Not so flushable dog poo bags

On a recent beach and dune clean up of an area near Mudjimba Beach, Coolum & North Shore Coast Care volunteers found more than 100 bags of dog poo that had been thrown into the dunes. Some of the bags were degradeable bags and some were biodegradeable bags. When revegetating the dunes, our volunteers regularly find bags of dog poo so it’s unfortunately a common problem.

The use of degradeable bags means that when the bag breaks into pieces, the plastic pieces don’t go away – they just get smaller and smaller and the pieces remain in the environment. This contrasts with biodegradeable bags where the bag breaks down and returns to natural components.

are a number of ways to work on the correct disposal of dog poo bags, including bin placement, public education etc. These are important, but so is the type of dog poo bags used and this became our initial focus.

So that degradeable bags are not left in the dunes to add additional plastic into the environment, we looked into finding biodegradeable bags. Ideally dog poo bags should always go in the bin, but if they are left in the dunes a biodegradeable bag is a better (but of course not altogether ideal) option. We have two councils in our area – one council currently provides biodegradeable dog poo bags and the other currently provides degradeable dog poo bags. We were hoping to encourage both councils to only provide biodegradeable dog poo bags and wanted to see what options were available.

A product “flushable poop bags” was found that was marketed as being biodegradeable, compostable and flushable so I ordered a sample to try. We were mindful that baby wipes have been marketed as flushable when they cause major sewerage blockages, so were keen to check the flushability of the product. I put one bag in a container of tap water and after 6 days it still has not completely dissolved. I also contacted Unity Water about the product and one of their engineers advised that if these bags were flushed down the toilet they would simply cause a blockage either at people’s homes or at the treatment plant where the resulting mess would need to be trucked to landfill as hazardous waste. A blockage would result because the bags don’t immediately dissolve on exposure to water – their dissolvability is “over the medium term” and depends on the temperature of the water and agitation of the bag in water. Hot water makes for quicker breakdown but hot water is not normally used to flush toilets.

The company’s website did say in the FAQ’s that if baby wipes are not flushable in your area, then these bags are not flushable either. Since baby wipes are not flushable in most parts of Australia because of the sewerage blockages they cause, in my opinion it would have been better to market these bags just as biodegradeable and compostable.

We are mindful that a product such as dog poo bags needs to be both environmentally appropriate and easy for the consumer (a dog walker) to use. Aside from environmental considerations, an obvious design flaw of the bags we trialled was that they don’t have handles – when picking up dog poo most people do want to be able to seal the bag afterwards! We will continue to follow up the use of biodegradeable bags with both councils and look at how to better encourage the correct disposal of dog poo bags.
Susan Richards
Coolum & North Shore Coast Care

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