By Submitted Article on May 15, 2020.
SUBMITTED BY THE SOUTHERN ALBERTA GROUP FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
After snow melts and before grass grows, a stark sign of spring is the appearance of dog poo along sidewalks and trails in public spaces. Walking our pets hasn’t stopped during the COVID-19 virus pandemic; in fact, for many it has increased as daily exercise benefits both dogs and their human companions.
There is an estimated population of 12,000 pet dogs in Lethbridge. Together they generate approximately 1.4 million kilograms of waste each year. Like human feces, dog waste contains bacteria, protozoa, viruses and parasites that can pose risk to the health of people, other pets, and the environment.
Many studies have traced bacteria in urban watersheds back to dog waste. The monitoring of Lethbridge storm water outfalls has found fecal coliform concentrations far exceeding acceptable standards for recreational and irrigation water. Pet waste was identified as a potential source (as well as wild birds, humans and livestock).
Managing dog waste is a challenge. Lethbridge has a Dog Control Bylaw requiring removal of your dog’s defecates from public property. Enforcement in Lethbridge, however, is minimal. The large amount of dog waste collected from a river valley dog park during recent volunteer “doggy doo-doo pickup” events suggests some dog walkers knowingly flout this bylaw.
Responsible dog walkers understand the need to pick up their dog’s waste and making it a habit to carry plastic bags for that purpose. The City of Lethbridge effectively eliminates excuses by maintaining 203 doggie bag dispensers stocked with approximately 600,000 doggie bags per year. Garbage receptacles are provided at dog parks and signs are posted reminding users to scoop the poop.
Most of the 1.4 million kilograms of dog waste generated annually ends up in the municipal landfill, much of it individually packaged in plastic bags. As it decomposes the dog poo contributes to landfill methane, which are a significant local source of greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, pet waste has significant health and environmental impacts when left unscooped in the environment, and even when disposed of in the landfill.
Municipalities across Canada are looking at responsible ways to keep doggie doo out of their landfills. In Vancouver, residents are encouraged to flush poo (unbagged) down the toilet, to build a backyard composter for only pet poo (using the resulting compost on shrubs), or to use curbside bins picked up by private companies who separate the poo from the bag, sending the plastic to an incinerator and the poo to the wastewater treatment plant. Innovative municipalities with curbside organic waste pickup programs accept pet waste in paper or certified compostable plastic bags and compost it in facilities designed to reach temperatures high enough to eliminate pathogens. Waterloo is also working with a local company to install underground storage tanks in parks that convert the collected dog waste into fertilizer and electricity via anaerobic digestion.
In Lethbridge, the current conversation about implementing a residential green cart curbside pickup program needs to include a holistic consideration of what to do with dog poo. The current practice of depositing thousands of tonnes of dog waste into our landfill wrapped in plastic bags is unsustainable and will become even more so as our population grows, as restrictions on methane emissions increase, and as single-use plastic bags become increasingly unacceptable.
Furthermore, the public health issue of unscooped pet waste and its contribution to water pollution begs investigation and enforcement. The health benefits provided by our canine companions, especially evident during this pandemic, must not translate into unacceptable community costs.