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The Scoop on Poop

It’s a Dog’s Life

There’s always one guy or gal in the neighborhood — you know who you are — who doesn’t clean up after their precious little Fido or Fluffy. You’re strolling along with your own perfectly-behaved dog, armed with a plastic baggie and your I-refuse-to-be-embarrassed face, and there it is: another pile of poop.

According to surveys, only 60% of people pick up after their dogs, citing such reasons as “I forgot to bring a bag” and “The rain will wash it away”. And let’s face it: few things are stickier than standing around while your dog makes, then carrying home a bag of doo.

Adding to the awkwardness, I live in a subdivision where everyone is annoyingly friendly. I’m sorry-not-sorry, but I don’t want to have a long conversation about the gardenias with a bag of shit in my hand. And the wavers! I never know what to do when someone waves at me from across the way. Do I wave back with the poopy bag hand? Do I wave the hand with the leash and strangle the dog? Do I smile brightly and sing out “Hey, you!” and keep my hands out of it? There don’t appear to be any standardized rules.

Of course, dog poop really isn’t funny. America’s 83 million pet dogs produce some 10.6 million tons of poop every year. Pet clean-up has become an industry of its own, with pet waste removal companies springing up all over suburbia.

Dog waste can harbor lots of viruses, bacteria and parasites — including harmful pathogens like e-coli, giardia and salmonella. A single gram contains an estimated 23 million bacteria. Left on grass and in soil, it gets into our water supply. Just two to three days of waste from 100 dogs can contribute enough bacteria, nitrogen and phosphorous to close 20 miles of coastline to swimming and fishing, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It also can get into the air we breathe.

So where are we supposed to put this crap?

Well, don’t put it in your garden soil or backyard compost. The above-mentioned bacteria need very high temperatures to be destroyed, and your compost bin probably doesn’t come close. Never use pet waste on plants you’re going to eat later.

If your dog goes in your own backyard, you can pick it up, bring it inside and simply flush it. There are even flushable, biodegradable bags sold for just this purpose. Fun, right? Especially if you have multiple dogs. Or big dogs. Or multiple big dogs.

On a sidewalk or forest trail, you’re stuck with using the plastic bags and tossing it in the trash — which gets it off the grass and soil and puts in the landfill. Not a perfect solution, but the one most people prefer.

Some larger cities are experimenting with commercial composting — poop scooping on a massive scale. Commercial composters use high heat to break down waste and destroy any harmful bacteria.

The best long-term solution may be a process called anaerobic digestion — a process that breaks down organic materials, producing a biogas that can be used for energy and a residue that can be used as a compost on plants. That’s what Toronto does with the dog waste it collects through the curbside bins.

There have been several experiments with anaerobic digesters at dog parks in the United States. Arizona State University students placed an underground digester in a dog park that draws about 200 animals a day. San Francisco has plans in the works to build an aerobic digester to handle the city’s organic waste — including the droppings of its 120,000 dogs. In Massachusetts, a similar project expects to be up and running by November, promoting the use of anaerobic digesters to help struggling dairy farmers use their cow manure to produce more income.

Someday, we’ll all have convenient mini-digesters in our backyards to do away with the poop. Until then, however, please clean up after your dog. Luckily my dog is only 12 pounds and doesn’t emit much.

Fergus Goes on a Walk

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Kay Bolden is a travel writer, food justice blogger and backpacker. She’s walked the Camino de Santiago, the Great Glen Way and parts of the Oregon Coast Trail solo. She blogs about her travels at www.KayBolden.com and on Twitter @KayBolden. You can join the newsletter here and never miss another story.


The Scoop on Poop was originally published in Be Yourself on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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