All Things Waste

What to do with dog poo?

A stark sign of the coming of spring, after snow melts and before grass grows, is the dog poo appearing along sidewalks and trails in public spaces throughout Lethbridge. Walking pet dogs hasn’t stopped during the COVID-19 virus pandemic, in fact there are reports it has increased. There is no evidence that dogs can transmit the coronavirus and, provided physical distancing measures are practiced, it is one of the few leisure activities outside of the home that is considered safe during the pandemic.[1]  The daily exercise benefits both dogs and their human companions.

There is an estimated population of 11,000 to 12,000 pet dogs in Lethbridge.[2]  Together they generate approximately 1.4 million kilograms of waste a year given that on average one dog produces approximately one kilogram of poo every three days.[3]  Like human faeces, dog waste contains bacteria, protozoa, viruses and parasites that can pose risk to the health of people, other pets, and the environment.[4]  But unlike humans, dogs have not been trained to flush their waste to the municipal wastewater plant for treatment and safe disposal.

Many studies have traced bacteria in urban watersheds back to dog waste.[5]  Monitoring of Lethbridge storm water outfalls in 2000-2002 and 2012-2014 frequently found fecal coliforms at densities far exceeding standards for recreational and irrigation water.[6,7]  Pets were identified as a potential source, as well as wild birds, humans and livestock. Defining specific sources of fecal coliforms in Lethbridge stormwater requires further study including investigating if the bacteria originates from feces directly or persists in biofilms and sediments.

Managing dog waste is a challenge for individual dog owners and the community at large. Lethbridge, like many municipalities in North America, has a Dog Control Bylaw requiring removal of your dog’s defecates from public property. However, enforcement effort in Lethbridge is minimal. Only eight fines were issued over a four-year period (2016-2019), all based on repeated complaints by disgruntled neighbours.[8] 

The large amount of dog waste collected from a river valley dog park in volunteer “doggy doo-doo pick-up” events (2017 and 2018) suggests some dog walkers knowingly violate the bylaw.  

Responsible dog walkers are the majority, understanding 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 about forgetting to bring bags by maintaining 203 doggie bag dispensers at popular dog walking spots 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.  These receptacles fill up quickly and are emptied regularly, even during a pandemic.  

Most of the 1.4 million kilograms dog waste generated annually ends up in the municipal landfill, much of it individually wrapped in plastic bags. As it decomposes the dog poo emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Landfill methane is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the City of Lethbridge.[9] 
Poo in landfills can also lead to water contamination. Buried plastic bags do not degrade in anaerobic (devoid of oxygen) conditions even if certified as compostable. 

Municipalities across Canada are looking at responsible ways to keep doggie doo out of their landfills.  Metro Vancouver prohibits dog waste going to the landfill.[10] At home, residents are encouraged to flush poo (unbagged) down the toilet, call a collection service, or build a backyard composter for only pet poo and use the compost on shrubs, not vegetables. In its parks the City of Vancouver is experimenting with septic tanks, dog litter boxes and bins picked up by private companies who separate the poo from the bag and send the plastic to an incinerator and the poo to the wastewater treatment plant.[11]

Many municipalities with curbside organic waste pick-up programs (Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Waterloo, Ottawa)  accept pet waste in paper or certified compostable plastic bags and compost it in facilities designed to reach temperatures high enough to eliminate pathogens (55 C for three days).  Waterloo is also working with a local company to put underground storage tanks in parks and convert the collected dog waste into fertilizer and electricity via anaerobic digestion.[12]

In Lethbridge, the current conversation about implementing a residential green cart curbside pick-up program needs to include a holistic consideration of what to do with dog poo, at home and in public spaces. The current practice of depositing thousands of tonnes of dog waste, wrapped in plastic bags, into our landfill is unsustainable and will become even more so as our population grows, restrictions on methane emissions increase, and single-use plastic bags become increasingly unacceptable.  As well the public health issue of un-scooped pet waste and its contribution to stormwater 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.

1.  OIE World Organisation for Animal Health. 2020. Questions and Answers on the 2019 Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19). Accessed online 22/04/2020. 

2. Lethbridge News Now. Jan 23, 2019. Lethbridge dog owners encouraged to renew licenses before months end to avoid fines. Accessed online 22/04/2020. 

3. Clear Choices Clean Water. n.d. Frequently Asked Questions about Pet Waste. 

4.  Canadian Public Health Association. 2020. The scoop on poop.  Accessed 23 April 2020.

5.  Municipal World March 2018. Dog Waste Dilemma – examining the problem and determining the solution. Accessed online 22/04/2020. 

6. Saffran K. A. 2005. Oldman River Basin Water Quality Initiative: Surface Water Quality Summary Report: April 1998-March 2003.

7.  Derksen J. et al. 2016. Lethbridge Storm Water Outfalls Monitoring Study: Microbiological, Pesticides and Nutrient Analysis (2012-2014). Report of the Oldman Watershed Council. Accessed online

8.  City of Lethbridge. 2019. Response to a FOIP request to the City of Lethbridge by SAGE for information and statistics (2015-2019) on municipal efforts to monitor and enforce compliance with Section 7 of the Dog Control Bylaw regarding removing dog defecates from public property, and particularly from off-leash dog parks.

       Dog Control Bylaw

9.  Chow L. et al. 2011. City of Lethbridge Corporate Greenhouse Gas Inventory.  Department of Geography, University of Lethbridge. Accessed online. 

10.  MetroVancouver. 2020. What to do with dog poo. Accessed 23 April 2020. 

11. Lovering K. 2018. Comparative Analysis of Dog Waste Processing Methods for Metro Vancouver. Accessed online. 

12.  Region of Waterloo. 2018. How to dispose of your pet waste. Accessed online.