"Dog Waste Only"

On Thursday, June 30th, East River State Park inaugurated its new dog run. It’s white-pebbled, surrounded by the beautiful park, and has some of the best real estate in New York, with its sweeping waterfront and views of the Manhattan skyline. But the ESRP dog run isn’t just lovely, it’s also totally unique; it has the only dog run in the entire country with an on-site composting program.

Here’s the quick and (pun intended) dirty: a trash can on one side of the dog run is marked “DOG WASTE ONLY,” and for the duration of the opening, a Parks person stood by the can, instructing the dog-owners to dump out the content of their plastic bags. Confused, excited, and skeptical dog owners giggled as they gingerly shook out the poop, peering down into the can. Devin, one of the Parks employees in charge of the initiative, says this is the only active compost at a dog run in the United States. They were inspired, Parks employee and compost-spearheader Devin Gorsen says, by composting at the Notre Dame de Grace Park in Montreal, where, in four years, the Friends of the Park collected and composted nearly 1500 tons of dog waste.

What Devin and the folks at ESRP are piloting is an acutely ambitious stab at a huge problem. We face an increasingly daunting issue of landfills, and solid natural waste -- while perhaps a squeamish topic for some -- must be dealt with accordingly. In 2014, the LA Times ran an Op-Ed with the headline “Just How Bad Is Your Dog For the Environment?” that had some pretty shocking statistics for the environmental effects of dog waste. Those dog-owners who don’t pick up after their dogs are responsible for major pollution in local watersheds, but for even the most exacting pooper scoopers, author and researcher Judith Mernit found that a whopping 4% of landfill in San Francisco (and probably a similar figure for like cities) is dog waste in plastic baggies. That’s an unbelievable amount of waste -- and would be an incredible landfill reduction if ESRP’s composting program were to catch on.

Wondering how it’s done? Basically, when the bin starts to fill, Parks employees dump the waste into a “Nitrogen Supply Bin,” where it’s mixed with sawdust--a necessary carbon source. When that’s full, it’s time to transfer the waste-and-sawdust into the “Cooking Bin,” where it’s heated and mixed for the next 6-8 weeks, and then it’s moved over to the “Curing Bin.” It stays there for a year, after which it’s finally ready to use! Your dog’s dinner this June could be fertilizer for the flowers next August.

Don’t live close enough to ESRP to take advantage of their exciting composting program? Some City Parks staff here on the Williamsburg waterfront have expressed their hopes that the composting programs will spread to dog runs around the city and country. If you have a backyard, here’s a step by step guide by City Farmer that shows you how to make a dog-waste composter yourself out of an old plastic trash can.

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