Even the furry friends of San Francisco residents are taking part in the city’s aggressive recycling program. Norcal Waste Systems, the local trash hauler, has been testing a new technique for converting dog poop into energy. If all goes as planned, Norcal will install collection bins, stocked with biodegradable bags for collecting and depositing the poop, in parks and public areas later this year—a proposal that has residents cheering. “There is unbelievable interest in dog poop right now,” says Robert Reed, Norcal’s spokesman.
Norcal has been testing an anaerobic digester that is fed a mixture of dog poop and food scraps. Microorganisms in the digester break down the waste and produce methane, which would be collected and sent to a turbine to produce energy. The process creates enough heat to kill off pathogens in the dog poop, Reed says, and food scraps—already collected from more than 2,000 area restaurants through another city recycling program—are added to balance the chemical content of the mixture, so that the process runs efficiently.
The project was inspired by the city’s tough stance on trash. San Francisco aims for zero landfilled garbage by the year 2020, and recycling the poop from the city’s 120,000 dogs will aid this goal, says Reed. Pet feces account for 3.8 percent of landfilled wastes in San Francisco, according to a city study; overall, dogs and cats in the United States produce about 10 million tons of waste per year, says Will Brinton, an environmental scientist and Norcal’s consultant on the project.
Reed estimates that the dog poop recycling program could power 1,000 area homes each year. “I get 20 to 30 calls a day from universities, cities that want to start their own collection programs, residents who want to volunteer,” he says. It seems that these days, recycling is for the dogs—and that’s a good thing.
Story by Deborah Snoonian. This article originally appeared in Plenty in July 2006.