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Keeping companion animals or pets in human domestic spaces and lives is a global phenomenon. However, waste products related to the keeping of these animals may have negative environmental impacts including odour, public space and water pollution, and addition to landfill. Pet waste is also a health issue as it can be a source of disease through the presence and distribution of organisms such as bacteria and worms. Australia has one of the higher global rates of pet ownership with over 60% of households owning a pet (more than 25 million animals). This indicates a lot of feces, in addition to the other wastes that are associated with pets, which become part of the domestic waste stream. This research uses multiple sources to map out the breadth of information referring to pet waste, to identify the span of “pet wastes”, and to scan the local and online policy and practice environments using the lens of sustainability and pet waste(s). What this reveals is a limited conceptualization of pet waste as dog feces, that merits expansion beyond predominately canines to other animals and other wastes. While there is some international evidence of trials of sustainable pet waste management, prevailing models remain focussed on perceptions of hygiene and aesthetics rather than sustainability of management. Some suggestions are made as to future directions and applications that recognize the breadth of pet waste(s) within more sustainable waste management understandings.
20-23 September 2018
Adelaide, South Australia
Transforming pet waste for a Circular Economy: what
are the wastes and what can be done?
Janette YOUNG (1), Zoei SUTTON (2), Sheila SCUTTER (3), Carmel NOTTLE (1)
Ali SOLTANI (1),
1. University of South Australia, Australia
2. Flinders University, Australia
3. Independent Consultant, Australia
Keeping companion animals or pets in human domestic spaces and lives is a
global phenomenon. However, waste products related to the keeping of these
animals may have negative environmental impacts including odour, public space
and water pollution, and addition to landfill. Pet waste is also a health issue as it
can be a source of disease through the presence and distribution of organisms
such as bacteria and worms.
Australia has one of the higher global rates of pet ownership with over 60% of
households owning a pet (more than 25 million animals). This indicates a lot of
feces, in addition to the other wastes that are associated with pets, which become
part of the domestic waste stream.
This research uses multiple sources to map out the breadth of information
referring to pet waste, to identify the span of “pet wastes”, and to scan the local and
online policy and practice environments using the lens of sustainability and pet
waste(s). What this reveals is a limited conceptualization of pet waste as dog
feces, that merits expansion beyond predominately canines to other animals and
other wastes. While there is some international evidence of trials of sustainable pet
waste management, prevailing models remain focussed on perceptions of hygiene
and aesthetics rather than sustainability of management.
Some suggestions are made as to future directions and applications that recognize
the breadth of pet waste(s) within more sustainable waste management
Keywords: pets, companion animals, domestic, waste management, sustainability
Author Biographies
Janette Young is a lecturer in health promotion at the University of South Australia.
She has an interest in complexity and systemic thinking with a particular interest in
the human: animal intersection and how relationships with animals play a role in
human wellbeing and also have implications for animal welfare and social and
environmental justice.
Zoei Sutton is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at Flinders University. Her doctoral
thesis critically examines the navigation of human-companion animal relationships,
particularly the negotiation of asymmetrical power relations inside and outside of
the home, and the impact on research when species inclusive methods are
Sheila Scutter: After retiring from employment in universities, Sheila now has time
to pursue her interests in animal welfare for pets, wild and farmed animals. While
undertaking research focused on disability, education and adult learning, Sheila
was actively involved in supporting Australian and overseas animal welfare
initiatives and volunteering with native animal rescue networks in Australia.
Carmel Nottle is a lecturer in Human Movement, Sport and Exercise Science at the
University of South Australia. She has an interest in the human-animal intersection
from a health and wellbeing perspective but also a particular interest in leisure
activity for human companion animals and the welfare and leisure of assistance
Ali Soltani is a visiting Research Fellow at the University of South Australia. His
research interests include urban form/design, sustainable transportation planning
and policy, land use planning, urban modelling and quantitative methods. He has
also spent time in Japan (Tsukuba University), Turkey (Izmir Institute of
Technology) and Australia (Griffith University) and is adjunct professor at University
of Federico 2, Italy.
Living with non-human animals is a global human phenomenon. It is estimated that
more than half of the world’s households have what are commonly termed ‘pets’
(GfK 2016). As inhabitants in our homes and lives these animals produce a range
of biological wastes, many parallel to human wastes (feces, urine, hair) alongside
non-biological wastes associated with their care, containment and increasing
inclusion in human “family” life. Hence the addition of these animals within
domestic spaces adds to domestic waste streams, especially landfill and sewerage
The aims of this paper are to map out the existing literature regarding pet animal
wastes, to identify the span of “domestic/pet animal waste”, and to reflect on the
intersection, of these wastes in current Australian waste management and related
policies. While both biological and non-biological wastes result from pet ownership,
the focus of research, analysis, planning and policy in this field has focused on
biological waste. Our research continues the biological focus but extends beyond
dog feces management (the dominant focus) to consider other species. We
conclude with some suggestions for future research and progress with regard to
this relatively small, but not insignificant, impact on global and local waste
management and sustainability.
Scoping pet ownership and related waste
Global market research in 2015 indicated that in the 22 countries surveyed, over
half of the population aged over 15 lived with other species in their domestic
spaces (GfK 2016).The relative mix of species varies across countries with the
most common globally being dogs (33%) and cats (23%), although a number of
households have fish (12%) or birds (6%) and there is a not insubstantial “other”
population (6%) (GfK 2016). This research found that Asians are the least likely to
have a pet, while people living in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Russia were most
likely to have at least one. Some European countries have relatively low rates of
pet ownership, for example Sweden and Germany, while countries such as Italy
and Poland have average or higher than ownership across the four main species
groups (GfK 2016).
What the above percentage data hides, however, is the total number of pet animals
that exist in a country. For example, while it is estimated that pet ownership is
relatively low in China (GfK 2016) with only around seven percent of Chinese
households owning a dog, this constitutes around 27.4 million pet dogs (Cerini
2016). Australia has a much smaller population than China but a higher rate of pet
ownership, with just over 60% of Australian households owning a pet. With
estimates that the pet to human ratio in Australia is 101:100, there are probably
more pets than people in Australia; about 24 million animals (Animal Medicines
Australia 2016, p9).
The amount of money spent on pets appears to be increasing. In China the amount
spent on pet food increased each year between 2010 and 2014 (Flanders
Investment and Trade nd), a growth also mirrored in other Asian countries
(Euromonitor International 2017). While this is partially about a “premiumisation” of
the market i.e. pet owners spending more on individual pets, it also suggests that
the number of pets is increasing (Cerini 2016, Euromonitor International 2017). In
Australia the amount being spent on pets was $12.2 AUS billion in 2015/16; a
substantial increase of 42% since previous data was collected in 2013 (Animal
Medicines Australia 2016). In line with our focus here, the amount of waste
associated with each pet is highly likely to be increasing. While this data is not
being collected, arguably each additional item purchased for an individual pet will
include packaging and perhaps disposal of “old” items that will enter the waste
disposal system.
There are numerous estimates of the amount of biological waste produced by pets,
however substantiating these claims can prove difficult. A common estimate seems
to be of dogs producing an average of 340g of fecal waste per day (CNV 2018).
Humans, in contrast, have been found to produce between 51-796g/day in high
income countries, with an average of 128g/day (Rose et al 2015). This estimate
looks rather strange, but there does not appear to be a great deal of research into
the very personal subject of human feces production. However it is likely that dogs
receive more indigestible material in their diet, resulting in higher output. What the
above data on pet ownership indicates is that biological waste from pets may be as
high, if not higher, than that produced by humans. As pets share their domestic
spaces with humans, disposal of pet related wastes will usually need to be via
domestic pathways. Although figures are not available for Australia, in the US it has
been estimated that roughly 10 million tons of dog waste ends in landfill each year
(Envirowagg 2017).
In Australia the nature of pet ownership has changed over the last couple of
decades (Franklin 1999). This has implications for domestic waste disposal as pets
are increasingly being seen as members of the family (e.g. Blichfeldt & Sakacova
2018). In combination with housing density increases leading to reduction in
domestic residential outdoor space (Coffee, Lange & Baker 2016), an increasing
number of animals need to be kept indoors and hence are generally unable to toilet
outdoors. Thus, the biological waste from these animals is managed via sewage
and domestic waste disposal systems. The increasing containment of cats for both
their own health and welfare, and that of wildlife (Denny & Dickman 2010, RSPCA
2017) indicates that cat toileting materials in particular (cat litter) will be increasing,
although how much of this is part of the 31% increase in spending on cats between
2013 and 2016 (Animal Medicines Australia 2016, p31) is not publicly available
data (Lexology 2017).
What this discussion indicates is that pet ownership may be having quite
substantive impacts on domestic waste production in Australia and other countries.
Literature review
The peer reviewed literature focused on pet waste is overwhelmingly concerned
with the social aspects of multi-species coexistence, specifically dog fouling (dog
feces in public places). Rarely are the environmental impacts of waste
management and disposal explored. However, a small body of research has more
recently turned to the environmental costs of pet waste, the potential for alternate
disposal and use of animal waste, and the use of animals as part of the waste
disposal process.
Pet waste as a public health matter
The human health implications linked to pets are zoonotic diseases (the transfer of
disease from animals to humans commonly via animal waste), the contamination of
waterways, odour and aesthetic impacts. While the health implications of human
contact with animal feces are a driving force behind calls to keep public spaces
free of such waste (Atenstaedt & Jones 2011; Dabritz & Conrad 2010; Pollock et al
2012), research demonstrates that health concerns are rarely the primary factor in
objection to the presence of animal waste (Derges et al 2012). Some authors have
argued that this risk to humans is lower than presented in public discourses, and
opposition to the presence of animal waste in shared space is more likely tied to
ideas around civility and ‘responsible owner’ identities (Derges et al 2012; Instone
& Sweeney 2014).
It is useful to consider the influences on human behavior with regard to the most
public of pet waste management matters, and the one that dominates public
discourses – canine feces and urine output. Oates et al (2017) found that domestic
dogs contributed significantly to the fecal contamination of several Californian
beaches, a finding supported by Wright et al (2009).There is evidence that the
disposal of dog waste in public places is strongly linked to social norms, identity,
and attitudes around feces. Humans and dogs form a shared identity in public
(Sanders 1990). Public human-dog dyads must manage (and in turn are managed
by) social norms and expectations around ‘responsible owners’ and acceptable
behavior (Gross 2015; Instone & Sweeney 2014; Jackson 2012).
A systematic review of dog fouling prevention initiatives (Atenstaedt & Jones 2011),
did not find any studies that demonstrated successful interventions to tackle this
problem, and no new studies have emerged since the initial review (Rock et al
2016). Indications are that at best just over 60% of owners pick up their dog’s feces
when in public (Westgarth et al 2010), with other studies putting this figure at 59%
(Webley & Siviter 2000), 56.2 % (Arhant & Troxler 2009), 53.5% (Westgarth et al
2010) and 42.85% (Gaunet, Pari-Perrin & Bernardin 2014). Gaunet et al (2014)
found that public canine urination (much harder to pick up by owners) has been
observed as occurring at a much higher rate than defecation, with 18-25% of dogs
in their study urinating in public spaces. Dog owners seem less likely to pick up dog
waste when they do not care about other people’s opinions, or when they associate
dog feces with ‘disgust’. These owners were often young, male and living alone
(Arhant & Troxler 2009). There are also indicators that dog walkers are less likely
to pick up their dogs feces if they frame dog waste as natural and biodegradable
(Webley & Siviter 2000).
Gross (2015) and Jackson (2012) both found that public gaze had a direct impact
on owner attentiveness to picking up their dogs feces in public. Gross (2015)
argues that owners practice a form of ‘strategic non-knowing’ when letting their
dogs defecate in public without cleaning it up. The owners in this study engaged in
active inattention – purposely looking at a phone or Ipad while their dog defecated,
so that it looked like the owner did not know what was occurring. Conversely, when
owners did choose to bag the feces they made sure that someone was watching
them, so that their ‘responsible owner’ identity was reinforced (Gross 2015). Actual
disposal of the waste was not an integral part of being attentive to pet defecation,
and bags were often left hanging from trees or placed on the ground as owners
maintained the appearance of ‘responsible ownership’ by picking up their dog’s
excrement, but failed to properly dispose of it (Gross 2015).
In management approaches where owners’ inattentiveness may be called out in
public, feces collection behaviors are reliant on the presence and viewing of the
policing authority. For example Jackson (2012) found that owners were less likely
to pick up their dog’s feces when “poop patrollers” were not present, indicating that
public shaming for violating rules of the dog park was a motivating factor in the
decision to clean up after their companion. Lowe et al (2014) similarly found that
dog fouling was more prevalent when dog walkers were not observed by other
walkers, and in instances where fouling had been more or less tolerated for years.
They suggest that on-leash policies might reduce dog fouling in busy areas by
creating a clear link between humans and their “pooping” dogs (Lowe et al 2014).
Instone and Sweeney (2014) examined peer reviewed and ‘grey’ literature on the
practices surrounding dog excrement and the bodies of dogs euthanized in shelters
in Australia. These authors argued that both situations reflect a removal of waste
and maintain human ideals of cleanliness and hygiene. However, as they point out,
these pursuits of cleanliness have negative impacts on the environment and waste
management. ‘Poo bags’ are commonly unable to break down in landfill and
euthanized animals are either incinerated (cremation generally not being an
environmentally friendly approach [Canning & Szmigin 2010]) or wrapped in heavy
non-biodegradable plastic and sent to landfill (Instone & Sweeney 2014).
While pet ownership practices, including regulations mandating picking up animal
excrement, tend to be strictly regulated in Australia, ‘the law is silent on what
happens to the gathered poo’ (Instone & Sweeney 2014, p.357). In Australia the
plastic bag is the most common method of disposal, with bins placed in most dog-
frequented areas to facilitate the transfer of dog waste to council waste systems
(Instone & Sweeney 2014). This enables a kind of ‘ethical blindness’, as the
broader environmental impacts of sending plastic encased animal waste to landfill
remains outside the public consciousness (Hawkins 2006, p.67 in Instone &
Sweeney 2014).
Thus there is a body of literature focused specifically on dog feces waste, but the
focus of such management is usually on ensuring that this waste enters the waste
stream. Dog feces is apparently presumed to have been successfully managed
when it is bagged and placed in a bin, even though it has probably been placed in
a non-biodegradable bag and gone to landfill.
The second dominant focus in the literature regarding animal waste and waste
management has been on animal agriculture, with animal farming linked to
contamination of water, air, and soil (Fry et al 2014; Hooda et al 2000; Sharpley,
Kleinman & Weld 2010; Tarsitano 2006). This is a focus that can be tracked back
many decades (ie Bhattacharya and Taylor 1975) and internationally; for example,
in China animal waste concerns have focused on animal agriculture as a major
source of pollution (Kong & Han 2002; Sun & Wu 2014; Xiaoyan 2005) and the
largest cause of aquatic eutrophication (Strokal et al 2016). Areas surrounding
concentrated livestock production have been found to report high levels of nutrients
and organic pollutants in surface waters (Xiaoyan 2005) and presence of veterinary
drugs in both waterways and soils (Wei et al 2011; Wei et al 2016).
Sustainable pet animal waste management
Composting and biogas production are the two main ways in which sustainable pet
waste management has been reported in the literature.
Composting has been used successfully to reduce companion animal waste. A
composting initiative in Alaska sought to reduce the amount of canine waste
entering waterways and landfill in an area with a particularly high dog population
and sensitive ecosystem (Freeborne 1994). The project, which engaged volunteer
mushers and kennel owners, experimented with nine different compost bins to
break down a concoction of two parts canine fecal matter to one part chopped
straw and birch or hardwood sawdust, with results demonstrating the program
effectively eliminated parasites and produced usable fertilizer (Freeborne 1994).
Effective composting was enhanced by choosing an appropriate bin that enabled
the high temperatures required to compost canine feces (Freeborne 1994; Rippy et
al 1997).
A composting trial in Quebec (Nemiroff & Patterson 2007) placed multiple bins and
bilingual flyers in a dog park, encouraging the collection of waste, with plastic
shovels, to be deposited in compost bins provided. Unlike the project in Freeborne
(1994), the Quebec project did not reach the high temperature required to eliminate
parasites, however it did see a reduction of dog waste, demonstrating the potential
for composting programs to lessen the mass of animal waste going to landfill
(Nemiroff & Patterson 2007). The trial program was picked up as a permanent
feature of the dog park and it is estimated to divert 7000 plastic bags, over 1000kg
of dog feces and 136kg of sawdust from landfill (Nemiroff & Patterson 2007).
Vaughn et al (2011) developed a compostable cat litter using corn waste. The
authors noted that this had the potential to increase the value of this agricultural by-
product whilst producing a more environmentally, and cat friendly litter. The
potential to reduce waste through feeding food scraps to animals has also been
explored (Salemdeeb et al 2017). Thompson et al (2015) found that 28% of
respondents to a food waste survey reported feeding food scraps to pets as a
means of reducing food waste. However, only 5% fed more than half of the total
household food waste to pets, indicating a modest impact on the amount of food
waste going to landfill (Thompson et al 2015). On a similarly small scale,
Tsagarakis (2017) explored the potential for companion rabbits to be included in
household waste management. This combined feeding the kitchen scraps to the
rabbits and adding rabbit manure to a compost bin. Based on researcher
estimates, if 30 households adopted the same practices, one garbage truck journey
per year would be saved (Tsagarakis 2017).
The potential uses of both companion and farmed animal feces in biogas
production have also been explored (Abdeshahian et al 2016; Okoroigwe et al
2010; Okoroigwe, Ibeto & Ezemal 2014; Tranter et al 2011; Young, Sproul & Bruce
2014). Biogas has been used as an environmentally friendly source of energy and
offers a potential pathway to diverting animal waste to energy generation, rather
than pollution (Haryati 2006).
Research has predominantly focused on animal agriculture, where levels of animal
waste are much higher and therefore will generate the highest energy yield
(Abdeshahian et al 2016; Tranter et al 2011). However some efforts have
considered which pet animals could be included in biogas discussions (eg. Young
et al 2014). While dog feces alone are not recommended as a source of biogas
due to low yield, its high retention time make it an excellent addition to other
species’ excrement (Okoroigwe, Ibeto & Ezema 2014). Young et al (2014) found
that the conversion of horse waste to biogas at an equestrian centre could reduce
waste removal and energy costs, as well as reducing environmental impact of
animal waste disposal, potentially offsetting any initial costs in setting up an
anaerobic digestion system.
Our research – online and grey literature (policies and planning docs) and
scoping “pet waste”
Two iterative research activities were undertaken by the authors. From the above
literature review and an initial overview of policy documents it was clear that there
was a need to scope out what constitutes “pet waste”.
The major wastes identified from domestic animals were:
Animal bodies
Cat litter - types include clay, silica crystals, recycled paper, wheat, corn and
walnut shell waste.
Poo bags
Animal body bags
Aquarium water (including fish feces and urine)
Non-biological include:
Pet toys and paraphernalia (eg dog and cat toys; fish tank ornaments)
Packaging of the animal related paraphernalia including treat bags, toys and
Animal Bedding materials
these non-biological wastes are not explored further here but are important to
As identified above, dog feces has been the dominant focus of the literature. This is
also the focus of waste management policy and planning documents, with some
mention of disposal of urine and animal bodies. However a much wider diversity of
pet animal wastes exists, including some that tend to be species specific such as
cat litter and aquarium water. The following research is based on a review of grey
literature, online explorations and ethnographic seeking of information due to the
virtual non-existence of peer-reviewed literature on these aspects.
Feces – Focus on Cats
Cats are the second most common pet animal globally (GfK 2016) with an
estimated 23% of pet owners living with a feline, although Australian rates of cat
ownership are slightly higher at 29% (Animal Medicines Australia 2016, p17). Cat
waste has some specific causes for concern, as cat feces can carry E.coli, the
bacterium responsible for various infections that can affect human and animal
digestive and urinary systems. Antibiotic treatment is necessary to cure E.coli
infections. In addition, cats can carry Toxoplasmosis, which can be fatal to the fetus
in pregnant women. It can be transferred to humans through handling of cat feces
by cleaning litter trays, a more common task as cats become increasingly seen as
a species that needs to be contained (RSPCA 2017; Stirling et al 2008).
There are several different types of cat litter, some biodegradable and some not.
Types of litter include clay, silica crystals, recycled paper, wheat, corn and walnut
shell waste (Vaughn et al 2011). However the experience of one of our researchers
(fostering kittens) was that even the biodegradable forms of kitty litter were not that
easy to dispose of as it is not allowed to be placed in green waste recycling bins
and opinions differ on whether it can be home composted. The silica crystals
contained in many cat litter mixes are biodegradable but can be a respiratory
irritant for some people and cats. These crystals are also usually mixed with
bentonite clay, which is not recyclable and environmentally damaging to mine
(Vaughn et al 2011).
Pet hair or fur
Like humans, animals shed their outer layers – be this skin, hair, fur or feathers.
The most obvious “waste” product with regard to pets is fur from animal grooming,
including dogs, cats and rabbits.
Dog hair was used for weaving rugs and other items by pre-European people of the
Pacific Coast of North America (Salish), and there are records of a unique breed of
dog with long woolly hair whose hair was used for this purpose. These dogs have
now disappeared as a distinct breed (Solazzo et al 2011).
Online searching found several sites that describe possible uses for pet hair,
including crafts (making felts, stuffing toys), absorbing oily liquid wastes and in
compost. Cat and dog hair in the garden is said to repel slugs and snails and to
trap flying insects. One site also mentioned spinning dog hair (from the Cheingora
breed) into yarn, reputed to be warmer and more water repellent than sheep’s wool
(Chiengora Fibers 2009).
The groomers contacted by the research team during this project report no way of
disposing of dog hair except to put it into landfill bins.
(Plastic) Bagging the waste
Core to the disposal of all the animal wastes identified above is the use of plastic
bags. Non-biodegradable “poo” bags, body bags, and general rubbish bags are the
means by which waste is predominately sent to landfill. This adds not only organic
waste matter but also non-degradable plastics in this increasingly unsustainable
waste management approach. In addition, non-degradable poo bags (with or
without their biological waste) may become litter itself, entering waterways, natural
environments and food chains of wild animals.
Most Councils in Australia provide bags in public places for the disposal of dog
feces. In some areas, for example Holdfast Bay Council in South Australia, similar
bags are also available for purchase from the Council. These bays are stated to be
“oxo-biodegradable”, meaning that they will break down when exposed to sunlight,
elevated temperatures or mechanical stress. However, it is not clear what the bags
break down into, whether this is small pieces of plastic or other elements. As these
bags are not fully biodegradable, people are advised to place the used (full) bags
into rubbish bins that go to landfill. The only way in which the feces may be placed
in organic “green” bin is to open the bag and empty out the contents. This is an
unattractive option for many pet owners, (previous research regarding “disgust”
(Arhant & Troxler 2009) and the increased risk of zoonotic disease transfers is
problematic. As well as using bags specifically provided for feces collection, many
people re-use other plastic bags. Although fully compostable bags are available,
councils in generally do not provide these due to cost and the fact that the bags do
not fit into existing dispensers. These bags are not widely advertised for sale
presumably due to the cost compared to plastic bags.
Genetic science is being used to address lack of feces collection in public places in
the United Kingdom, where a trial dog feces DNA testing scheme was reported to
halve the amount of dog feces found in public places. This has lead to an ongoing
DNA registration system (London Borough of Barking and D Dagenham 2018).
According to media reports, a number of other cities, across various western
countries, are investigating the technology. In most trials, residents voluntarily
submit their dogs’ DNA to a database. Dog feces found in public spaces is tested
and compared to the database and offending owners face large fines. In some US
cities residents are required to submit their dogs’ DNA; with reports of reduction in
public dog feces of up to 80% (Gray 2015, Gough 2013). There is potential to
embed greater sustainability into this genetic approach for example by requiring the
use of bio-degradable bags, or using composting receptacles.
Animal Waste as compost or fuel
Despite the success of the composting schemes described in the literature review,
Australian Councils tend to recommend that dog feces not be composted in home
based systems (eg Sutherland Shire 2018), as the temperatures reached may not
be adequate to destroy bacteria and worms. However, home-based feces
composting systems are available for purchase, so composting animal feces in
individual homes is still an option. The cost of these systems, and the lack of
garden space for their installation, may be responsible for low usage levels, as well
as the lack of any real incentive to install them. For home owners who are unable
to collect pet waste from their own properties, companies are available to collect
and remove feces (eg The Poop Scoop Service, 2018). However these companies
do not state their disposal methods, leaving one to surmise that the collected feces
ends up in landfill.
There are several reports of large scale composting and biogas production being
successfully trialled in Australian animal agricultural facilities (Biomass Producer
n.d.). For instance, Kia-Ora piggery are now successfully converting pig waste into
fuel using anaerobic digestion, producing 15% more energy than needed to run the
facility, which now feeds back into the grid (Kia-Ora Piggery Poo heats and power
the site with some to spare n.d.). Similar initiatives are evident in poultry, beef,
dairy, and egg farming facilities, with emission and cost reductions proving to be a
big incentive to take steps to reduce the amount of animal waste going into landfill,
waterways and airways (Biomass Producer n.d.). Several facilities are also
embracing the conversion of out-of-date or otherwise unconsumed food waste from
local supermarkets into compost or animal feed, further highlighting the potential
avenues of waste reduction that can and are being successfully pursued in
While the above initiatives do not presently involve companion animal waste, they
do indicate the feasibility of composting and biogas for more sustainable animal
waste disposal.
Policy documents - Australia
A scan of Australian local government policy documents was undertaken using a
range of terms (Dog/animal poo, Dog/animal faeces, Dog/animal waste removal,
poo/faeces recycling, dog/animal management, Waste management/management
facilities, waste removal, (intensive) animal keeping, domestic animals
(management)). The following synthesis is based on the outcomes of this search.
The problem of (pet) animal waste appears to be dealt with on two fronts. The first
is from a health and hygiene focussed approach. State Governments have
development planning documentation for all metropolitan and regional areas to
ensure federal legislation requirements are met. State based planning and
development considers federal legislation such as the Environmental Protection
and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999) and the Water Act (2007). While the
plans vary slightly in their content from state to state, all generally address
considerations of waste minimisation (ie recycling) and waste management
facilities, with most also addressing animal keeping. The animal keeping
component considers how and where animals are housed, primarily to prevent
contamination of water and ground water. The density and location of animals in
relation to townships, settlement or urban areas is also considered from a noise
and hygiene approach. For an example see Ceduna Council Development Plan
The second pet waste related area deals more specifically with animal
management. Table 1 provides a summary of the animal management legislation
and strategies identified across Australia. All states and territories have an Animal
Management Act. These acts primarily deal with Dog and Cat Management,
addressing such aspects as dog registration, dogs wandering and prescribed
breeds or working dogs. Individual local governments and councils are then
responsible for regulating and enforcing the state level legislation via their own Dog
and Cat (or Animal) Management Plans. From a scan of various management
plans, councils tend to approach dog and cat waste from a ‘bag it and bin it’
perspective. All impose fines for individuals who do not clean up after their dog
when in public, and an overwhelming majority provide free waste bags and bins in
public spaces where dogs are allowed either on or off leash. Some councils were
also found to provide information for residents about the best disposal methods of
their dog poo. For examples see City of West Torrens (2017) and Indigo Shire
Council (2017).
Table 1. Summary of Animal Management Legislation and Strategies within
State Government
Local Government
Key Strategies
Tasmania: Dog Control
Act (2000)
Victoria: Domestic
Animals Act (1994)
South Australia / Northern
Territory: Dog and Cat
Management Act (1995)
Queensland: Animal
Management (Cats and
Dogs) Act (2008)
Western Australia: Dog
Act (1976)
The state government
legislation is regulated
and enforced by local
councils who all have
their own Dog and Cat or
Animal Management
Impose fines for failing
to remove dog poo from
public and private
Provide waste bags and
bins in public areas
where dogs are allowed
Provide information on
best disposal methods
for dog poo
While planning and development strategies aim to minimise the impact of animal
waste there is still a gap when it comes to the actual management of the waste, in
particular pet animal feces. At local levels, governments actively work to reduce
the impact of public dog feces by encouraging waste to be picked up and disposed
of in a bin, however this does not reduce the environmental impact of pet feces as
most ends up in landfill. A small number of councils offer workshops on
composting and worm farming for residents and actively promote this as the best
method for dealing with dog waste (Government of South Australia 2018). Some
councils even offer residents a free worm farm for attending a worm farming
workshop (for example Sutherland Shire 2018).
Key directions emerging from the research
A number of key directions emerge from the research presented here. In particular
the dominant focus on dogs needs to be expanded to include a recognition of the
diversity of pets whose waste is increasingly filling landfill via domestic waste
channels. Specific recognitions/responses may need to be considered regarding
some of these pets, for example cat litter and feces.
Pet “waste” is far more diverse than has been considered – fur, bodies, aquarium
water and cat litter are all forming part of this waste stream but are not currently
considered on any meaningful scale. In addition, non-biological waste from
increased pet related consumption (eg packaging of new and disposal of old /
damaged items) is an area for further consideration and merits inclusion in broader
approaches aimed at reducing over-packaging.
Approaches to pet waste need to move beyond just hygiene management to
sustainable circular models. While composting systems are available for pet
owners to dispose of their pets feces, these are not widely implemented. Public
spaces and dog parks still use the “bag it and bin it” approach while composting
and methane collection techniques could be embedded as alternatives in these
areas. Similarly the use of a three bin system (landfill, organics and recycling) is
employed throughout Australia for residential and business waste however use of
the same system in public spaces is not widespread meaning a larger than
necessary volume of waste from public locales (including plastic bagged dog feces)
is still ending up in landfill sites. Simply swapping non-biodegradable plastic poo-
bags for biodegradable ones offers some quick sustainability improvements but
into the future there are a myriad of on-site circular, sustainable pet-waste
management approaches that have been trialled and merit greater application.
The best data that exists regarding pet ownership is generally from market
research. National governments do not collect data on pets, unlike livestock, which
are viewed as part of the national economy. This said the implications of this
research is that pet waste is a significant and growing issue that public resources
are inevitably spent on, hence it may be in governments’ interests to track these
numbers more closely into the future.
Models of home and community based responses (such as feeding human scraps
to animals and then on-site composting and use of their fur and hair) have the
potential to be embedded across communities, perhaps creating increasingly larger
Public sewage systems need to be part of sustainable pet waste management;
care needs to be taken to not lead to animal waste moving from landfill to sewage
treatment system disposal (punitive measures could lead to people “hiding” pet
wastes by putting pet feces into the sewage system). Sustainable pet waste
disposal discussions have the potential to open up further discussions around
better ways to deal with human biological waste, which could also be composted
and converted into biogas.
Notions of “responsible ownership” and “pets as family” could be mobilized to
incorporate environmental citizenship as well. Picking up dog’s feces and placing in
a public composting system when out walking could be positioned as not only good
neighbourly practice but also environmental citizenship. DNA testing, public
shaming, and greater financial consequences for not participating in sustainable
pet waste systems (once established) may also encourage higher adherence to
sustainable disposal models.
The indications are that pet wastes, while perhaps not a huge player in
unsustainable models of waste management, do play a part in current waste
management unsustainability; a part that may be increasing as pet ownership and
pet related consumerism increases in many countries. There is scope for further
delving into the diversity of pet related wastes and identifying sustainable disposal
and management methods for the benefit of not only pet owners and their pets, but
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