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New York dog park institutes waste-composting project

Wastenot

What has a penchant for face-licking, a tendency toward tail-wagging and deposits (on average) about 274 pounds of ... er ... waste material every year?  A dog, of course -- and one group of dog-park devotees in Ithaca, N.Y., intends to do something positive with that last thing we mentioned.

The group, called the Tompkins County Dog Owners Group (TC DOG), has partnered with a company called Cayuga Compost to put to use the enormous amount of waste that winds up at the Treman Marina Dog Park each year.  

"There was a large Dumpster at the park, and it was just always overflowing with plastic bags of dog poop. The amount was unbelievable," Leon Kochian, a Cornell University biology professor and dog owner, told the Associated Press of the genesis of the pet-waste-composting idea.  Since Ithaca, a college town, has a reputation for being environmentally conscious, "it made sense to us to find a way to compost and spare the landfill from all the plastic bags," Kochian said.

Now Cayuga Compost removes an estimated 1,000 pounds of dog waste (which owners place in corn-based, biodegradable bags) from the 5-acre park each month, according to Kochian, TC DOG's spokesperson.  Kochian hopes that the project will be able to turn something most dog owners see as a nuisance into something beneficial.

But neither he nor the composting professionals at Cayuga know yet what that will be.  The New York Times reports:

At its composting facility, Cayuga dumps the waste into a pile -- mixed with a bit of yard and wood waste -- quite separate from the company’s regular food-waste compost.

And there it will sit -- until the company figures out what it might be good for.

Late next year, Cayuga plans to run tests to determine the composition of the dog waste (after all, a dog's diet is arguably more varied than virtually any other animal's, in accordance with the whims of their owners). If it matures into nutrient-rich compost, it might be applied to potted plants or landscaping, said Mark Whittig, Cayuga's operations manager. If the compost is of poorer quality, it could be used for blending with topsoil, he said.

The price tag for this green project?  Kochian told the New York Times that it will cost about $6,000 per year, and donations have already covered the first year's costs.

The Ithaca group believes its program is the first of its kind in the U.S. A similar approach has been proposed in San Francisco but not yet instated.  In Canada, Montreal's Parc Notre Dame de Grace instituted a similar program in 2004; since then, it has diverted about a ton of waste and thousands of plastic bags from the local landfill every year, according to the Associated Press.  And a number of backyard pet-waste composting models are available, if you're into gardening (flowers, not food!) and can't wait for L.A. dog parks to hop on board.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: A dog owner deposits her dog's waste into a composting bin at the Treman Marina Dog Park in Ithaca. Credit: Heather Ainsworth / Associated Press

 
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