Ask Eartha: The scoop on poop: How to dispose of pet waste
Ever since I began using canvas bags for grocery shopping, I have stopped picking up my dog’s mess using the leftover plastic bags. Is it OK for me to flush my pet’s poo down the toilet?
– Meg, Breckenridge
Summit County is home to a significant population of pampered pets and their owners. We take our pets with us to work, on outdoor adventures, and to play dates in the park. From the food we select to the toys we buy, we try to choose healthy and eco-conscious items for these fluffy, feathered, and scaled family members. Being a responsible pet owner also includes properly disposing of pet waste.
The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) suggests that one way to deal with your puppy’s poop is to flush it down the toilet, just be sure not to clog the crapper. Wastewater treatment plants kill harmful bacteria found in dog excrement (not cat – see below) and leftover sewage waste is composted in our community anyway. Another option is to invest in a mini septic system for your pet like an underground pet waste digester or a doggy dooley.
If tossing excrement in the trash is more convenient, the Environmental Protection Agency suggests purchasing biodegradable bags as an alternative to picking up dog nuggets with plastic bags. Plant-based, biodegradable bags may take decades to breakdown in the landfill, but you are supporting plants instead of oil.
Be sure to avoid composting and never leave Fido’s feces on the trail or in your yard. Pathogens like roundworms, Salmonella and E. coli can be found in doggy dung. Storm water runoff can carry the scat down into the storm drain. Since not every system leads to a water-treatment plant, the bacteria, viruses and parasites can be deposited into local bodies of water.
Pet waste also contributes to water pollution by providing ample nutrients to grow a monoculture of algae. When an algae population overcrowds a pond or stream, it causes eutrophication. Its murky, green cloud inhibits the ability of light to travel through the water, therefore limiting photosynthesis for other plants. Decomposing aquatic plants and the organisms feeding on them also deplete the oxygen levels, ultimately making it difficult for fish to breathe.
Feline fecal is a little more complicated. EPA publications approve disposal of litter-free, cat feces down the toilet. The NRDC advises against it! According to NRDC: “Research suggests that the eggs of Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite found in cat poop, may survive the wastewater treatment process and contaminate waterways.” Toxoplasma eggs have been found to cause defects and brain damage in babies while harming sea life and wildlife. The only safe way to dispose of cat feces is to seal it in plastic bags and send it to the landfill.
Runoff is also a concern when cat’s leave their business outside or if the owner dumps the litter onto their lawn. In some cases, people will recycle used litter that is made out of eco-friendly (i.e. corn, pine or newspaper based) materials by composting or using them as garden mulch. Unfortunately, they are unknowingly spreading harmful bacteria on their property.
Cat owners need to be cautious when shopping for a brand of litter. Some products contain carcinogenic agents, such as silica crystals that can coat your cat’s lungs with a dust – or sodium bentonite which, when ingested during grooming, can expand to clog your kitty’s insides. These litters pose a threat to the environment because they do not biodegrade. The clumping litters have a harsher impact on the planet since strip mining produces their clay ingredient.
Whether you are cleaning-up critter litter, picking-up doggie dodo, or scooping kitty crap, the CSU Cooperative Extension advises that you should never compost any of your pet’s waste. However, this does not apply to horse, cow, sheep, chicken, rabbit and llama manure, as we composters love these hot ingredients for our backyard compost bins.
While our pets provide unconditional love, we don’t want to put their pathogen-carrying poops into the substrate for our vegetable gardens or our waterways.
Eartha Steward is written by Jennifer Santry and Caitlin Akkerhuis, consultants on all things eco and chic at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at email@example.com.
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