Pet Waste, Composting and Compostable Dog Waste Bags
There are several companies out there now that market compostable bags for pet waste. So let’s examine this issue.
In order for something to decompose, it requires organic matter, water (moisture), oxygen and bacteria. The University of Illinois has a really great set of articles on “The Science of Composting for the Homeowner”, http://web.extension.illinois.edu/homecompost/science.cfm. In this section, the author goes into great detail about the types of bacteria that are beneficial to compost piles. It is quite scientific, but gives a real understanding of composting. Under the materials section, the homeowner is cautioned about composting dog waste or adding dog waste to any compost pile that might be used on human consumables.
On the other side of the coin, the USDA takes the position that composting dog waste can be done, although the precautions necessary to accomplish this successfully as numerous. If you want to read more from the USDA go to: ftp://ftp-fc.sc.egov.usda.gov/AK/Publications/dogwastecomposting2.pdf. Here are a few of the excerpts from that article that should make the novice and even the experienced composter hesitant to try their hand at composting dog waste.
“All compost contains mold and fungus spores which may cause an allergic response in sensitive individuals.
Keep animals, particularly puppies and pregnant females, away from the compost area to prevent transmitting any disease to other dogs, livestock, and wildlife.
Dogs can transmit diseases to humans regardless of whether you are petting a dog or shoveling waste into a compost bin. Children can be at greater risk because they frequently put their hands and other items in their mouths.
REMEMBER—The best way to decrease health risks associated with dog waste is to have healthy dogs.
Follow a worming schedule developed by a veterinarian familiar with local conditions.
Health risks vary depending on the climate, so ask a local veterinarian to recommend a parasite control program suitable for your area.
Although there are many potential pathogens, the primary agents for disease are roundworm eggs.
They are too small to see with the human eye. Dogs become infected with roundworms by swallowing the eggs in soil where other dogs have defecated.
Infected female dogs pass on roundworms to their puppies. Roundworm eggs hatch in the dog’s intestine, migrate through the liver and lungs and return to mature in the intestine. The adult roundworm lays eggs which are passed on to the soil, thus completing the life cycle.
If humans ingest the eggs, they hatch in the intestine and migrate to other body tissue like lungs, liver, and spinal cord.
The larvae can even attack the retinas in the eye.
In certain geographical areas, other parasites may be a problem. One tapeworm (Enchinococcus sp.) found in remote regions can produce life-threatening cysts if ingested.
Disease transmission from most parasites one might encounter when composting dog waste can be avoided by not coming in contact with the eggs.
Do not compost waste from dogs showing signs of disease or illness. This waste should be disposed of in another manner.”
Decrease health risks by:
“Wearing rubber gloves and always washing hands after handling dogs or dog waste
Confining dog waste to a specific area
Not including waste from unknown dogs
Keeping dog waste tools and clothing separate from other tools and clothing
Not feeding dogs raw meat or fish
Do not allow children to play in areas where dog waste compost has recently been applied
Consulting a veterinarian about a parasite control program for your area
Not applying dog waste compost to crops intended for human consumption.”
Although the USDA does contend that dog waste can be composted, the above referenced warnings gives some concern.
So what does this all have to do with compostable dog waste bags? The State of California has been legislating lately against plastic bags, even those labeled biodegradable. In a few California communities, commercial composting sites have opened. An even fewer of those composting facilities are accepting dog waste. The purpose of compost bags is to become part of the compost pile because the bags are manufactured with products that would normally be included in the pile. And that is all well and good. But if you go back to some of the precautions mentioned above by the USDA, and given that there are so few composting facilities that actually accept dog waste, why use compostable bags? If your community does not have a composting facility that accepts dog waste then those waste filled compost bags presumably end up in a landfill and they will not degrade faster than bio-based bags because the conditions for compost degradation are not present in the landfill. In addition, the cost of these compost pet waste bags is very high. Although, in theory, it might make us feel better to collect dog waste with a compostable bag, the reality is that the bag is going to end up in the same place as a bio-based bag. In the rare instance that a community actually has a compost pile that accepts dog waste, you want to make sure that proper procedures were precisely followed, otherwise the ramifications could be serious to humans, and animals alike.