Did you know that just one (1) dog can produce 248 pounds of dog waste a year? If you multiply that number by 151,000, the number of registered dogs in Prince George’s County, you are talking about 37,448,000 pounds of dog waste per year.
About 60% of dog waste is picked up. The remaining 40% translates into more than 40,000 pounds of poop left on the ground each day in Prince George’s County. In other words, more than 40,000 pounds of untreated raw sewage daily. What do you do to encourage people who do not pick up pet waste, to do so?
The Prince George’s County’s Department of the Environment and the Sustainable Maryland Program at the University of Maryland’s Environmental Finance Center (EFC) are working together to try to resolve this problem. A Pet Waste Management Summit, hosted by Sustainable Maryland, took place on April 18, 2019. It was attended by representatives from municipalities, other communities, and housing associations (HOAs) from across Prince George’s County. Topics discussed included the county’s pet waste management initiative, the county ordinances that require dogs to be on leash and residents to pick up after their dogs, and efforts to define the problem, which covered the effect of pet waste on water quality, health and safety, and quality of life. Municipalities, HOAs and other communities, who started their own pet waste management programs under this initiative in 2018, shared their successes and challenges. Municipalities and HOAs that will be starting programs in 2019 were identified.
Key points made at the summit about the health and environmental effects of pet waste included:
- The natural ecosystem can handle waste from two dogs daily per square mile. Urban areas normally have 125 dogs per square mile.
- There are human health risks from pet waste as it includes bacteria and pathogens, particularly when left in areas where children play.
- Rats are attracted to areas with pet waste as rats use the waste as a food source.
- What you “leave on land ends up in the water.” The waste in Prince George’s County’s storm runoff impacts our waterways, and can have an impact on the Chesapeake Bay.
- Pet waste takes 9 weeks to decompose if it is in the sun, but pathogens still can remain.
- The drinking water in our region is treated for pet waste.
- As many people won’t take pet waste home and flush it in their toilets (after they remove it from the bag; this includes biodegradable bags), the next best thing is to scoop it, bag it and trash it.
In response to the problem of people not picking up after their dogs, the following approaches were implemented by participating communities in 2018:
- Pet waste stations were installed in some communities. Each station consists of a sign urging people to pick up and includes a bag dispenser and a trash can.
- The members of the communities and HOAs that used pet waste stations said that they did make a difference.
- Before installing pet waste stations provided by the county, the communities identified hot spots for pet waste. Some were areas that had large numbers of dog walkers, others were areas where large numbers of people were not picking up.
- These communities also used social media or newsletters to launch an educational campaign to make people aware of the health, environmental, and quality of life issues associated with not picking up pet waste.
As part of the Prince George’s County Pet Waste Management Initiative, pet stations, funded by the Prince George’s County Stormwater Stewardship Grant Program, were provided to communities who agreed to monitor and report the amount of pet waste collected to ensure that the pet station had bags and that a liner was in the trash can. For example, a pet station trash can that is half full contains 5 pounds of waste. This information is reported to the EFC which aggregates it and provides it to the county. The county uses this data as part of their storm water management reporting.
Cat waste is also a problem. This is another reason to obey the county and city ordinances that do not allow cats to run at large. If you do walk your cat on a leash, pick up after your cat. There are human health and environmental effects from cat waste as well.
Please Note: In 2017, the City of Greenbelt in partnership with the Greenbelt Homes, Inc. (GHI) Companion Animal Committee implemented a number of community education initiatives on pet waste, using materials from the Prince George’s County Pet Waste Management Initiative. They also participated in the Pet Waste Management Summit that year.
The Prince George’s County Pet Waste Management Initiative staff participated in a couple of Greenbelt events that year, the Greenbelt Pet Expo, and the Green Man Festival. Staff will be attending the Greenbelt Pet Expo again this year, and they will bring The Poop Game, which is a game designed to educate the community about the best way to dispose of pet waste.