Be kind: pick up after your pets

0314webwastephotoBy Cindy Bablitz

If you haven’t trained your animal companion to pee and poop on the potty the way certain social media memes suggest is possible, let’s face it: you’ve got a messy problem on your hands. Well, hopefully not on your hands … but, until you manage the pet potty training thing, pet poop is going to find its way through someone’s hands.

Dealing with animal waste is a reality for anyone who lives with pets, and in Canada, that’s over half of us. To put in perspective the piles of poop that translates to, consider that just one of the pet waste management companies in Calgary alone drives three heaping pickup truck loads to the landfill … every day.

“There’s a common warning popular in poop scoop marketing content that pet waste is a danger to people and animals because of the bacteria and diseases pet waste can transfer on contact,” says Wayne Gilbart, a.k.a. Big Nate, IT guru and researcher with Calgary-based Poooh Busters.

“But I started to dig a little deeper. While we certainly don’t want to roll around in and track pet poop into our homes, and while the risk of diseased pathogens and bacterias transferring to humans and animals — if indeed unhealthy cellular matter is present in the excreting animal in the first place — the true risk for disease contraction is actually the lesser concern when it comes to pet waste. The main reason for being diligent about keeping our yards and play spaces clear of poop has to do with the environment.”

Again, for a cogent reference point, imagine a single community with 100 dogs pooping two to three times per day. Even over the course of a week, you can imagine the notable quantity of excrement even this small sample population will generate. Now, imagine that it rains, or snows and melts, and understand that, unlike human waste processed in water treatment plants thanks to modern plumbing, any particulate matter leaching from ground-lying excrement will travel directly to and through street level sewage channels … which travel directly to river watersheds.

Certain weeds and algae love that stuff, literally. And in all the natural impulse of that loving copulation, populous legions of river-residing baby weeds and algae are born. Overpopulated water-based plant matter affects light transparency, affecting oxygen concentration in natural waterways … functionally imbalanced water-oxygen levels naturally affect every water-dwelling or water-dependent organism — including humans — and herein is why we need to pick up puppy’s poop.

So what are we to do? Well, if you’re clever in the art of capitalism, you invent biodegradable bags and spend a lot of money marketing the idea that “green” bags are better than nasty plastic grocery bags for the business of dealing with your pets, uh, business. But are biodegradable bags really the solution they’re chalked up to be? A little science suggests not.

Biodegradable is not the same as compostable. Some biodegradable bags combine conventional polymers, (such as polyolefin) with agricultural source materials such as starch which, when they are exposed to the correct conditions of light, moisture, air and temperature for biodegrading to occur, do break down, but unambiguously leave polymer shreds in the detritus. The traditional methodology of landfills — entombing waste — allows for none of the biodegradability we may think we’re buying with so called “green” pet waste bags. Even bags comprised entirely of agricultural materials theoretically compostable can’t compost in the condensed, dark, oxygen poor environment of the underground tombs we know as landfills.

One thing we can be mindful of that Big Nate and other intimate observers of pet poop agree on is that pets fed raw food diets poop less than than their commercial kibble-fed peers; and less poop mean a smaller environmental footprint.

And what about indoor kitty litter cat waste management? Are there better litter compounds, better waste management techniques than others for the environmentally discerning pet companion consumer? Kinda.

Debbie Nelson, executive director and founding member of Calgary-based MEOW Foundation says, “The number one reason to find a cat litter you and your cat both like — and it’s the same reason to keep your cat’s litter box clean, always — is because you want your cat to choose to use the clean litter box intended for the purpose. Otherwise, your cat may decide to go somewhere else. Somewhere else less predictable, less preferable.”

Alternative makers of kitty litter are slowly making appearances on the market, featuring wood or grain-based substrates. They can be pricey. And your cat might not like them. But the options are there. A quick Google search even suggests that, if you can live without the convenience of clumping, chick starter, (chicken feed for baby chickens, economically available from local feed stores) and certain recycled newsprint kitty litters are emerging as less toxic options than traditional litters.

Still, the bottom line, pun intended, is that pet excrement is a sizable waste management issue and, really, there are no functional breakthrough solutions on the market. Actually, this is a legitimate business opportunity for an entrepreneur with deep pockets and a biomedical engineer with the tenacity to overcome some 20 years of experimenting on the matter of fecal matter that, so far, hasn’t yielded particularly sweet conclusions. Apparently it’s harder to convert domestic pet poop into usable methane gas energy than it is to harvest the potential in, for instance, cow poop.

So, until indoor plumbing for cats and dogs becomes a thing, pet lovers are still left holding the bag.