Pop your pooch poo in a bag

Project information

  • Name: Bag it Bin it
  • Summary: Targeting dog excrement in public open spaces in Warrnambool through infrastructure, enforcement, incentives and education
  • Lead: Warrnambool City Council
  • Location: Warrnambool
  • Themes: Dog excrement; sculpture; local laws enforcement; parks; pop-up events

Australia has long history of building ‘big things’. In Victoria, we have the Giant Koala, the Giant Murray Cod and the Big Abalone, to name a few. But not many tourists can lay claim to seeing the Giant Dog Poo of Warrnambool.

This colossal papier-mâché poo was built by children at the Fun4Kids children’s festival over winter in Warrnambool. It was part of a project to encourage dog owners to pick up after their pooches.

Above: Making the promotional poo

“Although many dog owners do the right thing, we see lots of dog poo in public spaces,” explained Kate McInnes, Waste Management/Minimisation Officer at Warrnambool City Council. “Some dog droppings contain harmful bacteria and nutrients. It can be washed through the stormwater system into waterways and Port Phillip Bay. Not to mention, it looks awful and can reduce the community’s sense of ownership of an area, which can encourage other types of littering.”

The council wanted to flip this culture and make it more distasteful to leave dog poo behind than to pick it up.

Flipping the culture

The council partnered with several of its own departments and connected with the community through schools, environmental groups, puppy training schools, pet supply and vet clinics.

“Aside from the giant poo, we had students help out by spray painting actual dog poos and counting litter in our public spaces.”

Above: Colourful poo

“We held Pop-Up Poo events at popular dog walking areas, handing out brochures and talking to residents about their dog poo habits. We handed out incentives such as individual dog bag dispensers that can be clipped onto a dog’s collar, and treats for dogs – and their owners! Local Laws Officers also used these incentives, particularly to reward good behaviour.”

Above: Promotional poo, panel and pooch

“We also reviewed infrastructure and installed new dog bag dispensers where needed. We spread the ‘Bag it Bin it’ message using a large sign, radio adverts, and traditional and social media.”

Preaching to the converted

“We did see a small improvement in correct dog poo behaviour,” explained Kate. “But not as high as hoped. We found out that many people strongly support Bag it Bin it and are disappointed in those that leave dog poo behind. But we have a sector of the community that is not influenced by environmental or amenity arguments. We’ll need a more prolonged program of activities focused on peer pressure and enforcement to make significant change.”

Above: Can I smell treats in there?

Misusing dog bag dispensers

The dog bag dispensers were very popular with residents, but in some cases, too popular. Some residents took extra bags to use at home which meant dispensers ran out too quickly, leaving no bags for those genuinely in need.

“We couldn’t maintain this level of usage and had to adjust the messaging to say that dispensers were only there as a backup in case you forgot to bring bags from home.”

Joining the plastic bag debate

“The single-use plastic bag debate gained momentum during our campaign,” said Kate. “We researched compostable bags, but were worried about their limited shelf life. What if the bags started to break down by the time they were used? We worked out that if we closely monitored the bags, we could order just enough to cover usage without too many left over.”

Learning from the project

“Through this project, I learned in a hands-on way how to create a multifaceted behaviour change program,” explained Kate. “One of the biggest learnings was to make time to talk to people to understand their viewpoint. This gave me invaluable information.

“For sustained change to people’s habits, you need an ongoing, long-term campaign with continual exposure to messaging. You need someone with enough time and energy to run the campaign. Getting buy-in from internal stakeholders is important, particularly when new staff replace staff who were previously engaged in the project.

“I would also recommend running the campaign in one area rather than trying to spread the message across the whole of Warrnambool. It would have been more achievable and easier to monitor results had we done this.

“We will keep delivering parts of the project over summer, such as Pop-Up Poo events, refilling bag dispensers and radio ads. Hopefully, we can bring enough people onside to make leaving dog poo behind a thing of the past.”

More information

Contact Kate McInnes, Waste Management/Minimisation Officer at Warrnambool City Council on 03 5559 4405 or kmcinnes@warrnambool.vic.gov.au