Roughly 20 to 30% of the bacteria in urban water samples taken for studies on water pollution can be traced back to dog waste. While the amount of pet waste posing a direct hazard to human health can be solved simply through cleaning up after larger animals like dogs, how to dispose of that waste in an environmentally friendly way is still a mystery to many pet owners. Local waste management facilities can help by providing information and advice, enabling households to reduce their environmental impact through the green disposal of pet waste, just as they have through reducing food waste and making efforts to recycle.
Managing Dog Waste
Many animal-waste bags are labeled as ‘compostable’ or ‘biodegradable,’ which is helpful only if they’re composted. The majority of dog waste ends up in landfill, where it won’t get enough oxygen to degrade quickly and change into compost. Instead, degradation will be slow, encouraging the production of methane and harmful bacteria.
Non-herbivorous animal waste should not be added to a compost system that will be used for garden fertilization: it can contain bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms that aren’t safe in food production. However, it can be composted independently in a separate system and can add valuable nutrients to the soil of a spot of land not destined for food production.
Households can do this by drilling small holes in a trash can, burying it so that only the lid is visible, and adding the pet waste as needed. A liter of water should also be added every month, along with an enzymatic septic starter. A system like this shouldn’t need emptying more than once every two years, as the volume of waste will reduce by 50%.
Dealing With Cat Litter
An outdoor cat will usually deal with its own waste, burying it somewhere it’s unlikely to pose much risk, but indoor cats that use litter trays present more of a problem. Standard cat litter is made of bentonite clay with crystalline silica, marked as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization. This kind of litter has already completed most of its decomposition process, so doesn’t reduce much when composted.
There are now a number of non-clay based cat litters available, often made from corn or wheat, which clump naturally and control odors as efficiently as clay-based litters. There are also cat litters made from pine shavings and recycled newspaper, which are arguably more environmentally friendly because they’re not made from food sources. Natural cat litters like these will compost efficiently, reducing environmental impact if they’re kept out of landfill.
Keeping Fish Tanks Eco-Friendly
Many eco-conscious pet owners opt for fish in an effort to reduce their impact on the environment. An environmentally-friendly fish tank can be set up easily through the use of fish tank gravel, self-cleaning tanks and a balanced eco-system comprised of natural plants and algae-eating fish, but in order to maintain a low environmental impact, the tank’s waste must also be disposed of carefully.
Fish owners can ensure that their whole system remains environmentally friendly by watering house and garden plants with the water removed from the tank during water changes, provided they’re not saltwater fish. Irrigating plants with fish tank water provides them with rich nutrients, providing the garden with benefits that can’t come from the tap. Waste can further be managed by burying dead fish in the garden for natural fertilization.
Animal waste is often under-looked as a component of domestic waste, but with the number of pet owners in urban areas, it’s an important piece of the puzzle, and steps to dispose of it in an environmentally friendly way should be encouraged and facilitated as far as possible.