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One Can Challenge: eco-disposal of pet waste

Enviromomchallenge It seems fitting that we should end our One Can A Month Challenge discussing a subject that most moms would admit they talk about far more than they'd ever imagined: poop. However, we're not talking about the human variety today, rather that which comes from animals. I should also state that neither my family nor Renee's family currently have any pets. Some of them might like to have a pet of the four-legged barking variety, but they need to get over it already. Pets are lovely companions, and I fully support other people's ownership of pets, so let's figure out ways to manage all of that poop they generate!

[UPDATE: A few hours after I posted this, I spoke with Dan Clark, Wastewater Treatment Manager for the City of Portland, to get the official word on what is the safest method of pet waste disposal: flush or toss. He said that pet waste should be thrown in the garbage, not flushed down the toilet because sometimes, particularly when it's raining and the sewers are working overtime, waste will flow directly into the river bypassing the treatment plant. He said that every city has a different stance on pet waste disposal, so it's best to check with the water bureau in your area.]

Dogs: Lots of dog owners are stumped by the poop problem. What to do, oh what to do? Most municipal water management bureaus (like Washington's Snohomish County) will tell you to use one of two methods:

1) Flush the poop down the toilet. Unless you have a septic system, which probably couldn't handle it, it is generally safe to flush dog poop. Sewage treatment systems can handle the bacteria, and the end result is fertilizer.

2) Put the poop in a sealed plastic bag and throw it in the garbage.

In the first scenario, you'd probably want to use some sort of scooper, but I'm not sure whether this would work on a walk. Also, if you use a pooper scooper and need to rinse it out, do it in your backyard so that the contaminated water doesn't go down the stormwater sewer system.

In the second scenario (which most people use) the biggest conundrum is the plastic bag. You can't help but feel guilty tossing a plastic bag into the garbage can. Plus once-a-month garbage service probably wouldn't be aromatically desirable if your can is full of dog poop. (Unless you throw it in your neighbor's can!) Reusing plastic grocery or newspaper bags is more environmentally-friendly than those darned 'compostable' doogie-doo bags. Those bags do not break down in modern landfills, plus think about the energy used in manufacturing and transportation. Better to reuse an existing plastic bag that has already served one purpose.

And what about composting dog poop? You can find all kinds of arguments for and against it on the Internet just by Googling 'compost dog poop'. The biggest argument against this is that typical home compost systems do not get hot enough to kill pathogens in poop. (And you definitely don't want to be adding poop compost to your vegetable garden. Ew, ew, ew.)

I did own a dog for a brief period of time a few years back, and we had a Doggie Doo Pet Waste Eliminator. We dug a hole in the ground and buried the bottomless container leaving the hatch aboveground. We just tossed the poop in the hatch and every once in awhile added a non-toxic digester enzyme to break it down. At the time we understood it was safe for the environment, but I've read pro and con arguments on the Internet with the same argument: it doesn't get hot enough to kill bacteria. (But if you aren't going to use it for compost, does it matter? Does it seep into the ground water and pollute it? Will it infect wildlife? Inquiring minds want to know...) We kept ours in a far corner of the yard, and I don't remember any odor. Another thing we tried to do was to let our dog poop in our yard BEFORE his walk, watching where he did it, and then scoop it up right away. That generally eliminated any need for baggie use on our walks.

Cats: We've talked about eco-friendly cat litter before, and you should read the comments from that post if you're looking for some opinions. Basically, cat poop is way more toxic than dog poop (remember how all the pregnancy books said to stay away from kitty litter due to potential toxoplasmosis?) Flushing it is not desirable because water treatment plants can't effectively tackle all of the nastiness in cat poop, which ultimately goes into nearby rivers, streams and oceans. Here in Portland, after our water is treated it goes into the lovely Willamette River. Lots of nasty stuff in there; best not to add to it by flushing cat poop. You wouldn't want to compost it, either.

So your only choice, unless you can toilet train your cat (and apparently this is possible -- weird -- but possible) is to use the litter box and empty it into a plastic bag, which goes into the garbage. One EnviroMom commenter remarked that World's Best Cat Litter was so effective she only needed one bag a month, which reduces garbage can waste.

[UPDATE: As noted in the comments, I apparently lost my mind and contradicted the whole 'no flush' theory by mentioning you could toilet train your cat. As mentioned in the above 'UPDATE' the City of Portland advises residents to throw all pet waste in the garbage rather than flushing it in the toilet. Check with your area water bureau if you are concerned about making the right environmental choice.]

Hamsters, Gerbils, Guinea Pigs, etc.: As I write this I'm babysitting the preschool guinea pig, whom I'm not terribly fond of. (It's those beady red eyes. They follow me... But, I digress.) We change the bedding in Dash's cage once a week at the preschool, so I'm assuming that's what most folks do, too. (They do generate a tremendous amount of poop for such small animals, don't they?) The preschool uses a super-absorbent bedding called Kaytee, and we only need to use a thin layer of bedding over a layer of newspaper to keep the cage stink-free. Kaytee and a brand called Carefresh are both made from reclaimed wood pulp and fibers, which would otherwise have been landfilled.

I have read, however, that rodent bedding and poop are safe and easy to compost, assuming it's made of non-toxic, natural material. You just add it into your home composting bin. Does anyone do this?

Pet waste is a tough subject, and since pets overpopulate many developed nations such as ours, rampant pet poop is actually an environmental threat! It's poop! Lots and lots of poop that needs to be disposed of properly. It's mind-boggling to think of all the poop. (OK, let's face it. Apparently I just really like saying the word poop. Poop, poop, poop.) What are your pet poop challenges? Solutions?

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