering array of claims about dog poo bags and how we should dispose of them. The words biodegradable, degradable and compostable sound eco-friendly but what do they really mean? We have compiled some key facts to help you understand the types of plastic bags available, their effects on the environment and the best way to dispose of them.
Why is it important for all dog owners to pick up their dog’s poo and dispose of it correctly?
Dog faeces can contain Campylobacter, E Coli and Salmonella type bacteria, along with parasitic worms which can all be transferred to humans. Dog poo left on the ground on our walkways, parks and beaches is not only a health hazard to the public but also to our waterways as bacteria from dog faeces are washed into streams and rivers during heavy rain or flooding.
Are plastic dog poo bags affected by the plastic bag ban?
No. Under the new single-use plastic bag phase out, dog poo bags will still be able to be sold.
What’s the deal with all the different types of bags?
- Most dog poo bags on the market are made from plastic. Some of them are made from plant material and may be advertised as compostable or biodegradable. Others are made from oil and may be advertised as degradable.
- Regardless of the claims, all of these bags are a type of plastic. If they end up as litter they can pose a threat to marine and river life as they won’t necessarily break down quickly in water.
- As with all bags, any dog poo bags advertised as “degradable or biodegradable” (without specifying a certification for compostability) should be avoided as they have no environmental benefit, and may break down into micro plastics (small particles of plastic less than 5mm).
- Even with bags advertised as being biodegradable in a landfill, there is no way to be sure that they will biodegrade in a real landfill and in what timeframe, as landfill environments are variable.
- Advice from WasteMINZ is to avoid any products or packaging advertised only as:
- Totally Degradable
- Biodegradable in soil, water or marine
- Biodegradable in landfill.
- Dog poo bags that are labelled ‘certified commercially compostable’ will not at this stage be accepted by any commercial composters in NZ who accept compostable packaging. These bags need to go to landfill.
- You can choose to use ‘certified home compostable’ dog poo bags. These bags should be composted in a dedicated dog poo home composting system or disposed of to landfill. In home composting systems results will vary depending on how well the compost is managed.
- Compost made from the composting of dog poo must not be used on vegetable gardens or around fruit trees.
A good option is to reuse your old bread bags, vegetable bags, chip bags and cereal bags to pick up after your dog.
Alternative Dog Poo Disposal Options
If you are looking for alternatives to using any kind of plastic bag, here are some ideas:
There are a number of canine waste disposal systems available online and some work like a mini septic tank that you bury in your backyard. Examples are:
- Ensopet Pet Waste Composting Kit is available from Zing Bokashi www.zingbokashi.co.nz which uses the same principles as traditional bokashi with an enzyme sprinkled over to help poo break down. Zing Bokashi recommends that no bags are used with this system, even if certified home compostable.
- Another option uses a barrel and a pipe and buries the compost underground. Find out how to make this on: https://www.instructables.com/id/Big-Dog-Poop-Composter/
Out and About
The risk to human health is probably the biggest challenge to using alternatives to plastic bags and the options listed below will only appeal to some dog owners. Extreme care needs to be taken with any item that is being washed and reused to make sure it is free of pathogens.
Reusable bags, tins and scoopers will need to be thoroughly washed in hot water. But here are some ideas:
- Use a tin with lid or small plastic container and keep inside a bag with tongs to collect poo while out walking.
- Get a pooper scooper that includes a lid or make your own out of an old bottle.
- Scoop it up in newspaper, paper towel or reuse a paper bag. Pop it into a washable wetbag and discard the newspaper/paper parcel in a separate compost system at home.
- Dog poo is better off in a landfill than left out in the environment where it can contaminate other dogs and waterways with pathogens transferrable to humans.
- Even compostable plastics are still plastics that can cause damage to the environment if they get into the waterways – so they must be disposed of properly. Which means into a rubbish bin unless there is a dog poo composting option available.
- If you choose to compost your dog’s poo at home, ensure that the dog poo and bags are not composted with compost intended to grow food.
A WasteMINZ working group has produced a series of guides to help clear up the confusion around degradable and compostable plastics. Check them out here: https://www.wasteminz.org.nz/pubs/guides-to-compostable-packaging-terminology/