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Kelly Legault and her dog Ozzie use a dog waste container that converts into renewable energy at the Bechtel Dog Park in Waterloo on March 9, 2018.Hannah Yoon/The Globe and Mail

Some cities in Ontario are turning poop into power by building new receptacles dedicated to dog excrement and sending the waste to organic waste plants to be converted into energy and fertilizer.

It is the latest attempt by municipalities to tackle the urban dog-waste epidemic that is taking place as dog ownership increases.

The dog population in Canada has steadily risen over the past decade, going up to 7.6 million in 2016 from 6.4 million in 2014, with approximately 41 per cent of households including at least one dog.

This has created a problem for cities across the country as the canine waste that gets picked up in parks is being thrown into the wrong garbage bins – and even when it is put into the correct bins, it still ends up in a landfill.

The new poop-power system has been in place in Waterloo, Ont., for the past year, where dog waste makes up 80 per cent of the waste in garbage cans in city parks and along trails.

Last April, Waterloo became the first city in Ontario to implement dog-waste containers in three parks. After four months of testing in the summer of 2017, the three containers were found to have diverted 2,350 kilograms of dog waste from landfill. Instead, the waste ends up in an organic waste plant where it is converted into electricity.

In “just those three sites, we’ve actually redirected tonnes of dog waste from landfill sites, we’ve diverted half a tonne of CO2 from the atmosphere and we’ve generated enough electricity to power 100 homes for a month,” Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky said.

Mr. Jaworsky said that if the project is successful, the city hopes to eventually move back to putting blue bins in parks. Currently, Waterloo parks do not carry recycling bins, to prevent dog waste from getting mixed into them, as it is in garbage bins.

“It’s 250 tonnes of waste, of which more than half is dog waste just in Waterloo, Ont.; imagine how much it is across Canada. It’s almost like we’ve discovered brown gold,” Mr. Jaworsky said.

In Mississauga, the viability of recyclables has already been compromised as people continue throwing dog poop into park recycling bins.

“Even 30 seconds after telling them that dog waste is not recyclable, it has to go into the garbage, they put it into the recycling container anyway,” said Christopher Pyke, project lead and supervisor of waste management for the city.

The city also receives a lot of complaints regarding the amount of dog waste on boulevards and in parks, Mr. Pyke said.

“As the population grows and urbanization increases, you’re finding that more people in apartments and condos in urbanized parts of the city have dogs and are looking for places to walk them,” Mr. Pyke said. “In those small parks now, you’ve got a lot more people in a confined area that have to have a place for their dog, and a dog does what a dog does.”

Waste audits completed in 2015 and 2016 found that 100 per cent of mixed-recycling bins in the inspected city parks were contaminated with non-recyclables and approximately 55 per cent of the total recycled material weight was contaminated with dog waste.

Even 1 per cent of dog feces mixed into recycling bins forces the entire container to be classified as contaminated and end up in a landfill, Mr. Pyke said.

Starting in late April, the city of Mississauga will be installing 15 in-ground waste containers in eight city parks, including Jack Darling Memorial Park, Lakeside Park and Lake Aquitaine Park. The cost of installation is $90,000.

The concrete containers, created by a North American in-ground waste-containment company called Sutera Inc., will be placed underground so they remain cool and out of direct sunlight in order to reduce odour. The containers will be able to hold dog waste for up to six weeks.

Once the containers are full, the waste will be emptied by vacuum truck and taken to an organic waste plant to be converted into energy and fertilizer.

The city will be assessing the amount of dog waste taken away from landfills, the amount of dog waste collected, the amount of uncontaminated recyclables and pet-owner engagement.

The city’s targets include collecting 60 metric tonnes of dog waste annually and approximately 60 per cent of uncontaminated mixed-recyclable material.

Bill Higgins, director of business development at Sutera, who came up with the idea for the project with Mr. Pyke, said he’s since had about 50 municipalities contact him for the containers, which cost less than $3,000 each.

All of the municipalities he’s spoken with have said that 40 per cent to 80 per cent of what they collect in their parks is dog waste, he added.

The city of Cambridge, Ont., is the latest to install two of Sutera’s containers, while a number of other cities are currently working through the process. The containers installed so far have been in Ontario, but Sutera has received interest from California, Seattle and South Carolina, Mr. Higgins said.

In the summer, the dog-waste containers will also be installed in some private properties and high-rise condominiums across North America.

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