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    5 Ways to Make your Dog Walks More Sustainable

    My best friend has been faithfully by my side for over ten years, keeping me company, warning me of dangers, and making sure I get outside for a walk at least 3 times a day.

    He is a small white dog named Einstein.

    From the day he came into my life, he has challenged some of my sustainability principles because, like all living creatures, he has his own carbon pawprint and impacts to the environment. Living in a city, I have wrestled with how to dispose of dog poop in an environmentally responsible way. I have especially struggled with the extra plastic bag usage as well as the massive amount of additional waste I was sending to a landfill.

    With more than 350,000 dogs in Philadelphia producing an average of ¾ lbs of poop daily, that is a whole lot of dog poop, a whole lot of poop trash, and a whole lot of poop plastic bags being used (even if only 60% of dog owners are scooping their poop.) While some may justify dog poop as “natural,” the number of dogs residing in Philadelphia is much larger and more concentrated than any natural wildlife populations resulting in a much more significant impact.

    Here are 5 ways to green your dog walks

    1. Pick Up the Poop!

    Seriously Philly, why do you stop picking up your dog poop when it snows… or when it rains… or for some people whenever your dog poops? Not only is it inconsiderate, but it’s also illegal in Philadelphia ($300 fine for not curbing your dog).

    More importantly, your abandoned dog poop is bad for our drinking water. Rain and melting snow wash the leftover dog poop into our streams and rivers via the storm drain, and Philadelphia’s drinking water intakes are located on either the Schuylkill or Delaware Rivers. Dog poop contains harmful bacteria and parasites which cause diseases as well as high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus, higher than even manure. High concentrations of these nutrients in our rivers cause algae blooms and low oxygen levels that can result in fish kills among other things.

    Always pick up your dog’s poop, even on your own lawn. Make a habit of bringing bags or even better a pooper scooper with you. Keep the supplies with your dog leash, so you don’t forget them. Then designate a place to store the poop bags or poop until you are ready to dispose of it properly.

    2. Reuse and Reduce Plastic

    Since I have cloth grocery bags, I rely on reusing bags that inevitably end up in my house, from newspapers, circulars, junk mail, or take-out food. Try reusing the bag your bread or cereal came in instead of just throwing them in the trash. To reduce your pup’s plastic footprint, you can also purchase biodegradable dog poop bags (although these bags are not made from plastic, realize they won’t biodegrade in a landfill.  If you are really brave, you could try fabric washable bags instead.

    3. Use it Again.

    Trust me, it’s not as gross as it sounds. I use the same bag over and over until its full. It takes a little practice but it’s not hard: place your thumb and pointer finger around the outside of the bag a few inches above the poop, then pull the top down and over your hand allow the old poop that to hang to the side of your hand. Turn your hand and scoop the fresh poop into the bag, pull bag back around, shake the new poop to the bottom of the bag, and you are done.use dog bag again

    Even if you only reuse a bag twice, you have reduced your plastic bag usage by half.  Depending on the size of the bag, I may only use 2 or 3 bags a week for Einstein’s poop. For short walks, I retrieve the bag of dog poop from the previous walk from a small foot-pedal trash can near our front door that serves as a poop bag storage bin.

    4. Dispose of properly.

    Both the City of Philadelphia and EPA recommend flushing dog poop so it goes to a sewage treatment plant that removes pollutants before releasing into nearby rivers. If you are like me and don’t want to be carrying dog poop through your house, you could install a doggie drain outside. Alternatively, you could try vermicomposting in which worms digest the poop and turn it into casting that can be used in your garden.

    worms from composting

    Living in a small city rowhome, vermicomposting is a great way to compost because the system is small, self-contained, and has virtually no smell. Our worm bin sits on our front porch 5 feet from our front door and our neighbor’s door.

    worm bin

    Although composting worms are capable of destroying pathogens, we are cautious to only use the resulting compost on ornamental plants.  If you don’t have interest in raising a colony of worms in addition to your dog, you could try a pet waste digester that works like a septic system (although this requires a yard).

    5. Do a little extra.

    At a minimum (or in combination with the above), commit to picking up litter while walking your dog. Creatively use this time to help clean up our city.

    The constant stopping will also allow your dog extra time to enjoy some much-loved sniffing.  Every piece of litter you pick up is one less piece of litter that will end up polluting our rivers. Sign up for Not in Philly and commit yourself to picking up litter on your regular dog walking route every week.


    Choosing to live sustainably shouldn’t stop with humans. As members of our households, our pets contribute to our family’s environmental impact. Try incorporating some green lifestyle practices into your pet’s daily routine, even if it is only one small thing. Here are a few suggestions for cat ownership, too!

    Be mindful, be creative, and most importantly, be flexible and willing to change course if something doesn’t work because environmental habits are only useful if they are sustainable.

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    Dr. Chris Arnott

    About Dr. Chris Arnott

    Dr. Chris Arnott is a local environmental scientist who is passionate about zero-waste and sustainability. She has worked for government, academic, and non-profit organizations researching a variety of ecological issues and advocating for common sense environmental policies. Chris lives with her husband, her one-year old son, dog, two cats, and 2000+ worms (for vermicomposting) and enjoys traveling, playing volleyball, hiking/ backpacking, and flying trapeze/ circus acrobatics.

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