by Elisa Forsgren

San Francisco neighborhoods welcome our lovable furry friends lured by luxury dog hotels, rooftop dog-cocktail parties, and even a pet cemetery. Stores and businesses throughout San Francisco have thoughtfully placed a water bowl at their door as an open invitation for the canine owner to browse their shop with pooch in tow. Many bars even allow well-mannered mutts admittance while their owner imbibes a few happy hour brews. And even a few high-end restaurants have turned the otherwise slow Monday into a very profitable night for their outdoor seating catered specifically to Fido.

Which leaves little doubt the importance of dogs in our culture. While dogs contribute to the quality of their owner’s life but they also contribute something else, often overlooked, until stepped in: their poop.

An estimated 120,000 dogs live in San Francisco, according to Animal Care and Control. If typical dog excretes three quarters of a pound of waste per day that contributes a conservative estimated 16,440 tons of annually accumulated ca-ca that lands in the dump.

Since the first pooper-scooper law in 1978, most San Francisco dog “guardians” responsibly bag it, throw it in the garbage and forget about it.

However, combine dog waste, cat waste, animal shelters, livestock and zoos it becomes a scatological problem the city has yet to solve.

A few methane digester programs were tested and phased out by the city’s 80-year-old private garbage company, Recology, who says the efforts were abandoned because it was difficult to control and isolate the type of animal waste received in a cost effective manner.

Furthermore, Recology and most other waste treatment companies are not permitted to handle any feculence. Not to be confused with food scraps and yard clippings, which are in fact turned into rich compost now used in Sonoma and Napa vineyards.

While Recology does provide food waste composting, all animal waste currently goes to the landfill, a few companies in San Francisco still believe the experimental 2006 dung recycling programs still exist and produce products of fertilizer, electricity or gas offsite.

A recent PBS Newshour featured San Francisco mayor Ed Lee touts the city’s recycling law has helped keep 80 percent of its waste out of landfills.

What about San Francisco’s poop?

According to Recology, animal waste is not composted, nor is it turned into electric or gas. All animal waste goes straight to the landfill.

Today the city’s zero waste 2020 program may have noticed an overwhelming 40 percent of our landfill waste is organic matter and implemented the mandatory food scrap composting, nearly 80 percent of that organic matter is animal waste and is currently not composted.

Dogs and cat produce 10 million tons of waste a year, “and no one knows where it’s going,” said Will Brinton, a scientist and one of the world’s leading authorities on waste reduction and composting.

“Most landfills operating today are designed with the idea that they should protect the environment as much as possible – they are built with numerous layers of liners and cover systems in place to help reduce leakage and so forth. What that means, though is that it’s also hard for air and liquids to circulate and facilitate biodegradation.” Darby Hoover, senior resource specialist for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

When organic material biodegrades in a landfill, methane, a potent greenhouse gas is created and not always contained within the landfill, the harmful gas escapes into the atmosphere.

What does the individual dog owner do with the poo?

“Flush it,” says Robert Reed, Recology’s public relations manager.
Reed suggests instead of bagging the doggy discharge, transport the poop back to your toilet via a reusable pooper-scooper and flush. Problem solved.

“The sewer system is designed to manage and process fecal matter,” says Reed.

San Francisco Public Utility Commission spokesman, Tyrone Jue, confirms that the utility can handle dog waste.

However do not flush the bags, “even when labeled compostable or flushable, they clog up the equipment,” Jue says.

Note to feline owners who should never ever flush cat poop down the toilet. A 2007 provision to California Fish and Game code prevents cat feces flushed into the sewage system because of toxins found in cat excrement that’s extremely harmful to marine life and may have specifically affected the California sea otter.

Poop bags have been the most widely used method of pick-up disposal, and while bags made of plant products minimize the use of nonrenewable petroleum for their production, the biodegradability has little breakdown benefit for organic waste once in a landfill. Therefore biodegradable bags probably aren’t worth the extra money.

Tossed into landfills inside single use plastic bags from the grocery store or newspaper preserves the feces to become part of the landscape for decades. Congratulations for picking up after Rover, but that good “green” deed reusing a store plastic bag for his number two, takes one thousand years to degrade before the foul putrid matter contained within can begin to decay.

An enormous mountain of crap is left for a future of people who haven’t even been born yet, “that’s really going to be a nightmare,” says Binton.

One might argue the natural option would be to let nature run its course however animal waste, particularly meat-eating dogs, contains bacterial health risks for humans.

Pet ordure left on the ground, dissolves and untreated flows into our water table or “when it rains, fecal waste from pets winds up in storm drains, creeks and eventually the bay,” Reed says.

Other misinformed people believe dog waste can be composted, but this gets a little tricky since the compost has to achieve nearly 170 degree in order to kill the harmful bacteria.

Reed warns, “Please don’t ever put any dog droppings in the compost bin.”

Some animal waste is unintentionally raked in with yard waste and tossed in compost bins, a dangerous and unhealthy practice because dog waste is full of harmful pathogens unsuitable for plants intended for human consumption.

A better way to manage animal waste for a city striving to eliminate landfill use becomes an extremely important issue among the never ending stream of waste that humans produce and don’t really think about that often.

Proper dog waste disposal is more than esthetic clean streets and pristine parks it’s a crucial requirement for ensuring public health.


San Francisco Animal Care and Control
1200 15th Street, SF, CA 94103 (415) 554-6364

The first San Francisco pooper-scooper law

50 California Street, 24th Floor, SF, CA 94111 (415) 875-1000

Stephanie Pavis Medious, Reg Sales Mgr (415) 575-2467

Robert Reed, Recology pr mgr, RReed@recology.com

PBS Newshour featuring SF Mayor Ed Lee

Will Brinton, scientist, president, Woods End Lab, compost expert
290 Belgrade Road, Mt. Vernon, ME 04352
(207) 293-2467

Natural Resources Defense Council, Darby Hoover, sr. resource specialist contact: singre@nrdc.org (415) 875-6100

San Francisco PUC spokesman, Tyrone Jue, dir of communications
1155 Market Street, 11th Floor, SF, CA 94103 (415) 554-3282

2007 CA Fish and Game provision regarding cat feces


Toxoplasma gondii-like oocysts in cat feces study: http://www3.research.usf.edu/cm/docs/zoonotics/toxo_avma_2007.pdf