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Soapbox: Where do we put our dog poop?

Disposal of cat and dog waste left unsolved by City of Vancouver policies
Dogs and their walkers enjoy Trout Lake. Photo: Dan Toulgoet

Recently I attended a public event where Vancouver Park Board staff were distributing plastic containers of dog poop bags emblazoned with the City of Vancouver logo. My dog and I happily accepted this gift, as did many others. This strategic generosity was obviously intended to encourage dog walkers to clean up after their pets, but it seemed to me to be just another example of the city’s mixed messages to pet owners.

On the city website and in brochures distributed to residents explaining the regulations for disposal of garbage and recycling, the message is clear:

“No animal waste” is allowed in garbage or green bins. So…where exactly does city hall think the thousands of pet owners in Vancouver are disposing of their cat litter and dog poop?

This is Vancouver’s dirty little secret: the vast majority of residents who own cats and dogs, most of whom likely consider themselves law-abiding citizens, are violating city regulations every time they clean up after their pets and throw the waste into garbage bins. The fact that the city publishes a prohibition on disposal of animal waste in garbage or green bins does not actually mean that no cat litter or dog poop is disposed of this way in Vancouver. It is either delusional thinking or civic hypocrisy to imagine that making a rule guarantees compliance.

The directive to bring bags of dog turds into our homes, flush them down the toilet and put the soiled plastic bags into the trash is neither acceptable nor feasible for most pet owners. When I had two cats I did try “flushable” cat litter. The result, involving the services of a plumber, convinced me to return to the time honoured garbage can solution.

Surely if Vancouver’s stated goal is to be the Greenest City in the world by 2020 we can’t keep ignoring the brown stuff. When expanded recycling options were introduced last May, I eagerly scanned the long list of additional items that could be disposed of curbside in Vancouver. I hoped the city would offer a solution to pet owners who wanted to deal responsibly with animal waste disposal. Disappointingly, no reference was made to this black hole in our waste management system.

There are several private companies offering pet waste disposal in Vancouver. For a fee, these firms provide lined buckets where dog waste and non-clay based cat litter can be deposited and collected on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Pet waste from all over the Vancouver region is then transported to the Iona Wastewater Treatment plant in Richmond where it is treated and discarded according to regional regulations.

If private companies can dispose of pet waste using this public infrastructure, surely the city could do it on a larger scale. When the decision was made that all food waste would go into green bins, Vancouver thoughtfully provided every household with a bright green compost bucket for food scraps. One justification for this expense was that it was not only a better environmental solution, the diversion of organic waste from the landfill was economically beneficial as well.

In the case of animal waste, providing receptacles with liners that would be kept outside with garbage and green bins (as the commercial companies do) would be the greenest solution. These pet waste receptacles should also be available in all city parks. Not only would dog poop and kitty litter be diverted from the landfill, thereby reducing costs, proper disposal will also benefit the environment and enhance public health.

But Vancouver can’t solve the problem of animal waste disposal until our civic leaders acknowledge that it exists. Simply assuming that Vancouverites are not disposing of dog poop or cat litter in their garbage bins because regulations forbid it is willful blindness. The city should either implement a reasonable pet waste disposal system or change the rules and let pet owners lawfully place bags of dog poop and kitty litter in their garbage bins (which, we all know, they are now doing anyway). Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it disappear.

If we truly want to be the greenest city, let’s come up with an innovative made-in-Vancouver solution to animal waste disposal that other cities will envy and emulate.

Eileen Mosca is a Grandview-Woodland artist and community activist.