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Pet waste is raw sewage that can spread disease. Pet waste can contain disease-causing organisms, including roundworms, ringworms, tapeworms, hookworms, Giardia, Salmonella, E. coli, Cryptosporidium, Toxoplasma, and Parvovirus. Even when pet waste looks like it has washed away, many of these pathogens can survive for days, weeks, months, or sometimes even years in soil and water waiting for a host.
People and pets can come into contact with pathogens found in pet waste while playing in grass, walking barefoot, playing sports, gardening, swimming, fishing, or boating. Children are most susceptible, since they often play in the dirt and put things in their mouths or eyes. Infections from pet waste bacteria often cause fever, muscle aches, headache, vomiting, and diarrhea in humans.
High levels of fecal bacteria can also cause closures in commercial shellfish beds and spread illnesses to pets and wildlife. In addition, the nutrients in pet waste can create harmful algal blooms in lakes that turn the water green and cloudy, use up dissolved oxygen, kill fish and other marine life, and make the water unappealing for recreation.
When you're outside on a walk and your dog poops, it's your responsibility to do three things:
And when your pet poops in your own yard, don't let it linger. Pick up pet waste right away if it's going to rain (or is already raining), and pick it up from your entire yard at least once a week regardless of the weather forecast.
Composting doesn't remove the hazardous pathogens from pet waste, and can contaminate the rest of your compost pile.
Most home compost piles don't reach temperatures that are hot enough to kill the hazardous pathogens. Killing E. coli and Salmonella requires extended exposure at 140-degree temperatures. Giardia can survive temperature extremes, chlorination, and drying. Cryptosporidium, Leptospira, Salmonella, and E. coli can all survive for months in feces or soil, and roundworms can survive for up to four years in soil.
Most commercial compost processors also don't reach a temperature high enough to kill the hazardous pathogens, and they don't accept pet waste because it can contaminate the rest of the composted material. So you should keep pet waste out of yard waste bins, too.
The best place for pet waste is in the landfill.
Although the bag may be biodegradable, the pet waste itself is not biodegradable. Do not put it in your compost pile or yard waste bin. Put it in your trash instead.
Biodegradable bags seem like a an eco-friendly option, but in a landfill they often don't break down the way they're supposed to. The biodegradation process will only happen in an oxygen-filled (aerobic) environment. In most cases, landfills are oxygen-free (anaerobic) environments, meaning that the layers and layers of trash that are piled up in the contained space have no room for air to pass through. So what would happen to the biodegradable bag? If anything, any biodegradable plastics that would break apart in the landfill will actually emit methane, a greenhouse gas that is 23 times more potent than CO2.
Rather than biodegradable pet waste bags, we recommend using a bag that contains some recycled content.
Burying pet waste isn't a good idea. Pet waste is a point source of pollution that can spell big trouble for soil and water quality, and even human health if it's buried too close to vegetable gardens or waterways. And burying pet waste doesn't kill the hazardous pathogens found in dog poop like Giardia, Salmonella, and E. coli, and lesser known bacteria like Ancylostoma, Cryptosporidium, and Toxocara canis. And when it gets washed into a waterway, pet waste also has nutrients that can encourage the growth of fish-suffocating algae.
If you are connected to a municipal sewer system, yes...in reasonable amounts. Just make sure you're only flushing the waste, not the bag.
But if you are on a septic system, no. Flushing pet waste can exceed the capacity of your septic system. The contents of your pet's waste, like grass, ash, and hair, can interfere with septic system functions and clog your drain field. And the chemicals used in your septic system are not designed to handle the hazardous organisms found in pet waste.
We want to discourage adding anything to a landfill that could otherwise be recycled, repurposed, or composted. But unlike yards and compost bins, landfills are the only system currently designed to safely handle dog poop. If a safer alternative comes along in the future, we will update our best management practices for pet waste.