Don’t Forget Extra Bags For Those Extra Walks with Your Puppers

Kadafi El-Kardah, Pennsylvania Environmental Council

Life under quarantine has Philadelphians looking for ways to beat boredom and get a change of scenery. For many dog owners, that means taking your pooch on more frequent walks — and dealing with more than the usual amount of dog waste.

Everyone knows that uncollected dog droppings are a nuisance, an eyesore, and a smelly menace to clean shoes everywhere. But they’re also an environmental hazard, disrupting ecosystems and affecting plants, animals, and even human beings in ways that might surprise you.

When left on the ground, dog waste breaks down and washes into the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers, polluting the water with bacteria, parasites and other pathogens. It also releases nutrients that cause excessive algae growth and deplete dissolved oxygen levels in the water, harming aquatic life and often making creeks and rivers appear murky.

In large enough quantities, dog waste pollution can make the water unusable for boating, fishing, and other recreational activities. It’s no wonder the Environmental Protection Agency considers it a major source of water pollution in an urban area.

In light of these facts, it’s disturbing that a substantial number of American dog owners — as many as 40 percent, according to some studies — don’t bother to pick up after their pets. Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s human population keeps growing. More people means more dogs, and more dogs means more poop. If we want to protect our water, it’s time for dog owners to take responsibility.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Clean up after your dog. Take a bag with you on walks. You don’t need a special pet waste bag; a plastic grocery bag works just fine. Turn the bag inside out over your hand and use it like a glove to pick up the waste, then invert again and tie it off until you get home.
  • Dispose of poop properly. Dog waste is best processed the same way as human waste: at a sewage treatment plant. Simply dump the feces from the bag into the toilet and flush; never drop dog droppings in an open storm drain. Storm drains lead directly to our local waterways, and improper disposal can create clogs and degrade water quality.

Sometimes flushing down the toilet is not an option; if that’s the case, toss the bagged waste into a trash can (not a recycling bin — it will only contaminate the contents). Though many gardeners use animal manure as a fertilizer, dog waste is not suitable for composting, so keep it away from your plants. Also, please don’t throw your bags into the woods or bushes.

Even in normal times, cleaning up after your pet is essential to the health of people and all living things in the city. But with more Philadelphians relying on public spaces for safe, socially-distanced exercise and recreation, it’s more important than ever to keep our streets, sidewalks, and trails free of animal waste. During this challenging time, let’s come together and do our part as citizens to keep our communities and watersheds clean and beautiful.