Of late, my nightmares are not made up of the usual, expected villains (you know--people chasing me, strange animals, old boyfriends, etc.), but rather are comprised of a chorus of voices asking one piercing question: "But what about my dog's poop?".
The question inevitably arrives at the end of a reusable bag pitch and is especially devastating because it's only asked after someone is totally on board with the reusable bag issue, but has one very real, smelly problem. Up until now, I've only been able to give lame, wishy-washy answers, like "Um, I'm still working on that one..." So I figured it was high-time to confront the issue straight on and do some serious research. And I'll just say it now: There is not one, easy, monolithic solution. But like many challenges we face, the answers are more like patchwork that take a bit more effort and thought what we've been used to (in this case, using the "free" plastic bags from the grocery store). Here are some ideas, with the goal of still reducing our overall disposable bag intake. They are listed in order from least to most radical...For those of you who aren't dog owners, please pass this info along to friends who are!
BECOME A BAG COLLECTOR
I'm learning that, like me, lots of well-intentioned people have been stashing plastic bags away in a drawer because it just didn't feel right to toss them. These already-in-circulation bags are a gold-mine for dog-owners! Tell everyone in your office that you're willing to take all those unwanted bags off their hands. If even a few people have a stash like mine, you'll be set for months...or who knows, years! And you're doing others a favor by making use of their saved bags, so that they can feel free to go reusable.
GET CREATIVE WITH YOUR PLASTIC
While many people are religious about reusing plastic grocery bags for various household purposes, we tend to overlook the other kinds of plastic bags that we end up with. Think newspaper bags, the plastic liners inside cereal boxes, the bags that wrap junk mail, bread loaf bags, toilet paper packaging. Lord knows we could probably heat our homes with all the packaging we end up with just after a trip to the drug store, so start salvaging those less-utilized nuggets of plastic gold. Reuse everything!
There is an emerging industry of "bioplastics" attempting to address the petroleum-based (polyethylene) plastic problem. These bags are made out of various vegetable starches, oils, and soy. Their usefulness is that they biodegrade in a landfill, thus offering a solution to our more ubiquitous never-biodegrading plastic friend. The problem that "bioplastics" doesn't solve is the one of resource-intensive production. Like their polyethylene counterparts, they still seem to require large amounts of water and energy in their manufacturing. They might also increase mono-cropping and use of toxic fertilizers. And, just as we're seeing with the emerging bio-fuel trend, using food for non-food production purposes tends to drive up the prices of crops. Are the problems associated with them worse than with regular plastics? Probably not, but with all this in mind, I can't offer biodegradable bags as "the" solution for our poopy problem. But as a part of an overall "patchwork" strategy, they could ease your polyethylene burden. They are available at many natural food stores and can be bought here.
MOVE BEYOND THE BAG
Remember I said these ideas are moving toward most radical, so with that in mind, what about using non-bag pooper scoopers? This is especially for those of you with yards who don't have to tote the poop with you on a long hike. What about newspaper, old magazine pages, cereal boxes? If it's going straight from your backyard to an outdoor trashcan, there should be no problem utilizing some other piece of household garbage that was headed for the trash anyway, right?
This one if for those seriously committed to addressing the problem of animal waste. Yes, you can compost dog poop, but not with your food compost and not to be used on any plants you will actually be eating from your garden. Learn all about it here. On a side note, I need to point out that leaving poop on the ground wherever your baby happened to go is NOT an environmentally safe option. It will get absorbed into soil via rain or simply time, and we definitely don't want those microbes mixed into our water supply. Remember, this is just a local version of how e. coli gets spread by farm animals into our food and water supplies. But, composting it IS a good and simple solution, so let me know how that goes.
ADOPT ANOTHER DISPOSABLE ISSUE
As we've seen, there are definitely viable alternatives to using plastic bags for our poopy problem. But for most people, there will inevitably be some plastic bag usage involved. So while dog owners may not be able to go totally reusable on the bag front, all the more reason to get reusable in other areas. You could have a strict "no plastic water bottles" rule or be religious about always getting coffee in your refillable mug...Offset your plastic bag usage by reducing your eco-footprint in other ways, like drive 10 fewer miles a week. The possibilities are endless! (Check my archives for other ideas!). Let me know how these ideas work, and if you are taking other measures to address the poo problem.
Want to know more about "greening" your pet? Read Treehugger's ideas. There's info for you cat people too.
UPDATE: Here's what my dad has to say about his solution (that's his pup Ruthie, above--adorable, ain't she?): "What I do---in case you want to know---is on my runs, I am on the lookout for bags, and believe it or not, I always find some that are blowing around, stuck in fences, trees, ands so on. I therefore pick up Ruth's poop and take a tacky bag out of circulation at the same time." Go, Papa! Also, just read on No Impact Man's site that he picks up something off the top of a trashcan and uses that to do the business. If he can be "No Impact Man" and still have a dog, we can all find alternatives ways to scoop the poop!