Biodegradable Poop Bags

Some “biodegradable” plastics are more degradable than others ...


By Nancy Kerns

What’s the most environmentally responsible thing to do about dog poop? Home composting systems solve the problem at home; we reviewed one in June 2000, and still use it today. But when you’re out in the world with your dog, you have to use something to pick it up and carry it to a trash receptacle. (Of course, carrying the poop to a composting facility, rather than a trash can, is the most environmentally friendly thing to do; however, few people are motivated enough to do this.)

Many dog owners save plastic bags for picking up and disposing poop. From an environmental standpoint, however, use of all “regular” plastic bags is bad. Using a plastic bag twice still requires its manufacture (with petrochemical products) and landfill disposal. If people used canvas or other reusable bags, it would eliminate untold millions of pounds of waste in our landfills – not to mention visual blight and a hazard to fish and wildlife.

Some people carry a rolled-up newspaper when they walk their dogs, and use that for picking up poop. Newspaper breaks down quickly in landfill, so this seems like a good idea.

But most people like the convenience of a plastic-type bag when they are on the trail, for containing even a sloppy poop – and its smell! Fortunately, there are now bags on the market that offer the convenience of plastic, and the ability to break down in landfill. Of course, they’re not free!

The difference between them
Two types of these “environmental” plastic bags currently exist; one is much more earth-friendly than the other. The first products on the market were described as “biodegradable,” and indeed exhibited the ability to break down physically.

Unfortunately, these polyethylene-based bags fail to break down chemically, and leave a residue of small poly pellets or fragments that can build up in the environment (and are doing just that in our oceans). So, while they don’t have as much potential for causing visual blight or taking up space in landfills as “regular” plastic bags, they aren’t completely benign, either.

Today’s newest “ecopolymers” exhibit the characteristics of total biological degradation, resulting in the total mineralization of the substance into carbon dioxide or methane, water, and humic residues – and no toxic or poly residues in the soil. This is what was defined by the ASTM in 1999 as “compostable” (per ASTM 6400).

We vastly prefer compostable products. Our highest (four-paw) rating goes to the one compostable bag we found; our lower rating goes to degradable products that cannot make the compostable claim.

It’s best to support local health food stores or independent pet supply stores; look for these products there, first. We’ve supplied sources for online or phone purchase, be aware that most charge for shipping.