Dog Waste Diversion

Dog Waste Diversion from Metro Vancouver on Vimeo.

Nearly 500 tonnes of dog waste is deposited in regional parks every year, and a million plastic bags end up in the waste stream. A new project in regional parks however, is providing new, eco-friendly improvements in dog waste disposal.

Some call them man’s best friend.  Whatever you call them, dogs are such good companions, it’s estimated as many as 35 per cent of us own one, or even two. But, there’s an unpleasant side to this otherwise happy picture.

Like humans, dogs produce waste.  Unlike humans, they don’t use the toilet.  So their owners often take their four legged friends to a park to do their doggie business.

“We have ten million park visitors every year and about 25 to 35 per cent would include a dog or two,” says Liz Birss, a Park Area Visitor Services Specialist for Metro Vancouver. “If you calculate a medium sized dog depositing .17 kilograms of poop, times that by 2.5 million dog visits and it comes out to about 450 thousand kilos of dog poo that’s deposited in the parks every year.”

You heard that right – 450 thousand kilograms of dog waste.  About 500 tons, or enough doggie droppings to fill 50 dump trucks. That’s a lot of dog poop.

Tom McComb, Metro Vancouver Parks Operations Supervisor explains why dog owners don’t always grasp the extent of the issue.

“What we hear a lot is oh it’s just my dog doing his business, what’s the problem.  The problem is that dog owners see only their dog.  Whereas we see a much different problem which is the cumulative affect of dogs in our park here. ”

Birss dispels a common misconception.

“Contrary to popular belief, dog poo’s not fertilizer, it’s full of bacteria and salts and nitrogen that take a long time to dissolve, for one, and degrade, and some of the pathogens might stay in the soil for years.”

It’s not only a health hazard for parks staff, and landfill workers to have to deal with, it’s also creating methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that’s a major contributor to climate change. And then there’s the plastic.  If it’s going in the garbage it needs to go in a plastic bag so workers dealing with it don’t make direct contact.  We’re talking about a LOT of plastic.

“A million dog bags are used in the parks every year,” notes Birss. “And for Metro Vancouver that doesn’t count the other municipalities.  So it’s a lot of dog bags, a lot of waste going into the landfill.”

The sheer volume of poop and plastic is the reason behind a metro Vancouver pilot project, trying to find a better solution. At Boundary bay and Tynehead regional parks a separate bin for dog waste is being tested.  It gets cleaned out on a regular basis by a dog waste collection service. But the downside to that scenario is it doesn’t eliminate the need for plastic bags. Which brings us to … this man’s job.

He works for the company that empties the collection bins, and also picks up from the main grassy area at Capilano River Regional Park.  Cutting open each dog waste bag and dumping out what’s inside is the only way to make sure the poop goes to a wastewater treatment plant, while only the bags go to the landfill.

A doggy toilet area is also being tested at Capilano River, but so far it’s met with limited success. But at the offleash dog area at ALdergrove Lake Regional Park, another concept seems to be working.  Here, shovels are provided so dog waste can be scooped up, and deposited in an in-ground tank.

“A lot of the feedback was positive, they liked it,” says Metro Vancouver Park Operations Supervisor Doug Peterson. “They thought it was a great idea, especially when they understood the sheer volume of bags that were being used, so they said, well let’s improve it by being able to mark it because we can’t find it.  So they came up with an idea of ‘land-mine’ marking. It’s a little flag they put beside it, so they can come back with the shovel, clean it up.  So they came up with that idea, there’s a lot of user input.”

One use might be to produce compost that could go back into the parks.  That unique idea is being tested right now by UBC researcher and doctoral student Geoff Hill.

“My interest is in vermin composting, and that’s the action of earthworms to degrade manures,” explains Hill. “It’s a very new field and in all the literature research I’ve done, I haven’t found anyone who’s tried to prove that worms can degrade dog waste.  That’s why the small scale lab experiment is going to start looking at that base question, can they do it?  Will they survive?  Do the worm populations grow?  Does the material degrade and are the pathogens kept?”

“The world needs a lot of solutions that are low tech, low cost, and that maintain themselves,” adds Hill.  “And the activity of an earthworm consuming organic waste has been around since the beginning of earth’s biological history. Hopefully we can find the right mix to make it work for dogs.”

And, for the planet.  Remember the numbers?  450 thousand kilograms of dog poop equals 500 tonnes, and that doesn’t include the thousands of municipal parks in our region.  Metro Vancouver hopes this pilot project will soon help identify some solutions.

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