Compostable bag facts

Returning contents back to nature

If your community waste management systems offer commercial composting services for dog waste, using certified compostable pick-up bags  is essential ((DIN EN 13432 in EU or ASTM D2400 in US, EU – EN13432 and Australia – AS4736 and AS5810). Bags identified as “biodegradable” or “oxobiodegradable” that are not designated “compostable” are made of plastic film with an added degradant that helps them break apart if exposed to the elements. As with compostable bags, the organic components of these bags do not fully decompose when hermetically sealed in a landfill. If the bags are allowed to break down in nature, the plastic fragments will stay intact in the soil, water and air.

California law prohibits the sale of a plastic bag or plastic food or beverage container that is labeled as “biodegradable,” “degradable,” “decomposable,” or as otherwise specified, eliminating dog waste pick-up bag marketing fraud.  The state also requires compostable bag suppliers to explain on their packaging that the bags should be streamed to a commercial composting facility for proper recycling.

All greened up with no place to go

If your community does not offer community pet waste composting services, using certified compostable or otherwise advertised “biodegradable bags” is tossed in the trash. Why not just recycle that old newspaper or shopping bag for pick up? Really. Unless compostable bags are used as part of a community recycling process, they actually have drawbacks. Here are three of them.

1) Do it yourself composting: Promotions often lead buyers to believe that compostable or other “biodegradable” bags can be used with various backyard doggie septic systems or do-it-yourself composting. But the bags don’t break down easily if they’re not commercially composted and will disrupt a septic system. Because they don’t break down, the compostable bags fail to expose the waste inside to the microbes that break them down. However, bags that are home compostable-certified – subset of EN13432 which in Europe is certified by TUV Austria – such as Little Green Dog are emerging in the world marketplace.

2) Price: Certified compostable bags can cost twice as much as bags made primarily of plastic. Compostable bag manufacturers foresee lower prices only when demand accelerates exponentially due to plastic bag bans and the widespread availability of organics composting.

3) Magical thinking: Bags labeled “compostable” or otherwise “degradable” may even impede efforts to keep parks and waterways free of dog waste pollution. Some pet owners leave “biodegradable” bags filled with dog waste on the ground or cover them with dirt hoping that they will quickly degrade. One dog owner said (true story), “These bags are great! I leave them in the field and when I come back they’re gone.” Nature does not embrace the bags. Someone picks them up or they simply blow away.

So what’s the answer? It depends.

If the dog waste you responsibly pick up and trash is headed for a landfill, a smart environmental choice would be to re-use plastic bags. Doing this instead of buying pick-up bags eliminates the need to produce and transport new bags. Large-scale commercial composting requires certified compostable bags. Large-scale biodigestion systems have their own regulations for bag usage (or non usage). Small-scale pet waste composting and backyard septic systems are best done using scoopers for pick up.  To avoid clogged plumbing, don’t flush waste-filled bags unless the bags are specified as “flushable” (usually alcohol-based film) and limit the quantity you flush.

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