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The possibilities are nearly endless for dog owners to dispose of pet waste. Throwing it over one’s fence or putting it in the garbage, however, is not only passé, but with the wealth of research and modern technology available, it is clear there are more efficient and environmentally friendly ways of disposing of Sparky’s little gifts.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a dog, on average, excretes less than a pound of waste per day. Although this amount may seem small, even insignificant by itself, it quickly becomes a problem when multiplied by all the dogs at a single park or a district of parks. For example, the Houston Dog Park Association (HDPA) includes more than 25 dog parks, according to Tiffany Moore, president of the association. She estimates between 250 and 300 dogs visit the largest parks (13 to 18 acres) every day, while roughly 100 dogs frequent the medium-size parks (3 to 8 acres), and about 50 dogs stop in at the small parks (under 2 acres). “Whether you have one Paw Park or a whole legion, the possibility of being overrun with pet waste exists,” Moore relates. HDPA believes strong partnerships with local municipalities and active community groups can greatly reduce pet-waste issues.

A Growing Concern

Pet waste is a known contributor in polluting local water sources. “Pet waste is a contaminant when it gets into the ocean, which is does on a regular basis,” says Laura Kasa, executive director of Save Our Shores. In fact, at one time, the EPA went as far as to classify waste as a “nonpoint source of pollution,” which elevated it to the classification of a toxic chemical. Most municipalities now have enacted ordinances and public-outreach programs in an effort to reduce the damage pet waste can have on the environment. Rain and melting snow are top catalysts for introducing pet waste into lakes, streams and oceans. As pet waste decays in waterways, the released nutrients promote algae growth, which destroys local fish and shellfish populations. Some beach and lake closures also have been attributed to high levels of potentially harmful fecal coliform bacteria.

Besides the environment being affected, pets and humans are susceptible to infection from some of the bacteria and parasites found in pet waste. Infections may occur from drinking or playing in contaminated water, walking barefoot on infected soil, or by coming in contact with flies. Some of the transmittable parasites and bacteria are:

• Campylobacteriosis

• Salmonellosis

• Cryptosporidium

• Toxocariasis

• Toxoplasmosis

Plastic Supermarket Bags

The device of choice for most urban pet owners over the past 20 years for picking up waste has been the supermarket plastic bag. With a bag’s life span at a minimum of 500 years and a high of more than 1,000, a more efficient and environmentally sound tool for containing and removing waste is needed. Several factors are working together to nudge pet owners toward alternatives, for example, big-name retailers charging for plastic bags or simply not providing them anymore. The creation of reusable bags also has contributed to lowering the nation’s demand on plastic bags. However, according to the World Watch Institute, Americans still throw away more than 100 billion polyethylene plastic bags a year.

The Evolution Of Bags

Advancements in plastic-bag technologies over the past 10 years have allowed for the creation of bags that cannot only adequately collect waste, but are biodegradable--and some even have fingers for a better grip! A variety of materials are now utilized to construct modern-day pet-waste bags. In addition, these bags have the ability to decompose in several ways--from oxidation to contact with water and/or microorganisms. Most environmentally friendly bag-waste manufacturers, under controlled testing, have produced bags that decompose in as early as 10 days and as long as 90 days. The rate of decomposition varies depending on the makeup of the bag and where it is left to decay. When garbage receives little air, water or sunlight (decomposing inhibitors), it tends to mummify the waste rather than decompose it. Some items to look for in a quality/eco-friendly biodegradable pet-waste bag are:

• Is 100-percent biodegradable

• Meets U.S. Standard ASTM D6400 and/or ASTM-D6954

• Has scientifically backed data on how the product performs in the field

• Has clearly marked product makeup on the packaging

• Will biodegrade without the aid of chemical additives

• Is compostable, and has a clearly stated date range at which the product biodegrades

• Specifies the environment/conditions for biodegradation to occur.

Just because a product is biodegradable does not necessarily mean it is the best fit for your application. For instance, the EPA’s preferred method of disposal for dog waste is via the toilet. Although the theory is great, it may be a stretch to expect a dog owner to collect the waste and then carry it around for the next three to four hours until he or she returns home to dispose of it. Also, some starch-based products may have a large environmental footprint before pet waste is even put into the bag. Environmental factors--the number of pesticides and fertilizers used to make the base material--can outweigh the end benefit. The key is to look past the catchy slogans and promises of bag manufacturers, and verify their standards and certifications.

Take Out The Trash

Proper and regular disposal of trash receptacles is a must in keeping any dog park safe and presentable. Flies are a known transmitter of bacteria and parasites, and on warm summer days tend to congregate around overloaded trash cans. Routine and (if economically feasible) daily removal of waste can greatly reduce health-related risks, while also improving a park’s image.

Unfortunately, for many dog parks (due to staffing, economic viability and proper training), local landfills are the final resting place for dog waste. Most municipalities have laws governing the disposal of pet waste. However, according to Will Chapman, chairman of Save Our Waterways, many times these laws are not enforced. “Local campaigns in such communities would be likely to get very significant support from residents and responsible dog-owners,” he says. It is important to verify the preferable method of disposal with the local wastewater-treatment plant and solid-waste disposal department.

Composting

Composting dog waste, although the process has its detractors, has spread in popularity in the private sector, and is making inroads into the public domain. Due to possible health issues and misconceptions about composting, the verdict is still out for some. Currently, the EPA does not recommend composting pet waste, but another U.S. agency, the USDA, does. Numerous studies conducted over the past 20 years have shown the validity of composting pet waste. Not only does it save money, energy and landfill space, but it can greatly reduce the possibility of polluting the environment. According to a recent survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers’ Association, there are approximately 77.5 million dogs in the United States, with each dog on average excreting 274 pounds of waste annually, which amounts to over 10.5 million tons of waste that must be processed each year. Dog parks from California to New York have now begun to take up the gauntlet of composting the waste from their parks. If composting is an option for you, the USDA has compiled a thorough guide detailing the ins and outs; it also gives prospective composters a clear idea of the expectations, the supplies needed and possible hiccups. Are you still looking for more information? Numerous Web sites offer a plethora of information and products on composting pet waste. If getting your hands dirty or finding volunteers to tend to the compost pile is not an option, it may be worth calling local pet-waste management companies. Many environmentally conscious companies now offer composting as an option, both on- and off-site.

It is clear the old ways of handling (or rather not handling) pet waste are over. The health of a community and the environment in which we live greatly depend on how we choose to dispose of this waste. With all the recent advancements in pet-waste removal, our choices have become much easier.

Steve Yeskulsky is a CPRP currently working in the parks and recreation industry in Sarasota, Fla. He can be reached via e-mail at syeskulsky@verizon.netThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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