Walks with her dog Nala in Lethbridge off-leash dog parks inspired Marissa Crosswhite, a General Science student at University of Lethbridge, to initiate a class project in spring 2021 on better ways to deal with dog poop. While recognizing the sanitary reasons for picking up after your pet, Marissa questions the practice of placing dog poop in plastic bags and burying it in the landfill. “The plastic bags remain intact for many years and anaerobic decomposition of poop results in prolonged release of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas” says Marissa. “Surely there are options available to treat dog poop as a resource rather than harmful waste”.

With support from Environmental Sciences professor Cam Goater in 2021 and Geography professor Laura Chasmer in 2022, Marissa and fellow students that were inspired by her passion informed themselves about the amount of dog poop produced in Lethbridge – a thousand tonnes per year. They researched alternative practices implemented in other cities and reached out to knowledgeable community members to better define the issues and reasonable options.

“The Southern Alberta Group for Environment (SAGE) who had organized doggy doo-doo pickup events helped me to develop a summary article The Wasted Potential of Dog Poop and posted it along with our full report on their website so it is available to the community” says Marissa. “Through SAGE I was connected to the WasteLess committee of Environment Lethbridge where I was honored to share and refine my ideas with people who are experienced and influential in waste management”. She adds, “One outcome was a co-authored letter to the editor of the Lethbridge Herald published in spring 2023 that suggests a multi-faceted approach to reduce dog poop and associated plastic bags in the landfill”.

An option identified by Marissa includes supplying doggie bags made of plant material that can be composted with dog poop and other organics at the Waste and Recycling Centre. Currently plastic bags are not allowed in green carts in Lethbridge over concerns that most are not biodegradable and could lower the quality of the compost produced.

Diverting to the Wastewater Treatment Plant is a practice used by some cities which encourage residents to flush the poop and hire companies to separate out plastic bags deposited with dog waste in municipal dog parks. City of Lethbridge has yet to consider the logistics of doing this and potential effects on wastewater treatment and the sludge produced.

Another option is using dog poop to generate energy in small bio digesters at dog parks or in a commercial biogas plant. “I relish the idea of harnessing biofuel from dog waste” says Marissa. Again, non-compostable plastics would need to be avoided.

Marissa’s passion and courage to reach out to others beyond the university to share her concerns and ideas for addressing management of pet waste in Lethbridge has inspired not only her classmates but also the broader community. Says Marissa, “With some resourcefulness and commitment our community is well positioned to mitigate issues of dog waste and put all this poop to good use”.

Written by Cheryl Bradley