You know what I stepped in?
Updated: Nov 20, 2021
Yup, dog poop – figuratively of course. It is estimated that every year dogs produce over 12 billion pounds of waste (footnote 1). Watch where you step. Assuming half goes into poop bags at one pound each (for easy math) and then into the landfill, that’s 6 billion poop bags per year. You can see how this adds up.
I am owned by two Australian shepherds, Max & Tucker. In return for rubbing their bellies and feeding them, I get to clean up after them when they do their business in the neighborhood. Being a responsible pet owner and striving to be a good steward of our Earth, I used plastic grocery bags. I was recycling, right? Taking one more bad piece of plastic out of the environment.
One day the light bulb went off. “Why am I taking a perfectly natural, biodegradable product and putting it in something that will possibly be around for a thousand years?” I darkly chuckled to myself, “You idiot, you are making nasty little time bombs for your great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren.”
And thus, began my quest: In Search of Eco-friendly Poop Bags.
I spent not a small amount of time on this research. If you search dog poop bags on Google, you get about 13,700,000 results in 0.62 seconds. If you use the exact phrase “dog poop bags”, it returns a more manageable 575,000 in 0.66 seconds. Those fractions of a second led to days of bleary-eyed computer screen reading.
Naturally, faced with so many websites, I opted to go straight to Amazon. A search of the exact phrase “dog poop bags” returned over 2000 results. Significantly less, but still quite a few. So, I began using phrases like, eco-friendly, earth-friendly, compostable.
If I can sum up this awfully long story, it is “Buyer beware.”
Endeavoring to help you beware, here are some useful points.
1) Watch out for “green-washing” which is making not-so-eco-friendly products look more sustainable than they in fact are. Look for nebulous, less unquantifiable words like eco-friendly, earth friendly, oxo-degradable, biodegradable. Watch out for packaging and bags that are green in color. Many people associate the color green with being eco-friendly. Be cautious when the focus is on recyclable packaging; it is to distract from the non-recyclable bag itself.
2) Understand the certifications:
BAD: ATSM 6954: US Standard, made with oil (EPI), will biodegrade, will leave microplastics
LESS BAD: ATSM 6400: US Standard, maybe made with oil (PBAT), industrial compost, no microplastics
LESS BAD: EN13432 (Seedling): European Standard, maybe made with oil (PBAT), industrial compost, no microplastics
BETTER: “OK compost HOME” which is the basis for several standards (Australia: AS 5810, France: NF T 51800, Europe: prEN 17427), likely not made with oil (PBAT), home compost, no microplastics CAUTION: Just because the bag is certified to compost at home, does not mean once it has a payload, you should compost at home. Do NOT compost dog waste in your regular compost.
Look for at least the “OK compost HOME” certification but read the description for wording such as “no plastic, no fossil fuels, 100% vegetable product” If the product claims it is Earth-friendly (obscure term), 100% biodegradable (degrades to microplastics) and meets ATSM 6954 (worst certification), it is not your best choice for the environment.
The very best option, according to some: bring it home sans bag and flush it down your toilet. I did not explore this nor did inquire as to how one should bring it home sans bag.
3) Know how they are packaged. Many use plastic packaging and recycled cardboard tubes but are tubes even necessary? Look for 100% plastic free packaging.
4) Figure out where they are manufactured. Of the twenty-five bags, I looked at eighteen are made in China, two are made in the US, and I could not identify the country of origin of five. Do be careful of goods not manufactured in your home country. The burning of fossil fuels for shipping and the working conditions under which they are produced may offset the benefit of the bags.
5) Look extraordinarily close at what the big retailers label as featured or best sellers.
The #1 best seller in Pet Supplies and Dog Waste Bags on Amazon is “green washed.” This seller does have a 100% compostable version, but that version is not the best seller. Even worse, a search of “compostable poop bags for dogs” displays this same non-compostable plastic bag. Amazon also promotes through its “Amazon’s Choice” program a product that specifically declares that it is a plastic bag. I might as well be using the plastic grocery bag. Just Act! and ask Amazon to review how they label and treat dog waste bags.
6) Know that 100% compostable bags do not last forever. They are designed to break down and they do. Some companies recommend purchasing less than a six-month supply.
7) Prices vary significantly. $0.02 - $0.44 per bag, but eco-friendly bags are not all on the high side. Of the ten bags under $0.10 per bag, three are 100% compostable. If you purchase in bulk, you can purchase them for $0.06 per bag. Remember, compostable bags don’t last forever, so either your pups must have a lot of business, or consider sharing them with a neighbor or two. The most expensive bag is flushable but I’m not going there.
8) Other things to consider:
Do you have a color preference? I don’t really care about the color personally, but I prefer opaque over transparent. Call me squeamish.
Are they scented or unscented?
Are they in a bulk roll, a pop-box, or dispenser-size rolls?
Will they fit in the dispenser you have?
Do they come with handles?
Do they automatically come with a plastic dispenser you don’t need? Click here for an easy DIY dispenser
Here is a handy chart with 25 brands I found on Amazon in the month of March 2021. To keep a level playing field, I tried to keep the quantities close to 120 bags but not all brands came in 120 count.
This is sorted by cost per unit. Notice that three of the top ten ($0.10 per unit or less) are “OK compost HOME” certified. Also, notice that the other seven are either red or yellow. Red denotes that through name or packaging, they appear to be more eco-friendly than they are (and one of those three is Amazon’s #1 Best Seller). Yellow denotes that they appear to be plain plastic or have the lowest certification, ATSM D6954 (and one of those is Amazon’s Choice).
Four of them are dark green and they are the ones I purchased to compare. All functioned well, completed the job, and are compostable. Here are a few distinguishing characteristics from my observations, in no particular order. You can see photos and videos here.
Original Poop Bags: The sticker holding the roll closed caused a small tear in the top bag. A portion of sales support the Jane Goodall Institute for their efforts in a greener, healthier, and more sustainable environment.
UNNI: The least expensive of the four but similar quality. UNNI portrays itself as a San Francisco company but it appears to manufacture in and ship from China.
Well Earth Goods: By far the most expensive but made in the USA and no plastic at all, including shipping. An inch narrower than the others. The roll does not fit in a standard dispenser.
Lucky Dog: It is labeled 100% vegetable product but it does not have the OK Compost HOME certification. A company representative could not verify that the bags meet the highest certification. The box says "Made in the USA" but the company representative said the bags are actually made in China. It is a tight fit in a standard dispenser. No inner cardboard tube. One percent of Lucky Dog Poop Bags sales are donated toward environmental cleanup efforts.
Told ya I stepped in it. I have now logged more hours on this than I did watching Game of Thrones. My rather befuddled wife couldn’t understand how poop bags held my attention longer than she could. I explained that I am hoping at least some folks will benefit from my obsession but more importantly, I pray that the Earth does.
About the Author:
Ed Ehlers is owned by Max & Tucker, Australian Shepherd brothers, who are the heroes of his Max & Tucker Adventure series, true stories of dogs rescuing animals. He is also founder of Just-Act!, a community that inspires us all to lend a helping paw to those with special abilities, children, the elderly, and every Adventurer we meet. Just-Act! currently consists of two children’s books (Max & Tucker Adventures), story times, therapy visits, and trash & recycling events. A third Max & Tucker Adventure is coming soon.
1. Environmental impacts of food consumption by dogs and cats; Gregory S. Okin; Published: August 2, 2017; https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0181301