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Are Dog Poop Bags Biodegradable? Busting Myths About Compostable Dog Poop Bags

Picking up your dog's poop is probably one of the easiest ways to be an environmentally-friendly pet parent, but figuring out the #1 type of bag for your dog's #2 can be overwhelming.

Are Dog Poop Bags Biodegradable? Busting Myths About Compostable Dog Poop Bags

Picking up your dog's poop is probably one of the easiest ways to be an environmentally-friendly pet parent, but figuring out the #1 type of bag for your dog's #2 can be overwhelming.

Picking up your dog's poop is probably one of the easiest ways to be an environmentally-friendly pet parent, but figuring out the #1 type of bag for your dog's #2 can be overwhelming.

Among the growing number of "eco-friendly" options out there, compostable dog waste bags are a trendy option. In contrast to some of the alternatives (which include everything from paper sheets to flushing your dog's poop), compostable poop bags are highly convenient. Unlike traditional bags, they are supposed to decompose naturally in the environment.

However, responsible pet parents and Earth citizens everywhere are still wondering, are compostable or biodegradable poop bags really the best option?

To get to the bottom of this, we'll need to bust a few myths. But first, we'll give a quick overview of biodegradable or compostable pet waste bags.

Breaking Down Biodegradable Dog Poop Bags

When it comes to scooping the poo, compostable bags are often viewed as a "greener" option than traditional plastic bags. In addition to being free from fossil fuels, certified compostable bags can fully compost in the right conditions, as opposed to merely 'biodegradable' ones.

Indeed, compostable poop bags are generally made from compostable types of 'bioplastic,' which broadly refers to plastics that are made from biodegradable materials, are biodegradable, and/or are made through biological processes. These bio-based bags can be vegetable-based, plant-based, or made from some other renewable material. Much of the time, the renewable resources used to make compostable bioplastic include cornstarch, sugarcane, and vegetable oils, which are environmentally taxing. Still, compostable bioplastics are becoming a great alternative to traditional plastics in contexts where suitable disposal and composting are available to users, which is unfortunately not the case for most poop-bag users at this point in time.

Myth #1: Dog poo is a natural fertilizer that decomposes in the environment

Some might believe skipping a bag altogether is the most eco-friendly option, but this is not the case! The truth is dog poop is an environmental pollutant.

Dog poop may be a form of “organic waste,” but it has routinely been shown to harbor pathogens and harmful bacteria, which can spread in the local environment and even cause illness to other animals and people.

Furthermore, dog poop is very rich in nitrogen and other nutrients (this is thanks to their diets, which are not sourced from their local environments). When poop is left unpicked up, these excess nutrients leach into the soil and waterways, sometimes leading to harmful algal blooms.

So, while dog poop bags do use additional resources and may not always decompose, their net benefits justify any associated environmental costs.

Myth #2: Simply buying and using compostable poop bags is better for the environment.

Among more convenient options, compostable poop bags are probably the most eco-friendly choice when they are actually composted. 

Municipal composting is still in its early stages – only 7% of America's largest cities have access to non-industrial composting facilities (roughly 3% of the population). Among the very few municipalities that do compost, a tiny proportion accept pet waste. Incidentally, the very same bacteria in dog poop that create environmental issues also contaminate composts, posing severe risks to human health.

In addition to poop-related concerns, the poop bags themselves can cause compost-related issues. Many industrial composts sort out any type of plastic bagcompostable or not — because it can be nearly impossible for the sorting equipment to tell the difference. This can mean additional processing for emptying and removing any poop bags and sending them to landfill, assuming the extra step of emptying the poo from the bags is even taken.

Myth #3: Compostable poop bags break down in the landfill.

Once in landfills, compostable poop bags do not biodegrade in the anaerobic environment — they have been estimated to take over 100 years to degrade in a landfill, emitting methane (a potent greenhouse gas) in the process. Thus, compostable or biodegradable plastics don't reasonably pose any environmental benefits if they end up in a landfill. Instead, they have measurable environmental costs, especially when accounting for the agricultural land used to help make them and any associated impacts on the environment (such as pesticide runoff).

It has been shown that traditional plastics also emit a non-negligible amount of greenhouse gases when they degrade, and it is estimated that certain bioplastics can emit less greenhouse gas over the course of their lifetime. However, it is essential to note that being a "lesser evil" (depending on how this is defined) does not simply negate any environmental implications associated with compostable poop bags. Both traditional and compostable poop bags have ecological costs, and it would be a stretch to say that compostable bags are "eco-friendly" once they end up in a landfill (like most do).

Myth #4: All compostable poop bags are created equal

Given how many types of bioplastics are on the market, it can be difficult to judge what the best option is. To keep things simple, opt for certified compostable poop bags. There are several main certifications to look for (such as BPI Certified or TUV OKCompost), which should attest to the bioplastic's ability to biodegrade within the specified timeline and conditions. Without a certification, it is tough to know if the bag will compost properly, and there's a good chance it won't be accepted by municipalities. Furthermore, if the poop bag is marked as 'biodegradable,' chances are it will not compost at all and will instead degrade into microplastics.

So, What Is the Most Environmentally Friendly Way to Do Your Duty?

The truth is, there is no perfect option. There are serious environmental implications associated with most forms of picking up our pet's waste, and convenience is inevitably a vital factor to consider.

The EPA has stated that flushing your dog's poop is the most environmentally-friendly way to dispose of it, but this is neither practical in the middle of a walk with your dog nor is it recommended by many municipalities! There are also guidelines provided by the EPA for home-composting dog poop but be forewarned that it requires a warmer climate. The resulting compost can't be used on any garden plants intended for human consumption due to potential pathogens and parasites.

So if you're like most people and need to use poop bags, try to follow the 3 R's: reduce, reuse, recycle. If you have a dog who goes through multiple bags per day, adding a probiotic to your pup's diet can help promote gut health and reduce the number of bags needed per day! After reducing the number of bags you need to use, the most eco-friendly option is simply reusing old plastic bread bags and any other suitable plastic bags that you already have in your recycling bin. And if reusing isn't an ideal option for you, recycled or compostable bags can be great alternatives, depending on your municipality's compost rules.

Checking Your Local Municipality's Compost Rules

If you live in a municipality that composts, it is essential to check what is accepted into the compost. Most of the time, this information can be accessed through the city's website or by searching your city's name, followed by the term "compost guidelines." If you cannot locate this information online, contact your city's waste management office for more details.

If you do find that your municipality composts dog poop and compostable waste bags, compostable bags are a solid choice! Conversely, if the bag will be going to landfill (either emptied or full), recycled dog poop bags are by far the best option. Opting for bags made from recycled materials creates a demand for recycled plastic (helping to keep it out of our oceans). It is better to 'reuse' the plastic already in production than using valuable land and agricultural resources to create new bioplastic that will never get to compost. However, it is absolutely fair to use regular old plastic dog poop bags if they will be heading to a landfill anyways, especially if you're on a tighter budget.

At the end of the day, whether you opt for compostable or traditional plastic, recycled or repurposed, the best dog poop bag is any bag that will keep your dog's poop off the ground and out of the water or food supply. When all dog owners do their part, we can all put our best paws forward to reduce our carbon footprints.

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illustration of dog's tail & the dog is digging