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The 10-Million-Ton Scoop on Poop


There are 78 million dogs living in the United States and they’re dropping 10 million tons of doggy-doo every year. That’s roughly 274 pounds per dog. What happens to all this? Much of it ends up creating a huge pollution problem.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, just two or three days worth of droppings from a population of about 100 dogs can contribute enough bacteria to temporarily close a bay and all watershed areas within 20 miles to swimming and shell fishing.

USA Today reports that 40 percent of dog owners do not pick up after their dogs at all. One study showed as much as 90% of the fecal coliform in urban storm water was of non-human origin, mostly dog.

What can you do? If you want to take care of the problem yourself, here are some directions from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

First the Don’ts:

Don’t leave a dog’s deposits near the curb. It will get washed into local waterways, make the water undrinkable, use up oxygen needed by fish, and cause algae blooms that make the water uninhabitable.

Don’t leave it on your lawn. It may wash into the storm sewer in a rainstorm, with the same consequences. It can be dangerous to kids playing in the yard, and it can also contaminate edibles growing in your vegetable garden.

Don’t add it to your compost pile. The pile won’t get hot enough to kill the pathogens.

Now the Doos:

Throw it in the trash, provided your municipality allows it. A plastic bag, or two, turns out to be the best thing to wrap it in. The goal is to contain the waste in the event of a trash spill or landfill leak. You can also buy corn-based, biodegradable doggie bags.

Use a poop collection service to pick it up from your lawn. This is equivalent to throwing it in the trash, but someone else does it for you.

Flush dog (not cat!) poop away. One of the best ways to dispose of dog poop is flushing it down the toilet. (Cat waste is a different story — see below for why.) If your home is connected to the municipal sewage system, the poop will be sent to the wastewater treatment plant, which will kill the bacteria and rid the water of nutrients and solids before letting it loose on the world. A private septic system will do much the same thing, but make sure yours has the capacity to handle the extra load and confirm with the manufacturer that this is an approved use.

Bury it in your yard. It’s the natural solution. Just check that your water table isn’t too high, in which case the feces could get into groundwater. Locate your holes away from any vegetable gardens, lakes, streams, ditches or wells and dig them at least five inches deep. To pick up the poop, try the biodegradable corn bags mentioned above, which can be dropped in the ground with the poop inside and covered with dirt. The microorganisms in the soil will take it from there.

Install an underground pet waste digester. This inexpensive device, also known as a doggy dooley, works like a small septic system for your pets, with a minimum of hassle for you. If I had a yard, this would be my disposal method of choice.

What about cats? The Environmental Protection Agency says you can flush it down the toilet (minus the litter). That’s generally OK if you have your own septic tank, but the eggs of Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite found in cat poop, may survive the wastewater treatment process and contaminate waterways. Best is to dispose of waste and litter in the trash in sealed plastic bags.

A company called DoodyCalls, that specializes in picking up dog droppings and has franchises in cities all across the country, has put together the following graphic. They’ll be happy to come by and do the job for you: