Founder Tracy Rosensteel wanted to provide pet owners with a more eco-friendly way to clean up after their pets. That started with keeping it Made in America.
It didn’t take a trip through the grocery store checkout line for dog owner Tracy Rosensteel to decide on the definitive answer to the requisite supermarket bag question – paper or plastic?
Living in New York City while working on Wall Street, Rosensteel became alarmingly aware of the problem of plastic pollution while walking her French Bulldog “Indiana Jones” through the streets of Manhattan.
“At the end of every day, every bin on every street corner is chalk full of these single use plastic bags full of dog waste, and I started thinking there has to be a better way,” Rosensteel said. “If I go to the grocery store, I maybe will have a couple of bags a week, and I was using three plastic bags a day picking up after my little guy. So, I thought, ‘who’s doing what about this plastic issue?’”
The always curious entrepreneur knew that the overuse of plastics had become a major environmental problem for both humans and animals. Through her research, she discovered that 500 million single-use plastic doggie doo-doo bags are deposited in American landfills each year, containing approximately 10 million tons of dog waste.
In 2019, after two years of research and development, Rosensteel took up the fight against plastic pollution and launched Pooch Paper, a recycled, non-chlorine bleached paper alternative to single-use plastic dog waste bags.
Pooch Paper is easy to use and more friendly to the environment compared to plastic alternatives. Dog owners take a piece of the grease resistant paper to collect their furry friend’s waste and twist the top to secure the safe closure of the bundle before depositing it in a waste bin. The paper is sturdy, and because of the grease-resistant finish, it securely holds the dog’s deposits, making sure the waste remains inside the paper and not on your hand.
More importantly, Pooch Paper sheets are 100 percent biodegradable and 100 percent compostable. Plastic bags can take from 500 to 1000 years to break down in a landfill, if they break down at all. And the plastic bags that do degrade in the landfill don’t break down completely but instead become microplastics that absorb toxins and continue to pollute the environment and enter the air that we breathe.
Pooch Paper dog waste sheets are manufactured in the United States using renewable energy. Rosensteel sources the high-quality, grease-resistant Pooch Paper waste collectors from an East Coast paper mill that employs more than 500 members of the United Steelworkers union.
“It was paramount that I kept this Made in the U.S. for a myriad of reasons, but I am proud of being an American and I think we need to support our own backyard,” said the 46-year-old Chicago native. “I found a tremendous paper plant that is carbon neutral and uses renewable energy. The paper and pulp they source is already recycled and the pulp drying process that creates a greaseless coating on both sides of the paper is PFAS chemical free because it is naturally created. Well, I thought I can’t get a whole lot greener than that.”
While Rosensteel managed to create an eco-friendly alternative to the to the overuse of plastic dog waste bags, educating pet owners to the ease and importance of using paper instead of plastics has been an ongoing mission. After all, using plastic poop bags has been the established method of collecting dog waste for years, in much the same way that plastic grocery bags remain the norm at many supermarket check-out counters.
But Rosensteel knows how to spread a message.
Beginning in 2006, Rosensteel hosted, produced and directed an internationally filmed television show called “In Pursuit of Passion,” which aired nationwide on PBS for four years. The show, which filmed charismatic trailblazers who overcame all odds in pursuit of their dreams, was a three-time Telly Award winner. It is now available for viewing on Amazon Prime.
Comfortable in front of the camera and knowing the enormous benefits of national television exposure, Rosensteel decided to apply for an opportunity to make an investment pitch for Pooch Paper on the ABC television show Shark Tank. Of the 40,000 people who seek a spot on the popular business investment show each season, Rosensteel was one of the approximately 125 people that qualified to make her pitch on the air.
During the Shark Tank episode, broadcast in October 2020, Rosensteel struck a royalty deal with shark Kevin O’Leary, “a.k.a. Mr. Wonderful,” which paid him $1 per sold box of Pooch Paper for his $250,000 investment. O’Leary, who often describes a pitched product he deems worthless as “pooh-pooh on a stick,” seemed to be investing in the pooh-pooh on paper business. A Wall Street veteran himself, O’Leary bonded with Rosensteel by calling her “Wall Street Tracy” after hearing of her 13-year Wall Street career as owner of the firm Vega Consulting.
But after the filming was complete and the show aired, the deal between O’Leary and Rosensteel never materialized. Today, Pooch Paper remains fully self-funded by Rosensteel.
After the Shark Tank episode, Rosensteel quickly discovered there was an appetite for her Pooch Paper product. Sales have increased year over year since Pooch Paper went to market in February 2020, about two weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns began.
For many entrepreneurs, starting a business at the beginning of the pandemic was a recipe for disaster. But Rosensteel was fortunate to be in an industry that saw substantial growth during the many months that people were homebound. Statistics from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) reveal that 1 in 5 households in America adopted a pet during the pandemic period, spending $21.4 billion on non-medical pet products in 2020 and 2021.
“We found that no question there is some education behind it, but we found that dyed-in-the-wool pet owners are a little bit more eco-conscious than the rest of the consumers out there for whatever the reason, which is good,” Rosensteel said. “Typically, when people realize there is an alternative solution out there, they are usually pretty excited about it. I have been collecting data from having been on the market for two years, and I can say that we have a much stronger sell through when it comes to people who treat their pets like a part of the family and are willing to pay a little bit more.
“We are at the high end of the market price, but we are not outside the market price. We are not 2-cents-a-bag China plastic. We are Made in the U.S.A, totally organic, but we still manage to stay within the realm of market price.
“I would say the more awareness that is available around the product, the more people embrace using it.”
Pooch Paper is available in 12 x 12-inch sheets for small to medium sized dogs and 14 x 14-inch sheets for medium to larger size dogs. A pack of Pooch Paper contains 50 sheets of dog-waste paper and retails for $12.99 for the 12-inch size and $13.49 for the 14-inch sheets. A bulk size box of 500 sheets is priced at $50 and a box of 1000 sells for $90.
Pooch Paper also offers a Pooch Pouch that holds about 20 pieces of paper and clips on to your dog leash or belt buckle. The Pouch is hand-made from recycled sail cloth from sail boats in Newport, Rhode Island and sells for $16.99.
Rosensteel is currently working with municipalities and multi-tenant housing units throughout the country to entice them to purchase her Pooch Paper Dog Dispensers. These consumer-friendly dog waste stations provide free disposal Pooch Paper sheets and are found in dog parks and neighborhoods with large apartment buildings that have a high concentration of canines.
“Our Pooch Paper Dispenser has a QR code on it, and when you click on the QR code with your phone, it takes you to a 30-second video of an animated dog that pops up and tells you what Pooch Paper is and why it matters and how to use it,” Rosensteel said. “If you are a consumer walking your dog and looking to pick up after him and you’ve never heard of Pooch Paper, the video quickly explains it all.
“So, the conversation gets started and people do actually call their Parks and Recs representatives and ask about it, and we have seen more traffic from that going back to what we have already built up with our retail business and that has been really great.”
Pooch Paper products are available in more than 2,000 retail stores including PetSmart, Walmart, and smaller, local specialty pet stores. Pooch Paper can also be purchased online through Chewy, Amazon, and the Pooch Paper website.
“Sustainability starts with each and every one of us,” Rosensteel said. “If we contribute one small effort, such as switching a daily consumable from plastic to recycled paper, we can all help save our planet, one pup at a time.”