We’re at the tail end of poop month(s), which is appropriate because we’re going to wrap up with a couple of dog-related posts. Dogs are wonderful companions who provide years of unconditional love. They also produce a lot of waste; with a large breed like a Great Dane, make that a LOT of waste! Everyone knows that the right thing to do is to pick up after your dog. But it’s also the right thing to do to not add to the planet’s plastic burden. So how can a pet parent do the right thing without breaking the bank?
Pet parents such as myself think they’re saving money and may even think they’re on the eco-friendly side by reusing plastic shopping bags. The problems in logic there, though, are numerous. The cost for those plastic bags, up to five cents per bag, is passed on to the customer, so we do actually pay for those bags. And we pay twice, since disposing of plastic bags costs taxpayers up to 17 cents per bag. Also, those plastic shopping bags end up in our landfills where they take up to 1,000 years to break down into tiny, still-toxic particles. Of course there are other issues surrounding plastic bags, such as the fact that they are made from a non-renewable resource, are very difficult to recycle and often clog or damage recycling equipment, and more. A good resource to both get more information about plastics and to take action is www.5gyres.org. And to read about one city’s campaign to end plastic bag usage, check out www.greenbagcampaign.org/faq, where there’s a lot of good information about what’s been done in other countries and cities and how it’s worked out.
The best solution, of course, would be to not bag the poop at all (the subject of our next post). However, when away from one’s home waste disposal system, that may not be possible. So what’s the (environmentally) best bag for the money?
We searched high and low for poop bags, narrowed the field to five, and then selected three representative brands to compare: a brand of “conventional” plastic dog poop bags called Bags on Board (www.bagsonboard.com), Green N Pack Eco Friendly Dog Poo Bags (www.green-n-pack.com), and BioBag (www.biobagusa.com/index.htm).
At the time of our research, Bags on Board, our measuring stick for conventional plastic poop bags, cost six cents per bag. These bags seemed to have the most length (14 inches) of any of the poop bags we compared, but they did seem thin. For some who are especially averse to the feeling of picking up the pup’s “gift,” bag thickness is important. However, we couldn’t find any thickness measurement either on the Bags on Board packaging or online. BoB offers a scented variety, which some of our reviewers liked. Some, though, said the scent is too strong and “is worse than the poo.” And, of course, they have all the environmental impacts of any plastic product.
Green N Pack were five cents per bag and are billed as biodegradable. This is where the consumer gets into tricky territory, especially since the price is so similar to conventional plastic poop bags. In reality, all plastic is “biodegradable,” meaning that it can be broken down, over time, by microbes. So the key with plastic bag products is to look for a phrase like “ASTM D(some numbers)-compliant.” Green N Pack bags are ASTM D6954-compliant (www.astm.org/Standards/D6954.htm). That basically means that they break down into sometimes microscopic pieces, but never completely and, some would argue, safely assimilate back into the environment, just like any other plastic bag. The difference is that metal salts have been added to the plastic to accelerate the process, so instead of taking decades or even centuries to break down into sub-visible pieces, they get to that stage within around 2-18 months. So they can still cause many of the same wildlife and water resource contamination as “regular” plastic. Then there’s the potential for heavy-metal pollution from the metal salts (e.g. lead and cobalt). Additionally, the degradation process requires oxygen, so one of these bags buried in a landfill is not going to break down very quickly at all. Finally, since light and heat are two other elements that allow this type of plastic product to degrade, there is always the possibility of shelf-life issues. Green N Pack’s large bags are .9 mils thick, but be aware that the medium ones are .7 mils thick.
The last bag we looked at was the BioBag. At .92 mils thick, it wins for least amount of “poo feel.” It’s slightly shorter (13.8 inches) than the Bags on Board bags, but it’s also 1.8 inches wider, so it’s not hard to position the waste at the bottom of the bag and still have plenty of room to tie it off. The best thing about BioBags, though, is that they’re ASTM D6400-compliant (www.astm.org/Standards/D6400.htm). What that means, in very basic terms, is that the bags are compostable, not just biodegradable. They contain no polyethylene (“regular” plastic) and are made mostly from plants such as corn—and non-GMO plants at that (www.novamont.com/default.asp?id=504)! So if you threw one of these bags (BioBags also sells kitchen waste bags) on your compost pile, it would compost at about the same rate as anything else you’d toss in the pile and truly biodegrade completely, not just break down into microscopic pieces of still-toxic plastic.
The BioBags are the most expensive option of the three at around 13 to 15 cents a bag, but we were able to find them at 11 cents a bag by buying 1,000 bags. Buying that many bags at a time, however, could lead to the same sorts of shelf-life issues that all biodegradable bags have if they’re not stored properly in a cool, dark place. The box itself says, “For best results, use BioBags within 1 year of purchase.” If you don’t have a home dog waste disposal system, you might use two or three bags a day, making the 1,000-bag quantity doable. Otherwise, consider sharing the cost with a friend. That way, you’ll get the bags cheaper, but you won’t have more bags than you can use in a year.
Hopefully, this information will give you a starting point for making an informed decision because, as with any other “green” product, poop bag packaging that says “environmentally friendly” may not provide the full story. Happy scooping!