I was walking in one of my local parks this week with one of my dogs and I was amazed at the amount of dog poo that was left on the floor. And I’m not talking about a few little bits here and there. I mean there were 10 -15 deposits on the path on the grass all over the place. In fact only around 60% of dog owners pick up their dogs poo. It was pretty disgusting. Of course my dogs wanted to go and see every little piece, so it was also quite a distraction. The stupid thing about this was that the dog poo bin that the council had supplied was only a few metres away. They had even supplied poo bags, Crazy!
How much poo is there? Last year in the US it was estimated that on average there were 10 million tonnes of dog poo binned in public places every year? And probably just as much, if not more left on the ground. I’m sure we would see a comparable amount in New Zealand. People know that they should pick up their dogs poo, after all it is actually illegal to leave it there, but the fines are pretty small around $200-$300 and hardly ever enforced that I know of.
Plastic is a problem. Adding to the problem now is the fact we are much more plastic conscious and using a one use plastic bag for shopping has been banned in many areas. So to pick up dog poo using a plastic bag is almost seen as a bad thing and in some countries is illegal! In fact I have had this discussion with many people, quoting that leaving the poo on the floor is actually better for the environment than putting it in a plastic bag?
Surely if I leave it on the foor it will get washed away!
Let’s leave it on the floor. So is it better for the environment if we leave our dogs poo on the floor? Well the short answer is NO. Dog Poo, due to the fact they are carnivorous animals, is very different to Cattle,Sheep or horses which get left on the ground all the time. It contains high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus as well as many nasty viruses, bacteria and other pathogens such as E.coli, Giardia, Salmonella, whipworms, hookworms, tapeworms, roundworms, parvo, corona, cryptosporidiosis and campylobacteriosis. In fact a single gram of dog poo can contain upto 23 million bacteria. Many of these pathogens are Zoonotic which means they can spread and be caught by people. In the US dog poo is categorized as a harmful pollutant in the same category as insecticides, herbicides, and oils.
Where does it all go? When dog poo is left on the ground or the curb side it finally gets washed away either into the ground or into the drains. So it’s gone yep, job done. But what actually happens is that it finds its way into our water systems either natural or man-made. Recent studies in the US have shown 20-30% of the bacteria found in urban water storage is originally from dog waste. It has been estimated that 2 days worth of dog waste from 100 dogs left on the ground would be enough to close a beach and all water areas in a 20 Km radius. And I don’t even want to think about the effect that could have on aquatic life as this is also happening in New Zealand?
Doggy DNA Profiling. In some countries the problem has become so bad that the local authorities have employed dog poo detectives, using the latest scientific research technique to catch the canine culprits. In Israel and some parts of Ireland all registered pet dogs have their DNA recorded through Saliva collection. It’s illegal to refuse the sample collection and could result in fines or prosecutions. Sample of poo found on the sidewalk are analyzed and DNA tested. If they find a match then you get a letter from the Dog Police with a hefty fine of upto $5000.
So what do we do with it? Using compostable bags to pick up your dogs poo might sound like a good idea, but actually it can cause more problems further down the line. Most bagged dog poo ends up in a landfill, the ones in the compostable bags also end up there and they compost very quickly releasing all the nasties into the landfill. Landfills are not composting places so this can present a serious issue. There are a few composable programs running but not enough.
In Toronto they have come up with very inventive ideas. Digesting biomass, poo or otherwise can be used to produce energy. They have been running many experiments with collected dog waste being placed in giant anaerobic digesters. They have built a large underground methane digester underneath the dog park which can handle about 200 dogs worth of poo a day, and produce energy at the same time. In San Francisco they plan to build one that can handle the city’s organic waste and over 120,000 dog’s waste.
Colorado composting dog poo trials.
With more and more dogs being bought in New Zealand isn’t it time that we started investing in environmentally friendly ways of disposing of our doggy doo.