ITHACA, New York (AP) — A group of upstate New York dog owners thinks it has a can-do plan to profitably compost the tons of dog doo left behind by the roughly 50,000 canines that use the city's pooch park each year.
If their pilot project is successful, the Tompkins County Dog Owners Group and Cayuga Compost hope to market usable compost within the next two or three years.
More importantly, finding a use for the billions of pounds of pooch poop produced yearly in the United States could also lead to a significant reduction in the amount of waste material sent to landfills, said Leon Kochian, a spokesman for TC DOG, the not-for-profit volunteer group involved in funding the project.
"There was a large Dumpster at the park, and it was just always overflowing with plastic bags of dog poop. The amount was unbelievable," said Kochian, a Cornell University biology professor who owns a yellow Labrador retriever.
"Ithaca has a reputation as a green community. ... It made sense to us to find a way to compost and spare the landfill from all the plastic bags," Kochian said.
Dog and cat waste contain parasites and pathogens that make them unsuitable as compost for vegetable gardens and topsoil and can run off into local waterways and diminish water quality, said Cary Oshins, an assistant program director for the U.S. Composting Council. Composted pet waste can be used for deep-fill or other purposes.
There are any number of small-scale backyard pet waste composters and converters available on the market, but Oshins said he had not heard of any place in the U.S. trying to compost pet waste on such a grand scale.
"It actually makes sense to do it on a larger scale. The larger the facility, the more control," he said. "Anything that gets waste out of a landfill is a good thing."
There are an estimated 73 million pet dogs in the United States. The average dog produces about 274 pounds (124 kilograms) of waste a year, which means total dog waste in the U.S. is more than 20 billion pounds (9 billion kilograms).
A handful of dog parks in the U.S. provide onsite composting receptacles but none has tried moving it offsite to a large-scale composting facility in a commercial venture, according to DogParkUSA.com, a national dog park Web site.
But large-scale composting has worked at the Parc Notre Dame de Grace in Montreal, Canada, where municipal officials have been composting dog waste since 2004 and annually divert about a ton of dog waste and 7,000 plastic bags from the local landfill.
Kochian estimated Cayuga Compost has been collecting about 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms) of poop monthly from the nearly 5-acre (2 hectare) Ithaca Dog Park.
It's not surprising that Ithaca would try to find an eco-friendly solution to its excess dog doo problem. The city has a long history of being a city on the cutting edge.
The city library operates on solar power; a task force is examining how Ithaca can build a rail system of high speed podcars to transport people; and the Green Springs Natural Cemetery was among the first in the nation to allow only biodegradable coffins and no tombstones, just markers of flat fieldstones, trees or shrubs.
U.S. Composting Council: www.compostingcouncil.org
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