Attention: Dog Owners

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Published on October 18th, 2010  |  Discuss This Article  

Last week I went to a national pet store chain to pick up some dog bags, and for the third visit in a row, they were out of my favorite biodegradable bags. These bags are made out of cornstarch, which completely decompose in just four months.  In fact, there were no biodegradable bags at all (you know, not even the ones that say they are biodegradable, except as defined by the state of California).

But given that my supply of dog bags under the sink was getting dangerously close to red alert status, I picked up a small package of “regular plastic,” and headed to the cashier.

I remarked to the cashier that the biodegradable bags seem to have gotten more popular since they always seemed to be out of stock recently. Perhaps they needed to get orders in more often?

“Actually we stopped carrying all the biodegradable bags,” she said.

….urrrrrrrrphhh.

Stop the tape. All of them? In 2010? Turns out it wasn’t even just this particular store – it was the entire chain. In a world where it seems like everyone is trying to be greener (or at least make it appear that way), this was something I never would have expected.

[Update: After calling several branches of the chain, no one seems to be able to confirm that it’s a national policy, but none of the stores I called have been carrying them for several months.]

The day after the pet store incident, an article reminded me of just how important cutting our plastic consumption really is. “Researchers fear that such ubiquitous bags may never fully decompose; instead they gradually just turn into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic,” according to the article.

Thoughts of my daily walks with Lucy and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch began to swirl together in my head and it got me thinking:

There are approximately 77.5 million owned dogs in the United States. If each dog uses an average of one plastic bag per day (considering that many use more than that and some dogs have yards in which they can do what they please), that is literally billions of bags per year. Sure, many of those are probably “re-used” from the last trip home from the grocery store, but those bags could have been recycled or never brought home in the first place.

We’ve had the message about using reusable bags at the grocery store hammered home over and over for the last few years. And it seems to have worked — every other person in line at the supermarket seems to be carrying their own tote bags these days. Why would these same people pay money for the same plastic at the pet store that they are rejecting at the grocery store?

We’re taking the most compostable product on earth and wrapping it in something that can take 100 years to break down, and will probably never fully decompose.

Dog owners make up nearly 40 percent of the population in the United States – why are there no anti-plastic campaigns directed toward us? And why is finding biodegradable bags not getting any easier? What can we do to encourage dog owners to pick up after their dogs more responsibly?

What I plan to do is order a jumbo shipment of biodegradable bags made from cornstarch and encourage my dog-owning friends to do the same.  What will you do?

(Photo: Margaret promises she didn’t write this just to be able to share a photo of her dog, Lucy. But it’s a nice bonus. @Darryl Tait.)

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Comments: Attention: Dog Owners

  •  Comment from Kerri

    A good point I have not thought about before! Also, you have an adorable dog.

  •  Comment from Mickey

    We use the mounds and mounds of grocery bags that we’ve collected over the years. Although, that supply is finite since we take our own bags to the store…also not a real problem in the one stop-light town I live in…

  •  Comment from katie

    PETCO.com has a few options

  •  Comment from RoniJoy

    Awesome post!! From where will you be ordering your jumbo shipment of biodegradable bags? I want to order some, too!

  •  Comment from Patricia

    I agree with your sentiments. I’m lucky enough to live in Portland and am able to shop at Green Dog Pet Supply. I used to live in California, so I know how hard it is to find a non-chain per store. Hopefully, you still have online options. It would be a shame to give up your green habits.

  •  Comment from Rhiannon

    At our grocery store (and many others), there is a receptacle at the front entrance where people can return their plastic bags to be recycled. Since we don’t produce our own plastic bags, choosing to shop with reusable ones, we often raid this bin for our poop bags. Not biodegradable, sure, but reusing is good too. Certainly better than buying the specially made plastic poop bags that you just purchased. Check your grocery store, I bet it has the same deal. If not, put a wanted ad on Craigslist or Freecycle requesting used grocery bags.

  •  Comment from Sonja

    I have had a dog for eight months now. I used bread bags and Doritos bags to pick up his poop. Until I started baking from scratch. No more bread bags, but now my newspaper (which I get daily cause then I compost it) has a plastic bag which I reuse for the doggy-doo. I refuse to pay for a bag – biodegradeable or not – to pick up his poop. I plan to call the Master Gardeners to find out how to compost it.

  •  Comment from Kristin

    I like the idea of biodegradable bags, but think about where are we putting them in the end anyway…In the larger plastic garbage bags that also do no readily biodegrade and that then that go in the landfills that have been found to not promote very good biodegradation even for biodegradable materials such as newspapers that were deposited say 50 years ago before recycling was done. I suspect someone may have made this kind of argument.

  •  Comment from Misty

    While we don’t own a dog we do have toddlers. When all else fails check the baby department. They actually carry biodegradable bags to dispose diapers in.

  •  Comment from Richard

    All the city parks where I live have dog bag dispensers that are filled with rolls of Dog Pot biodegradable baggies. Since we hit up the park at least three or four times a week, I usually just snag an extra bag or two from the dispenser each day. That way I always have a small stash at home for when we go other places. I think it’s totally cool that the city 1. provides bags in the first place, and 2. that they go with biodegradable ones.

  •  Comment from Tru Means

    I once wrote an article on the high costs of pet ownership simply to be able to put a picture of my (then) boyfriend and our dog in the paper. It’s OK Margaret. I understand.

  •  Comment from Phil

    I’m considering giving up home delivery of the newspaper solely because it arrives every day in a plastic bag! I give them to my dog owner friends so they don’t have to buy any, but it just seems ridiculous. And before you say anything, I’m too old to read the paper online. Besides I can’t take my computer into the bathroom ;-)

  •  Comment from Katelyn

    I recycle my grocery bags when I have to use them. Digging into that bin at grocery store’s bothers me…they are put in there to be recycled not filled w/ poop and thrown. I use a pooper scooper and I have a small garbage can outside w/ a lid. I empty it into the dumpster every week. Eliminating plastic all together. The smell doesnt bother anyone only as the quick open and close!

  •  Comment from Paul

    I found the same situation at our large pet supply store. Fortunately, we have a fantastic independent pet store in town (Boulder, CO) called “PC’s Pantry” and they are still carrying to biodegradable bags. I’ve also found them online.

  •  Comment from becca

    I have this same dilemma myself. And I live alone so I don’t even have enough bags to “recycle” as poo carriers anyway, so I have to collect them from my friends.

    On the one hand I have always thought, “This poo would degrade in a few days or be washed away in some rain. Why am I preserving it in a bag that won’t break down?” On the other hand, you can’t just leave poo around. It’s rude and unsanitary. On the other (yes, third) hand, bio-degradable bags cost money that I really, really can’t spare at this point in my life.

    I’ve often thought about bringing a spade along and just burying the poo on the spot or bringing a scooper and burying it in my little garden when I get back. After all, the earth knows how to handle poo better than we do.

  •  Comment from jill

    so if no use of plastic bags…..what do you suggest as a livable replacement?? Its not like being able to carry your own totes at the grocery store…..solutions??

  •  Comment from Kris

    Actually Rhiannon taking the plastic out of the recycle bin probably isn’t for the best. Instead of that plastic being re-used to make something other people will continue to make more of whether that plastic is recycled or not you took it out to use and throw away never to be used again and end up in a landfill. Now, to make up for that lack of recycled plastic they will make more, not less. You virtually did the same thing as buying the plastic ones made for it but just didn’t spend the money.

    In the end encouraging the companies to keep carrying the biodegradeables is important and the best option.

  •  Comment from Crystal Haugen

    Biodegradable wast bags & other products of that nature are at…www.Pet Edge.com….I’ve raised hunting dogs my whole life & 6yrs ago I found this Pet Edge,ending up being disable Pet Edge was a blessing I have never found what I need anywhere Cheaper then Pet Edge, you pay Cost for everything No jacked up prices…I promise this place & the money you save will put a Smile on your face & I hope you think of me a fellow Dog Lover ;-)

  •  Comment from Jackie Riley

    I try to remember to take my earth bags when bagging groceries and the check out clerk always seems disgusted. :(

  •  Comment from Mary

    I am able to order large quantities of biodegradable bags on Amazon. I like the regular ones from Pooch Pick-up, as they are non-scented. (Poop is stinky enough – I don’t need powdery smell mixed with it!) Plus, if you’re a Prime member, they ship for free. There are several other choices of biodegradable bags, too, if you prefer a different color, for example. :)

  •  Comment from Sarah M.

    I totall agree! A couple of years ago I fell in love with garden “film” to keep the weeds down in the garden. Same cornstarch biodegradable material. I’m telling you I LOVED the stuff, it was perfect! I prepared to write a gardening and recipe book promoting it, screaming its name from the highest building…

    But no. They discontinued it. I made calls for months. No one seems to want to sell it to me, or the people who would be reading about it in my book. That’s a darn shame.

  •  Comment from Judy F

    Great post, however unfortunate situation! I am quite shocked by the pet store’s lack of concern over a green alternative to dog waste bags. I used to buy them before I bought a house with a yard, and my three dogs poop everywhere in that yard. I like being able to use my scooper to clean up the yard and throw the waste into a compost pile that I only use for ornamental flowers.

  •  Comment from Kara

    I commend you for trying to do the right thing, and I admit there are few options out there. However, just because a piece of plastic is labeled as “biodegradable” does not mean that it really is. All PLA (corn) plastic will biodegrade back to corn starch – BUT only if composted in a commercial-grade composting facility. HEAT is what biodegrades this plastic. If it ends up in the landfill, it just sits like all the other plastic bags.

    Just thought you should know.

  •  Comment from Eve Tai

    Take it to the press! The more we talk about this stuff in a public venue the more commerce will respond. Thanks for the post.

  •  Comment from Anonymous

    whatever happened to the pooper scooper?

  •  Comment from Blake

    Don’t most people throw their dog poop bags in an even bigger plastic bag that gets thrown in a trash truck to be hauled off to a huge pile of even more non-biodegradable material? As if a 200 years from now someone’s gonna sift through our landfills…..for what?

  •  Comment from Bev

    We use biodegradable brown paper bags for our poop-scooping. We leave the bag sit outside and use it till filled. Then it’s discarded in the trash, where it will biodegrade. We don’t use plastic for anything.

  •  Comment from Randy

    REI carries biodegradable doggie bags.

  •  Comment from MCO

    Dog owners pick up after their dogs.. you are kidding right.. and they leash them too.. this must be a joke.. is it April fools day?

  •  Comment from Gary Henrich

    Thanks for the info and love the dog picture. Your dog looks a lot like my boxer Annie. Have a great day. gary

  •  Comment from Einstien

    WTF, use paper.

  •  Comment from Julie Kinnear

    That is really shame that big Pet supply chains don’t think about green options. It is not faddish matter of using biodegradable pet bags, it is a necessity. We have no other options, just to think and act green, because that is the way how to save the Nature…

  •  Comment from Linda

    stop using plastic – pick up poo with a paper towel and put it in a paper lunch bag. :-)

  •  Comment from Todd

    Which national chain did you go to?

  •  Comment from Brad Parker

    Hi Todd,

    I’m Brad Parker and I work here at The Nature Conservancy. I asked Margaret your question and she told me that she was at PetSmart.

    Thanks,
    Brad

  •  Comment from Deb

    Could you tell us the brand of bags you buy? Also, I’ve seen dog poo composters, which I’m considering, but I’m concerned about the smell. Anyone using one?

    •  Comment from Brad Parker

      Hi Deb,

      I’m Brad Parker and I work here at The Nature Conservancy. I forwarded your questions to Margaret. Here’s her response:

      The bags I ordered online were indeed BioBags!

      I’ve never seen a composter myself, but that Park Spark composter was featured in Cool Green Science the other day. Probably pretty impractical for many – the digesters are several hundred gallon drums buried underground!

      Thanks,
      Brad

  •  Comment from Kate

    I purchase my bags from PoopBags.com. The company has its own brand of bags that meets California standards for biodegradability – same as BioBags. Plus, they are made in the USA. Several independent pet supply retailers carry them, too.

  •  Comment from Beth

    Biodegradable doggie bags are available at zolagoods.com. They are made from non-GMO corn byproducts – so they are completely biodegradable and even pass CA’s standards.

  •  Comment from bonnikir

    Time to stop shopping at that pet store chain. Large corporations/retailers need to wake up!
    Your doggie is adorable!

  •  Comment from Heather

    Cutest photo ever!

  •  Comment from karen

    I bought a ton of Biobags at once online; several sites sell them. My dog uses @4 a day. It is annoying to pay money for poop bags but I’d rather do that than wrap the poop in material that will never disintegrate.

    I used to live in a rural town without a poop pick-up law and it was nice to be able to let the poop lie (I’d push it into the woods with a stick so no one would step in it).

  •  Comment from Steve Savage

    OK, think about this. Where do these little bags of poo end up whether they are degradable or not? They go to the landfill, right? There the excrement is converted to methane and/or nitrous oxide. From a carbon footprint point of view, that is a much bigger deal than the bags.

  •  Comment from Steph

    More poop talk; the truly biodegradable bags are spendy so I “line” one with magazine pages, then I toss the paper-wrapped poop & re-use a bag as long as I can.

    Besides basic hygiene & general consideration in urban areas, my understanding is that we bag the stuff so it doesn’t end up in high concentrations in our lakes etc.

  •  Comment from Laura

    One thing I do is collect whatever my dog deposits in the fenced backyard, which is at least half of his output, in a trowel and flush it in a low flow toilet and with other flushables to save water.

  •  Comment from Carol Hyland

    There is a website called ecoproducts.com and they cary all types of biodegradable bags. This would be an alturnative to getting them at the pet store. It would cost a bit more because you have to pay for shipping, but worth ti.

  •  Comment from Anonymous

    There are small-scale poop-composters available from sites like drs foster and smith
    Just have to dog slightly deeper than the length of the composter. The only issue is that these are not appropriate for clay soil, which we have.

    We have a yard where our three dogs do their thing-we use one plastic bag to clean it all up and pop it in a brown paper bag which goes straight into the outdoor trash. We figured it’s more likely to decompose that way. For walks, we have all our dispensers outfitted with biodegradable bags we order online.

  •  Comment from Andy

    Evidently the grocery shopping bags degrade quicker than the “green” reusable bags….good work John Dee !!!

  •  Comment from corinne

    I still buy a daily newspaper and it comes in a plastic sleeve almost every day in our rainy climate. I stockpile these bags, including the ones from the TNC office, to use for my dog’s waste. He’s little so I can use the Sunday paper-size bag multiple times.

  •  Comment from Carol

    I do not have a dog but friends of mine do. Some of those newspaper bags are degradable. My sister crochets those plastic bags into tote bags and several have disintegrated so they must be degradable. Further you can cut a gallon milk/juice container (so it has a handle) into a scoop and pick up the waste and flush it when you get home.

  •  Comment from JAnet

    We have a Doggie Dooley composter which works really well. Had to dig a hole bigger than the composter and put in a couple of inches of gravel. Tried to teach the dogs to step on the foot pedal to raise the lid before they use it, but they never have caught on. Of course when we’re away from home, we still have to scoop and carry it in something. !

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