For those wishing to reduce the environmental impact of dog waste, there’s one thing you should never forget when you take your dog on a walk… That’s right, the poo bag. There’s not necessarily much rhyme or reason to when our dear dogs will do their business, but there’s nothing quite as awkward as being caught bagless on a morning walk. Shall I use that leaf over there?
The poo bag. An indispensable tool for any dog walker. But have you properly considered the environmental impact of dog waste for the planet? Today, we’re taking a closer look at this trusty doggie bag to assess the environmental impact of dog waste and doggie bags and what we should do about it.
It will come as no surprise that using 2-3 poo bags per day, commonly made from plastic, isn’t doing the environment any favours. With around 13 million dogs in the UK alone, that’s almost 40 million bags a day – close to 15 billion a year! Over the course of an average 13-year lifespan for a dog, the individual figure is up to 15,000!
But, are plastic poop bags really that bad? Let’s take a small detour to look at the material used.
Plastic – how bad is it?
Plastic has become one of the world’s most popular materials. It’s cheap, light and easy to shape. In fact, that’s why plastic is called plastic! It literally means something that’s ‘soft’ or ‘kneadable’. But plastic is also extremely durable. It stays strong year after year, resisting decomposition. That makes it great for many applications, but not so great for the environment!
Nowadays, (micro)plastic waste is polluting ecosystems and environments world over. It’s gotten into our rivers, our oceans and our food. Take the instance of this poor turtle which pooped ‘pure plastic’ for six days after washing up on the beach.
But it’s not just at the end of the plastic life-cycle that this material creates problems. Plastic is made from oil, which when it’s extracted from the ground causes great environmental damage. Drilling disrupts local habitats, polluting flora, fauna and local communities. In the process, millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere, contributing in no small way to global warming. It’s because of this that massive oil companies such as ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Chevron are the biggest emitters of carbon globally, which they do whilst making billions in profit.
So, with billions of plastic poo bags used every year in the UK alone, those of us hoping to reduce the environmental impact of dog waste will be looking for alternatives! That said, it’s not just the plastic that we need to focus on. We also have to consider the other substance in our plastic poo bags – the poo itself! Let us explain…
The environmental impact of dog waste
Whilst it’s tempting to think of faeces as pure organic matter that just naturally decomposes, the faeces and urine our dogs produce should be considered with a little more scrutiny.
For starters, each of our dogs produce a lot of the brown and yellow stuff. Researchers have calculated that the average dog produced 0.2 kilograms of poo and 0.4 litres of urine each and every day.
Let’s put those numbers in perspective again. For the UK’s 13 million dogs, that adds up to about 1 million tonnes of poo each year – equivalent to pooing the weight of 100 Eiffel Towers every single day, and 2 billion litres of urine, the equivalent of filling 2 Olympic-sized swimming pools every single day. Over a 13 year lifespan, this comes to almost 1000 kilograms of faeces and 2000 litres of urine for an individual dog. And all this bodily waste has to go somewhere!
Of course, you might be thinking: doesn’t this waste all become fertiliser? Sadly, the truth is that dog faeces can have quite the opposite effect on the natural environment. According to a Belgian study published in 2022 which examined the impact of dog waste in 4 nature reserves found that the flora and fauna suffered greatly due to the phosphorus from dog faeces and nitrogen from their urine. Their research calculated that each dog produced 11 kilograms of nitrogen and 5 kilograms of phosphorus per hectare per year – an amount that is simply too much for our ecosystems to handle.
The outcome? These researchers have urgently recommended that dog poop should always be picked up, even in the wildest parts of nature, and that to reduce the environmental impact of dog waste, dog owners should try and avoid their dog urinating against every tree and bush out there!