It’s overwhelming to think about: 76 million cats and 97 million dogs living in U.S. homes produce a lot of poop. Roughly, 64 million tons of greenhouse gasses are released into the atmosphere each year due to our pets’ consumption of meat, according to a study from PLOS One.
If you Google “ways to dispose of cat and dog waste,” hundreds of suggestions come up. Unfortunately, several harm the planet. For instance, please don’t flush cat litter down the toilet. Even brands of cat litter with the word “Flushable” on these packages shouldn’t be placed in the toilet.
Cat feces and your cat’s litter may contain a parasite called toxoplasmosis, which when flushed down the toilet can make its way into storm drains and sewage treatment plants; many sewage treatment plants are not designed to filter out the parasite. “When cats expel these parasites in their droppings, sometimes hundreds of millions at a time, can survive in soil for over a year and can also contaminate drinking water,” Melissa Miller-Henson, Executive Director of the California Department of Fish and Game, says.
Sewage outflows also carry these parasites to the ocean where hundreds of sea otters died due to toxoplasmosis. According to Miller-Henson, sea otters eat mussels, crabs, and other filter feeders contaminated with toxoplasmosis which may be the cause of their deaths.
“And unless you want to make friends with your plumber, never flush cat litter, be it sand or crystals, down the toilet,” Yvette Berke, Outreach Coordinator for The Little Angels Project, says. “The product becomes gummy in water and does not clear the pipes leading to clogs and contamination of the waterways.”
More topics to explore:
- Why Adopt Don’t Shop is Better for the Environment
- DIY Dog Toys to Make at Home
- Grain Free Dog Food Has a Climate Problem
The cat litter debate
Some cat owners use clay or crystals, others prefer pine or shell litters. “Ultimately, it all becomes waste,” Berke says. “There really isn’t a second life to the product. Clay litters have been around for forever. What’s changed is the additives to make it more absorbent or have less odor from the pet waste.”
A number of cat litters contain baking soda or charcoal. Berke takes issue with the perfumes and ingredients that make litter clump so it’s easy to remove from the litter box because they’re not earth-friendly. “Frankly they aren’t necessary for your pets,” she says. “Perfumes are added for people. Most cats don’t like perfumes. If your cat’s litter smells bad, it’s time to change it.”
“And are cat litters made from recycled paper products or plant-derived materials such as pine, wheat, corn, beet pulp, and soybean really degradable? In order to degrade you need oxygen, water and sunlight. Landfills don’t allow for that. Some folks say they dump it in their garden. That has the same problem if you have fruits and vegetables as flushing; you are adding unwanted bacteria and pathogens to the soil.”
Disposing of dog poop
Like cat litter, dog poop should be disposed of in the trash. Dumping it down the toilet or composting it in your garden (Suggestions on several internet sites.) leads to contamination of our waterways and soil.
According to Berke, pet feces can carry a host of diseases and worms, including heartworms, whipworms, hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, parvovirus, giardia, salmonella, and even E. coli.
Here’s what you can do
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, you should always clean up after your pet and:
- Avoid walking your pet near streams and other waterways.
- Walk your dog in grassy areas, parks, or undeveloped areas.
- Tell other pet owners why it’s critical to pick up after their dogs.
- Take part in a Storm Drain Marking Program.
A Storm Drain Marking Program
When it rains, storm water washes over sidewalks, asphalt, and other difficult to penetrate surfaces and winds up in storm drains. This runoff picks up pet waste and other pollutants and makes its way into our waterways.
Check with your municipality to see if you have a Storm Drain Marking Program.
The best way to get rid of pet waste
Always pick up after your dog and place his poop in biodegradable bags. Also place cat litter and cat waste in biodegradable bags. The bags should go into the trash.
A number of parks, dog parks, and hiking trails have courtesy bags and disposable boxes designed for dog waste. You can ask your town to install these bags and boxes in the parks you frequent with your dog.
Not all disposable bags are alike
Depending on where you look, the amount of time it takes for a plastic bag to decompose in a landfill varies. The American Chemical Society states, it takes 1,000 years for a plastic bag to degrade in a landfill. Some biodegradable dog poop bags contain Oxo-Biodegradable material; they breakdown to tiny particles called microplastics that absorb toxins and pollute the environment.
We all want to do what’s best for the environment. Knowing which bags to use doesn’t have to be confusing. For more ideas on which type of disposable bags to use, check out 7 Sustainable Plastic Trash Bag Alternatives here at LeafScore.