Dear Umbra,

For years, I faithfully brought my canvas bags to the grocery store, leaving plastic bags for the environmentally uninformed. A few months ago, though, I adopted a dog, and I now find myself with a dilemma. I need to pick up all of his solid excrement, and having no compost or any other area for it to go (I live in the city), I need to use plastic bags to take care of it. I hope you have another suggestion for something I can use to pick up after my pup (and please don’t say anything that would be disgusting).

Meghan
Baltimore, Md.

Dearest Meghan,

This is a family publication, and our well-known Grist motto, “All the environmental news that will amuse yet not repel,” says it all about our approach to excremental discussions.

What’s the best way to pick up where I leave off?

The simplest solution is to find friends with too many plastic bags and become the local bag reuse center. Doubtless you have pals or coworkers with stockpiles of plastic sacks who can start you on your collection. A ripe opportunity for bag-related education presents itself, in fact. While trolling for bag collectors, you can spread the anti-plastic sack doctrine by way of explaining your dilemma. Hopefully this will dry up many stockpiles, and you’ll then need to move on to those people afflicted with a constant source of new plastic bags: newspaper subscribers. You certainly know at least one person who receives his or her newspaper wrapped in a plastic bag every day and would undoubtedly welcome your overtures. (You needn’t worry about not having compost, as dog and cat feces should not be composted at home for use in the garden, anyway.)

Research compels me to mention another option: the biodegradable, flushable dog-poop bags on the market. Made of polyvinyl alcohol film, said bags are water soluble. The film dissolves in water, leaving polyvinyl and glycerol (and the bag contents), which should biodegrade in about 30 days. The general idea is that you take pup out for a stroll, pick up the poop, and then carry the filled bag back home to the toilet bowl. I have accompanied dogs on long urban walks, and in my experience the designated poop scooper can’t find a trash can soon enough. Carrying the stuff all the way home sounds vile, but if these bags head for the landfill, their degradability will be wasted; they need to be submerged in water to dissolve.

It’s hard to know which to recommend, given the cost of buying dog-poop-specific bags and the revulsion factor of carrying excrement around town, on the one hand, and, on the other, the fact that regular plastic bags degrade on a geologic time scale and gum up the works in landfills.

Your choice, but I think you may have to accept the facts: Your new family member requires using and disposing of plastic. Make up for it by driving less per week.

Woofily,
Umbra