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The Green Life: Hey Mr. Green, What Do I Do With Dog Doo?

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November 29, 2011

Hey Mr. Green, What Do I Do With Dog Doo?

Bob Schildgen is Mr GreenHey Mr. Green,

What's the eco-friendliest way to dispose of dog waste? Should it be put in municipal compost bins, thrown in the trash, or flushed down the toilet? I know it’s a hazard to human health and the natural world if left in a glob outside, but I'm never clear on the best alternative. Help?

Betty in Berkeley, California

Good question: Collectively, America's 78.2 million dogs generate 10.7 million tons of waste, an amount that exceeds 6% of the staggering 165 million tons of waste that end up in U.S. landfills each year.

Let's start with what you should not do: Don't put dog poop in municipal compost bins. Why? Temperatures might not get high enough in compost facilities to kill pathogens, including salmonella, campylobacter, and toxocara.

Unless your city explicitly forbids or discourages either practice, dog waste should be put in a plastic bag and placed in the regular trash, or flushed down the toilet to be processed in the municipal sewage system. Though note: Dog waste should not be flushed into septic-tank systems unless installers and manufacturers verify that the system can handle it.

I hasten to add, however, that different areas favor different approaches, apparently dictated by local conditions and available technology. For example, your town recommends putting dog excrement in the trash (bagged, of course), whereas Snohomish County, Washington, and Columbus, Ohio, are OK with either strategy. Thurston County, Washington, on the other hand, explicitly condemns flushing.

Of the two options, though, flushing may be preferable. This is partly because you can just deploy a reusable scooper to pick up each canine deposit instead of one-time-use plastic bags. Also, more sewage plants now digest sewage to produce methane that's then burned to create electric power or produce sewage sludge that's used as fertilizer.

But there is no simple answer, partly because some landfill facilities do burn methane from dumps to generate electric power, while others incinerate the waste itself to make energy. On top of these quandaries are questions about all these processes, which include concerns about dangerous toxics in sludge and emissions that result from burning garbage.

Do a quick web search and you'll find various other methods for dealing with dog doo, from home composting devices to bulk flushers attached to sewer clean-outs to simply interring the stuff at a specified depth in your backyard. I can't vouch for these approaches any more than I can certify a lot of the whatever else is bobbing on the turbid sea of the internet.

If by now you can’t bear to consider this question further, know that there are services that will come to your house periodically and collect the dog dumps you've dutifully collected. As far as I can tell, these operations simply transfer the stuff to the dump.

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