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How to sustainably manage pet waste

Let’s face it, our pets sometimes live a better life than we do. They get the best treats, toys and spots in the bed. You told everyone when you got your puppy that he would be sleeping in his kennel and not on your bed. Flash forward to today where he’s cuddled up next to you on his side of the bed and the kennel has become a piece of storage furniture. They all live the life of luxury, with us even having to clean up their waste. 

That’s right I’m talking about the pee and the poop that is left for us lowly humans to deal with. While I’m sure we have all seen the videos of cats and even some dogs being trained to use the toilet (sometimes even flushing), I think most of us find this a little strange and will continue to pick up after them the old fashioned way . And while the actual waste that your pet produces is quite harmful to the environment, so can the method of disposal. 

Their poop is filled with pathogens and bacteria that can cause some serious health problems for the environment which in turn affects us humans. As pet waste breaks down, it releases toxins and harmful pathogens into the environment, most commonly into the groundwater system. Protecting groundwater from contamination should be the main motivation for cleaning up after your pet, besides the fact that it is also just unpleasant to see pet waste all over. From your kitty, to your puppy, and your bunny, there are green solutions that will help keep our environment healthy while keeping your house clean.  

Here are some tips on dealing with the dirty part of owning a dog in a way that also protects the environment. 

Dog Waste 

Dogs. Cute, lovable and never short on entertainment. One of the first tricks we teach dogs is to not use the inside of the house as a toilet and after a few accidents, they catch on. But your lawn may suffer the consequence of burn spots from the high concentration of nitrogen in dogs pee. Combine that with the little bombs they like to leave everywhere and you have quite the backyard mess. 

To help reduce the amount of yellow spots caused by your dogs pee, try these steps: 

  • Pick a designated spot to be your dog potty area. This ensures that your dog is only going to go in one place, reducing the spread of pee spots across your yard.
  • Dilute with water. If you are out with your dog while they’re doing their business, dilute the area after they’re finished with water. By doing this, the high concentration of nitrogen and salts are diluted, becoming less concentrated and causing less damage.
  • Use gravel as a filter. By replacing the area for your dog to use with gravel, you reduce the chance of yellow spots on your lawn because there isn’t any grass to react to. You can also buy special gravel that filters the pee, making it less harmful to the environment. 

To help keep the environment safe from the pathogens residing in your dog’s poop follow these tips:

  • Use compostable bags that are made of natural materials (paper is best).
  • Another option is to compost it in your backyard composter. However this requires either very high (73℃) constant heat or the use of an enzyme to help break down the pathogens. If you are able to compost it, it is also not recommended that you use this compost on your vegetables as it could still contain some bacteria that could be passed on to your vegetables and onto you.
  • If you don’t have a backyard composter that is capable of handling pet waste, there are pet waste digesters that can be purchased as a way to cycle the waste back into the soil. This involves the use of a container, some water and digestive enzymes that will break down the waste into components that are not harmful to the environment. Check them out here

Cat Waste 

When talking about cats, I find people either really like them or they don’t at all. Which I am sure pleases all cats around the world, being able to be a part of such a contentious issue. There are some legends and mythologies that say cats were once thought of as gods, they even have a whole Broadway musical created for them. Either way, here we are still doing everything we can to please them because, let’s face it, when your cat does come snuggle up next to you, it’s a pretty great feeling.

Here are some tips for dealing with the not so regal part of owning a cat while also keeping the environment in mind: 

  • Kitty litter is an important part of owning a cat and much of it is made from clay. This clay is often stripped mined from the earth, causing enormous plots of vegetation, soil and rock to be stripped away, making it impossible to remediate the site. Not to mention that due to all the other processing that the clay goes through, it ends up not actually being able to be broken down in the environment. Nowadays there are many different biodegradable options to choose from that will break down in the environment, providing a more environmentally friendly option. Here are just a few of the alternatives available:
    • Pine 
    • Grass seed
    • Wheat
    • Walnut 
    • Paper
  • When cleaning out your kitties litter box, use a compostable bag, like the ones mentioned above for dogs. This way as the bag breaks down, the waste will have a chance to as well. Conventional plastic bags take a long time or sometimes never decompose, which essentially creates mummified poop bags in our landfills. Gross! 
  • While litter liners are a convenient way to keep your litter box clean, it adds to our plastic waste problem. Due to the contamination and use of the liners, they are not recyclable, so they will just be tossed into the landfill to sit for thousands of years. 
  • It is recommended that you replace your cat’s litter box once a year due to the wear of scratching and the possible development of bacteria in the box. If you must replace your litter box, try buying a higher quality one or one made of bamboo that you may get more use out of. Also try recycling your old box into an oil pan in the garage or a garden planter for your yard. 

Critter Waste 

Little critters like birds, hamsters and bunnies create a surprisingly large amount of waste for being such little bodies. They can help to lower your food waste by feeding them the scraps from your vegetables if you don’t have a composter. However, feeding all those vegetables creates little bitty waste nuggets that are left behind in the shavings or other bedding of your critters cage. Which if not cleaned regularly can lead to one smelly mess. 

Here are some tips for cleaning your critters home while also protecting the wild critters homes: 

  • Luckily in the small critter world there are lots of environmentally friendly bedding options. Everything from recycled paper and corn cob to compressed straw. As with anything claiming to be eco friendly, make sure you do your research before purchasing and not fall victim to greenwashing. 
  • Because most small critters eat a vegetarian diet AND because their bedding is often made of natural sources, you can throw dirty bedding into your compost piles. Some bedding may have some antibacterial components to control smell which could slow the compost process.  If you don’t have access to a backyard compost, empty the waste into a compostable bag and put it in your garbage bin. 

Although our furry friends are cute and bring a lot of joy to our lives, there is the dark and dirty side to owning a pet and having to clean up after them. Conventional practices are to throw out the waste in a plastic bag, where it will sit for eternity in our landfill. With a few small changes, you can help keep your home and yard clean from any doo-doo, but can also help keep harmful pathogens out of our environment. Next time you’re at the pet store, try looking at the packaging of the litter, bedding or poo bags to find the best environmentally friendly options that works for both you and the environment.