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The search for the most environmentally friendly way to retrieve dog droppings in regional parks has led Metro Vancouver to test unusual solutions – including one where it pays contractors to cut open every dog waste bag so the contents can be taken to a sewage treatment plant.
That's the system being tried at Tynehead Regional Park in Surrey and Boundary Bay Regional Park in Tsawwassen and officials say it looks like a promising method that may extend to the rest of the regional park system.
Special red bins have been set up at those two parks where dog walkers are directed to deposit poop bags, instead of using regular garbage bins.
Metro then pays New Westminster-based Scooby's Dog Waste Removal Service to take the dog waste bags to their facility and snip open each one with scissors so the poop can be dealt with as sewage and the bags go in the garbage.
"Park visitors seem to buy in easier," said Gudrun Jensen, Metro's operations services division manager. "It encourages people to pick it up because they know there's a place for it to go and it will go in the right waste stream."
Diverting dog poop to the sewage system reduces the amount of waste in the garbage stream and keeps it from rotting in a landfill, generating methane that contributes to climate change, Jensen said.
"It adds up," she said.
Metro estimates 2.5 million dogs a year are brought to its regional parks, generating 500 tonnes of dog waste annually – equivalent to 50 dump truck loads.
"Most people are astounded at the size of the problem when they hear about it," said Jensen.
Other techniques are also being tried.
At Aldergrove Lake Regional Park's dog off-leash area, a special in-ground tank for dog waste has been installed by Metro at a cost of $2,600.
Visitors are provided marker flags they can plant in the ground beside where their pet has pooped. They then get a red-handled shovel, return to the flagged deposit, scoop it and drop it in the tank, which is periodically pumped out and taken to a sewage plant.
Jensen said that system has also worked well, but is best suited to where dog activity is concentrated.
Trails can be problematic, even for the contractor-maintained waste bins.
"People want to drop their dog poo as soon as they can," she said. "If the bin is too far away they will drop the bag on the ground, throw it in a tree or throw it in the next garbage bin."
Asked how much has been spent on the dog waste trials in total, Jensen estimated $15,000.
That includes $75 per week to collect waste from three bins at Tynehead, $150 weekly to maintain another five bins at Boundary Bay's trail, and about $1,000 a year to pump out the in-ground tank at Aldergrove Lake.
Jensen defended the importance of the dog waste initiative, adding it's being closely watched by parks officials at local cities.
Leaving dog waste on the ground isn't considered an option.
"Every piece that isn't picked up has to be or it degrades the environment," she said, adding most people don't understand that dog feces is bacteria-laden and doesn't compost well.
"It's an environmental and human health bad thing all the way around."
Jensen said Metro is also watching a UBC researcher, who is testing whether worms can improve the composting of dog waste.
Final recommendations of the pilot projects are expected in the next few months.
It's not the sort of criminal activity most people associate with the forensic policing TV show CSI.
But the City of Surrey has considered using DNA testing to identify and fine dog owners who fail to pick up after their pets in its civic parks.
The concept – in use in some gated communities in the U.S. – has offending dog poop sent away for DNA testing and then matched to a local dog, whose owner can then be punished.
The idea was contemplated earlier this year, said Surrey parks manager Owen Croy, adding it's been shelved for now because the cost is high and it's unclear how all Surrey's dog owners could be compelled in advance to provide mouth swab samples of their dogs to develop the required DNA database.
"It doesn't seem practical," Croy said. "We believe it's something we should keep in mind but it's nothing we're going to be implementing in the near future."
He said the costs per dog would have been $30 to develop the initial DNA profile using mouth swabs. Pursuing offenders would have cost $10 per test kit and another $80 for the test.
Croy said Surrey is designing a new off-leash dog park near Rosemary Heights in South Surrey and hopes to incorporate best practices for waste disposal based in part on Metro's findings.