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National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Home

Pet Waste Management

Minimum Measure: Public Education and Outreach on Stormwater Impacts

Subcategory: Education for Homeowners

Photo Description: A sign that encourages pet owners to collect their animal's waste so it will not wash into sewers and streams.
Encourage pet owners to collect their animal's waste so it will not wash into sewers and streams.


When pet waste is improperly disposed of, it can be picked up by stormwater runoff and washed into stormdrains or nearby waterbodies. Since stormdrains do not always connect to treatment facilities, untreated animal feces often end up in lakes and streams, causing significant water pollution.

Decaying pet waste consumes oxygen and sometimes releases ammonia. Low oxygen levels and ammonia can damage the health of fish and other aquatic life. Pet waste carries bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can threaten the health of humans and wildlife. Pet waste also contains nutrients that promote weed and algae growth (eutrophication). Cloudy and green, Eutrophic water makes swimming and recreation unappealing or even unhealthy.


Since there are pet owners in all communities, pet waste management is an issue for all municipalities. Municipalities can do a variety of things to encourage pet owners to properly dispose of their animal's waste. They can distribute materials that explain how pet waste harms water quality and how citizens can help reduce water pollution. Additionally, municipalities can enact an ordinance that provides a legal basis to fine pet owners for improper waste disposal.


The first step in a pet waste management program is to increase public awareness. Pet waste management programs encourage proper waste disposal by passing local ordinances and launching public education campaigns that inform pet owners about the importance of cleaning up after their pets.

Many communities implement pet waste management programs by posting signs in parks or other pet-frequented areas, by mass mailings, and by broadcasting public service announcements. Thurston County, Washington, has developed a brochure (PDF) (2 pp, 1.1MB) Exit EPA Site that instructs pet owners about the proper disposal of pet waste. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management also has developed a brochure (PDF) (2 pp, 2.8MB) Exit EPA Site describing the problems associated with pet waste and how to properly dispose of it.

Sign posting is one of the most common outreach strategies. Signs can designate areas where dog walking is prohibited, where waste must be recovered, or where dogs can roam freely. Many communities post neighborhood signs that ask pet owners to "Curb Your Dog." The rationale behind the request is that dogs walked along the curb are more likely to defecate on the road, where the waste can be captured by street sweeping. However, waste deposited in the road is also more likely to be washed down storm drains, so this tactic has limited usefulness.

A "pooper-scooper" ordinance is an effective solution. Many communities have pooper-scooper laws that mandate pet waste cleanup. Some of these laws specifically require anyone who takes an animal off their property to carry a bag, shovel, or scoop. Any waste left by the animal must be collected immediately. Some of these laws also include fines that can offset some of the program costs. In addition to postings, many communities have established dog parks. Other communities have installed "pet waste stations" with waste receptacles and a supply of waste collection bags, scoops, and shovels.

In some communities, public works departments or public utilities have developed programs to control pet waste. More than 150 canines showed up at one Southern California pet store to put their paw print on a pledge to make sure their owners clean up after them. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Works Environmental Programs Division also developed a program to control pet waste. By profiling various groups of pet owners, the Division identified the best target for reducing coastal pollution. The program included a multimedia campaign to educate new and existing pet owners about the water quality effects of pet waste. The program gave pet-owners cleanup kits and installed plastic bag dispensers in parks. The Division established partnerships with local pet stores and pet supply companies to promote the program (Lehner, 1999).

Deciding whether to encourage residents to dispose of pet waste in the trash, bury it in their yards, or flush it down the toilet is an important issue for communities. The City of Columbus Exit EPA Site, Ohio, recommends that pet owners flush it, or bag it and place it in the trash. The City of Albuquerque Exit EPA Site, New Mexico requires pet waste to be picked up from any property other than the owners. The waste must then either be flushed down the toilet or wrapped tightly and put in the household trash.


Pet waste management results in cleaner neighborhoods, with improved aesthetics and better water quality. Reducing pet waste reduces an important source of water-polluting nutrients - that's the message specifically targeted at pet owners.

The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services conducted a study to determine the source of bacteria in water samples in Dover, New Hampshire. It found dog waste to be a significant source of the bacteria. To solve this problem, it decided that pest waste should be picked up with a plastic bag and placed in the trash. Alternatively, unbagged waste could either be flushed down the toilet or buried about five inches deep into the ground.


Because pet waste management is focused toward individual pet owners, the program is dependent on the participation and cooperation of all pet owners. Many consider it a nuisance to consider the environmental and aesthetic benefits of pet waste management, however.


To be effective, pet waste management programs must be enforced. Neighborhood residents, community organizations, and even the municipality are responsible for ensuring that pet owners pick up after their pets and properly dispose of the waste. For the program to be fully effective, every pet owner must participate. In the city of Oskosh, Wisconsin, dog owners are required to remove pet waste from any property other than the dog's owner. The penalty for failure to comply is $116.75 in fines and court fees (City of Oshkosh, 2001). In Arlington County, Virginia, the county has established standards for dog exercise areas, including where to site them, how to maintain them, and the extent of the county's financial obligations for them.


The cost of a pet waste management campaign will vary depending on several factors, including the materials produced (signs, ads, clean-up stations). The cost of signs will depend on the material used; plastics can be just as durable as and often cheaper than metal. In Sausalito, California, the Remington Dog Park, established in 1991, has spent more than $36,000 for park improvements. Most of the money has been raised by user donations (, 2000). At the Mary Jane Roe Dog Park in the town of Clifton Park, New York, $700 was spent to install a sealed, 500-gallon underground septic tank for pet waste. Each pet owner is charged $20 for a permit to use the dog park. Funds from the permit fees will be used to help offset the costs of the septic system (Kemper, 2000). In Poway, California, the city council raised $25,000 to pay for fencing, gates, signs, irrigation, modifications, and retired fire hydrants (City of Poway, no date).


Alabama Department of Environmental Management. No date. When Your Pet Goes on the Lawn, Remember It Doesn't Just Go on the Lawn. [ (2 pp, 2.8MB) Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

City of Albuquerque, New Mexico. 2005. Pet Waste and Water Quality. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

City of Dover, New Hampshire. No date. Help Dover reduce pollution from pet waste!. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

City of Oskosh, Wisconsin. 2001. Responsibilities of Pet Owners in the City of Oshkosh. Accessed September 8, 2005.

City of Poway, California. No date. Poway Dog Park website History of Dog Park. Accessed September 8, 2005.

Kemper, J. 2000. Septic Systems for Dogs? Nonpoint Source News-Notes 63.

Lehner, P.H., G.P. Aponte Clarke, D.M. Cameron, and A.G. Frank. 1999. Stormwater Strategies: Community Responses to Runoff Pollution. Natural Resources Defense Council, New York, NY.

Thurston County, Washington. No date. Don't Let Your Pet Pollute [ (2 pp, 1.1MB) Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.


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Last updated on December 05, 2012