Guest Post | Reduce your Eco-Pawprint with Beth Terry

On January 1, Alameda County’s single use plastic bag ban goes into effect. The new law prohibits chain grocery stores and pharmacies from distributing plastic bags and requires retailers to charge a minimum of 10 cents for each paper or reusable bag given out. Our office is located in Oakland and many of our staffers make their homes in Alameda County, so we are especially ready to celebrate this bag ban here at Save The Bay. Beth Terry, Alameda County resident and author of Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too is as excited as we are. She’s been working hard to inspire people to live plastic free since 2007. In this guest blog from October, when San Francisco expanded its plastic bag ban to all retailers, Beth shared general best practices for reusable bags with Save The Bay followers. In the guest post below, she takes on two of the thorniest issues for plastic users: What to do about trash liners and how to dispose of pet waste.

Dog waste sign
Getting rid of pet waste without plastic bags: Photo: Francis Mariani

I’m so inspired by Alameda County’s decision to enact a plastic bag ban. We’ve come so far since I started this journey in 2007 and I’m thrilled to help my fellow Alameda County residents live with less plastic. We all want to do our part for a healthier environment, but sometimes we need a little nudge to get us started. Alameda County’s bag ban should be seen as a nudge, not a hardship.

One of the most common questions I get about plastic-free living is what to line waste cans with if plastic grocery bags are banned, and the second most common question is what to do about pet waste.

Since we compost most of our wet garbage, and recycle clean cans, bottles, jars, and newspapers, most of the trash we produce is dry, which eliminates the need to line our trash cans with plastic bags at all. We collect all of our food scraps in a metal bucket that we keep near the sink and take them out to the city compost bins. Most cities in Alameda County offer food waste composting through the Alameda County Waste Management Authority, Stopwaste.org. Check here if you don’t know if your city is one of them. If your city doesn’t offer composting, setting up your own compost system is easier than you think. Many different options are outline here in a more detailed version of this blog post.

For pet waste there is really no one simple solution.  For our cats we use SwheatScoop, which is biodegradable, flushable litter. This option should not be used unless your cats have tested negative for toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that is harmful to marine animals, and only if your cats live strictly indoors and cannot contract the parasite from other cats. Another option is to collect the waste in newspapers or paper bags and throw it into the city trash.

For dogs, one possibility is to pick up poop using compostable dog waste bags and dispose of it in a dog waste composter.  However, using compostable dog waste bags is not recommended if the waste is simply going to the landfill, as the bags emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Another way to handle dog waste is to collect it and flush it down the toilet, but check with your city first and make sure the water treatment plant can handle it. The easiest way to wean yourself away from using plastic grocery bags for pet waste is to collect other bags such as bread bags, chip bags, liners from cereal, newspaper bags, plastic produce bags, and other bags that are commonly found in daily life, and usually discarded empty. You can even use newspapers, or do as one of my readers does, and use discarded yellow pages to pick up dog waste.

I’ve learned that it really just takes a little creativity to live with less plastic. We throw so many items away without even thinking that they may actually be able to be used again. We do so many things habitually, including lining our garbage cans with plastic, that we don’t even stop to think that there might be another way. This ban is just a way to get us all to think a little harder about our impact on the environment. Learn more about what you can do to get involved in the bag ban movement.

— Beth Terry, Author of Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too