Green Pets: Unleash Fido and Fluffy From the Landfill

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So you think you have household recycling covered?

If you recycle with due diligence, your weekly contribution to a truck headed for the landfill is probably small. Especially if you send putrescible waste – organic material such as leaves, branches, grass clippings and food scraps – back to nature.

When you run a sustainable household, you’re proud that the garbage you leave at the curb is tiny. Miniscule. Smallest on the block. But that’s probably not the case if you’re a pet owner.

Do you have a cat or a dog? Then you already know that their poop and litter can really add ballast to the weekly trash bag. Chances are good that this, ahem, organic material is a no-no even for composters.

You may think that pet waste doesn’t amount to much in the bigger diversion picture. Not so. A recent audit found that pet waste makes up 3.8 percent of the garbage from residential collections in San Francisco. In 2006, the City of Toronto found that dog waste is the largest litter stream by weight in its public parks.

Still think it’s a pittance? Let’s take a look at raw data. Eighty-three million dogs in the U.S. produce enough poop to fill 159 football fields 10 feet deep each year.

infographic: U.S. pet waste per year

Sixty percent of metro dog waste is picked up and trashed. Stooping and scooping is much better than not. Leaving poo at ground zero pollutes waterways and landscape in densely populated areas. But 60 percent is still quite a hound’s mound.

The average dog generates more than five pounds of waste per week or 275 pounds a year. That might be more than you weigh. And don’t even get me started on cats (included in the poo tally chart to the right).

So what can you do besides bag the poo and bundle it off into suspended animation? Don’t health and environmental authorities all agree that pet waste should be trashed, never composted? Actually, they’re all over the map when it comes to pet waste disposal.

According to the EPA, flushing dog waste is a viable option. That umbrella agency has nothing further to say on the subject except that pet waste disposal oversight is delegated to communities. Depending on where you live, local authorities might suggest that you double-bag and trash pet waste or they might provide incentives for do-it-yourself recycling.

Doesn’t pet waste contain dangerous pathogens? Well, yes – sometimes. But if you process it conscientiously and keep the poo away from small children and pets, it won’t kill you. It’s not nuclear waste.

Recycling options depend on your pets, living arrangements, and personal preferences. You can flush it (check out flushable bags), compost it, toss it into a septic bin or feed it to a worm farm. Before getting started, research alternatives and be prepared to experiment until you find an approach that will work for you.

About the Author

Rose Seemann is the owner and operator of EnviroWagg, a Colorado company dedicated to collecting and composting canine waste into safe, nutrient-rich garden soil. She is author of The Pet Poo Handbook: How to Safely Compost and Recycle Pet Waste from New Society Publishers.

Feature image courtesy of dogsbylori

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