By Daphne Saloomey
Friday, August 2, 2019
Stew Leonard Jr., the president and CEO of Stew Leonard's, and his daughter Blake are among many kissing single-use plastic bags goodbye as a result of the statewide tax that went into effect Thursday, Aug. 1.
Supermarket shoppers may be adapting to the statewide plastic bag tax that took effect Thursday, but are dog owners ready?
The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection says 30 percent of Connecticut households own dogs. Those that re-purpose plastic grocery bags as poop collectors might soon lose access to their never-ending supply. While there’s not an outright ban, Connecticut consumers are now being charged 10 cents for each single-use plastic bag.
There are alternatives, though.
Among the simplest is buying dog waste bags, which are readily available. Laura McMillan, director of communications for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment and Save the Sound, suggests reusing other plastic bags that have not been taxed, such as those used for meat or produce bags.
“Continuing to pick up dog poop is really critical,” McMillan said. “A lot of people think it’s OK to leave it on the ground because they think it’ll get absorbed the next time it rains, or they toss it in a storm drain, thinking it’ll go to a waste treatment plant.”
While there is some logic in both of those tactics, ultimately they are harmful to the environment, McMillan said. Dog waste can contain pathogens that are harmful to both humans and the ecosystem.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exposure to dog poop can cause diseases such as tapeworm and campylobacteriosis, a diarrhea-inducing infection, in humans.
Bacteria from dog poop can also seep into the ground and into waterways, resulting in elevated pathogen levels at Connecticut beaches. Nitrogen from the waste that gets washed into the Long Island Sound can cause algae blooms which deoxygenate areas of the water, McMillan said.
A matter of manners
Collecting dog poop is not just an environmental issue.
“It’s part of being a good neighbor to pick up after your pet,” said Louis Rosado Burch, the Connecticut program director for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment and an advocate for a plastic bag ban.
Scooping is also the law in some municipalities — including Bridgeport, Danbury, Norwalk and Stamford — and violation can be punished by fines ranging from $50 to $150.
“We don’t view the bag (tax) as a barrier to everyday folks being able to pick up after their pets,” Burch said.
The bag tax might even spur dog owners to pursue more environmentally friendly collection methods that avoid using plastic.
“When you look at the old slogan of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ that’s actually a hierarchy,” Burch said. “We should be reducing and the plastic bag is a low hanging fruit — it’s easy to replace with something else.”
The most sustainable method is to use some sort of tool, a shovel or pooper scooper, for example, to collect the waste and flush it down the toilet.
Though many agencies, including Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, advise against flushing cat litter, disposing of dog waste in this manner is EPA approved and eliminates plastic use.
This method, however, only works in certain scenarios. Lugging a shovel on a long walk, for instance, is not as manageable as using one to clean up after a dog in the yard.
Breaking it down
Distance walkers might instead consider eco-friendly bags made out of bio-materials such as corn and vegetable oils.
When searching for these products, the distinction between biodegradable and compostable is an important one. Biodegradable bags are designed to break down naturally, but often there is no guarantee that they will do so quickly.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, biodegradable products are supposed to break down in one year, but some companies make the claim even if their products do not fit the criteria. In 2015, the FTC sent warnings to 20 dog waste bag manufacturers for making what the agency said were deceptive environmental claims.
It is generally safer to go for compostable bags, which are required to meet federal standards.
Still, Burch said, “It’s important that people understand (compostable bags are) designed to break down in certain conditions, like in a composting facility. Consumers can’t just dispose of them outside.”
While using compostable bags is acceptable, adding dog poop to a personal compost pile is not.
“Adding the waste of any animal that eats meat is an absolute no,” said Carol Quish, a horticulturist that teaches in UConn’s Master Composting Program.
Killing the pathogens that reside in dog waste independently is just too hard, as it requires a constant temperature of 165 degrees for at least five days, according to DEEP.
Rather than doing it on their own, dog owners looking to use pet waste as compost would be better off giving it to a specialized facility, such as Green Pet Compost Company in Oregon. But there appear to be no companies that currently offer similar services in Connecticut.
For those looking to send poop away without getting their own hands dirty, there are businesses, such as POOP911 or DoodyCalls, that offer residential waste-removal services.
If the new tax realizes its goal and fewer plastic bags are used, many dog owners will have to adjust.
“There’s going to be a little bit of a learning curve for folks,” McMillan said. “People who find ways that work for them should share them with their neighbors.”