What to do about poo

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

Adelaide’s recreation and dog parks are experiencing a massive increase in the amount of poo being left behind by visitors.

According to the ABC, this year up to three times more of those ubiquitous plastic packages filled with poo are being dumped in and around our parks than usual. But rather than this being a new phenomenon, this is just an exaggeration of a problem that has been with us for a while.

We’ve always struggled to deal with our pets’ waste, and we’ve always struggled to dispose of it. On average, a dog produces 0.34 kilograms of faeces per day. 100 dogs create 34kg per day. The Town of Gawler Council Area has approximately 5,500 dogs registered, so when we do the maths, that's 1,870kg, - more than 1.8 tonnes - of dog poo being created just in Gawler. every. single. day.

Why the situation is worse this year could be for a variety of reasons – an increased number of park users in this COVID year, a lack of places to dispose of bags, laziness on the owners’ behalf or even ignorance as to why we should clean up after our pets in the first place.

But perhaps one of the reasons dog poo is left lying around is because it has no value. It is waste, refuse – let’s face it, it’s poo!

Maybe we could get a lot better at dealing with dog poo if we began to see it not as icky waste to be rid of, but rather as a resource we could use.

We have two problems with dog poo: we produce a lot of it, and it’s full of bacteria and parasites which make it a recognised environmental pollutant. So, in what ways can we look at this yucky waste and see opportunity?

Unsurprisingly, people have been putting a lot of thought into this, and some progress has been made, and here are just some ideas that could turn our dog poo waste problem into an asset.

1. Compost it

Rather than the environmental pollutant it currently is, the waste nutrients in faeces can become useful nutrients for your garden. The heat generated in the compost mixture as

microbes break down the organic material (around 50-60°C) will kill most canine bacteria – but not all.

For this reason, compost using dog poo is not recommended for food crops, but compost containing canine excrement can be a brilliant source of nutrients for your flowers and bring out the brightest blooms.

2. Worm farms

May possibly be the most natural and green way to get rid of dog poo. Being a step up from composting, a worm farm will break down the waste, digest it and eliminate the

odour, and the product can then be used as a soil conditioner or fertilizer – but, just like with the compost from dog poo, it’s for ornamental plants only.

According to wormtec, and Australian worm farm company, the acidic nature of the fertilizer and soil conditioner can be reduced by adding veggie waste and high carbon food sources such as newspaper or leaves.

3. Turn on the Lights

In 2010 a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate invented the Park Spark – a bin that churns over and breaks down the dog poo, creating methane biogas, which is in turn used to power a gaslight style lantern that keeps the dog park lit during the evening and night.

The Park Spark project in Boston started the ball rolling on dog poo biofuel

A similar project was green lit for Melbourne with the support of the Yarra Energy Foundation and even Adelaide Council looked at the possibility of building a version of this device in 2014, but as far as we know this came to nothing.

4. Free Energy

Building on the ideas of the Park Spark, the anaerobically digested dog poo creates biogas, and while the Park Spark relies on small contributions from local users, what if we collected ALL the dog poo from a large city – how much energy could we produce?

Toronto's aerobic digestor is turning waste materials into biofuels

Cities like Toronto in Canada are already trying this, and San Francisco has plans to build an aerobic digester to convert the city’s organic waste – including the poo of some 120,000 dogs – into biogas.

Perhaps there is a future where we could power houses, businesses or even a dog food factory from the biogas generated from poo!

With each of these ideas we turn what we currently see as an icky waste product into a valuable resource for our gardens, or a virtually free source of energy. And perhaps this is the change in mindset we need to change our behaviours.

Here in South Australia our natural environment has benefited greatly because we were forward thinking enough to see bottles and cans as a resources rather than a waste, and maybe that sort of change of attitude is what we need to embrace if we want to find a solution to our dog poo waste problem.

One wonders how many other ideas we could come up with for solving this waste issue if we stopped seeing our dogs’ poo as waste and started seeing it as a resource instead.

But, until we can see these ideas of using the nutrients or energy from poo taken up on bigger scales by individuals, communities and organisations, please remember to do the right thing with your dog’s poo – pick it up, bag it and bin it!


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