The City has been installing new dog poop bag dispensers in all parks, and Cesar Chavez Park’s turn came yesterday. A two-man two-truck crew dismounted the old dispensers and installed the new. There is progress: the new bags are said to be more environmentally friendly than the old petroleum-based plastic bags.
As the label on the box indicates, the manufacturer markets the new bags as “BioDOGradable,” a cutesy way of avoiding the fraught claim that they’re biodegradable. The company’s website says in its Q&A section:
Are these bags Degradable / Biodegradable?
The answer is both yes and no. The proprietary material that makes up our bags is biodegradable; it is plant-based and produces non-toxic byproducts, such as humus (the organic compound of soil). Nevertheless, we respect, and adhere to, the FTC Green Guide regulations and California environmental marketing guidelines, stating that claims of 100% degradation or biodegradation are difficult to prove. Therefore, to adhere to California’s Green Guidelines, we are not claiming or marketing our bags as ‘biodegradable’ or ‘degradable’. Consumers should be wary of any product that claims to be 100% degradable or 100% biodegradable, because, in short, the current infrastructure of our communities (e.g. landfills, municipal dumps) does not promote/aide complete biodegradation. If our bags end up in a landfill, they can degrade in the anaerobic (sealed landfill) conditions of traditional landfills. Because bioDOGradable™ bags are made from biobased renewable resources, they degrade at the same rate as other natural/organic compounds found in the landfill, such as paper, yard waste, or food.
What this means is that in landfill conditions, under high pressure and without oxygen, the bags may not degrade for decades. In such landfills, newsprint can still be readable and hot dogs retain their shape and color for fifty years. The company does, however, claim that the bags are completely compostable. Bags made of petroleum-based plastics cannot make that claim. Composting takes place in the presence of oxygen and heat with periodic stirring and turning over to prevent the material from packing under pressure. So, as a common-sense website points out, real environmental progress turns not so much on what bags you use but what you do with them. If you throw them in the garbage they go in the landfill. The advice there is:
Use a dog-waste-only composting bin. There are several commercial options like the Doggie Dooley on the market, but you can also make your own with supplies available at your local home and garden store. While pet waste compost should never be used on edible plants, it can be great fertilizer for decorative gardens!
It would be real progress for parks with lots of dogs, such as Cesar Chavez, to invest in one of those dog waste composters. This might be a good joint project for the Chavez Park Conservancy and the Chavez Park dog owner group to get behind. Interested? Post a comment below.