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The average dog produces about 12 ounces of waste every day. That doesn’t seem like much — about what a can of soup weighs. But multiply that by the estimated half a billion dogs in the world, and in a year you wind up with around 74 million tons of poop.

In case you’re wondering how much that is, it would cover New York’s Central Park to a depth of nearly 25 miles, or fill Boeing’s airplane production facility in Everett, Washington nearly 10,000 times. The U.S. alone accounts for about one-seventh of that total.

That’s definitely a metric poop load — and it’s even more disconcerting when you realize that all of that waste has to go somewhere. Dog feces are an environmental pollutant, and can spread all kinds of bacteria and parasites. There are companies that specialize in removing that waste, as well as others that provide waste bag and disposal stations for apartment communities.

The rise of “pooper scooper” laws

Despite all of this, quite a lot of that poop remains where the dog left it, as you’ve probably discovered if you’ve ever felt that familiar but unpleasant “squish” on the bottom of your shoe. And yet, it wasn’t until the late 1970s that New York became the first big city to pass a mandatory “pooper scooper” law.

It wasn’t easy, either. Dog lovers feared that it was the first step to banning dogs in the city altogether, and a nearly eight-year long battle ensued before the law went into effect on August 1, 1978. San Francisco soon followed suit at the instigation of city councilmember Harvey Milk, and many other jurisdictions created their own laws. Nowadays, it’s hard to find a place, at least in the U.S., where it isn’t illegal to leave your dog’s mess behind.

The big problem with pooper scooper laws is, of course, compliance. If people don’t happen to have a scoop or baggie handy or they think that no one is looking, they might be inclined to leave that lawn biscuit alone. That’s why, in many places, people have come up with more creative ways to get people to clean up after themselves, whether by providing incentive or casting shame. Here are just a few of those methods.

  1. Hang a lantern on it
    Because dogs frequently return to do their business in the same place, some areas have decided to leave the poop where it lands but draw attention to it. In Dunbartonshire, Scotland, authorities have taken to spray-painting the poop bright pink, while other areas in the UK have opted for bright green or orange.In Lincolnshire, council officials have started planting flags in piles of uncollected poop. The flags are printed with what they describe as “humorous and caustic” messages, like “Man’s best friend — let’s keep it that way.”The idea behind these methods is twofold. First, since dog feces in their natural state can easily blend in with grass and dirt, the paint and flags make the mess stand out and help to keep people from stepping in it. Second, since the dog is likely to come back to the same area, the owner will be confronted with what they have left behind, hopefully shaming them into picking up.
  2. Return to sender
    In the small Spanish town of Brunete, a suburb of Madrid, locals finally got fed up with their dog poop problem, so created a unique approach. They enlisted 20 volunteers who would strike up casual conversations with offending dog owners to find out the dogs’ names. Then, they would collect the poop, box it up, and use the town’s pet database in order to mail the package back to the owner labeled “lost property.”After the town had sent out 147 of these “special” presents, the dog poop problem decreased by 70 percent.
  3. CSI: dog poop
    Another Spanish village, Hernani, took a more high-tech approach, as have individual apartment complexes in various communities, and city governments in Northern Ireland, Texas, and Israel. Owners are required to submit a sample of their dog’s DNA when they license their pet.Unclaimed mutt mounds are tested against the database to identify the owner and either issue a warning or a fine. Several companies provide testing, including PooPrints and DogPile ID, the latter a service of the UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory.
  4. Incentivize
    New Taipei, Taiwan tried a unique approach to clearing the streets of dog waste: a lottery. The government gave one free lottery ticket for each bag of poop turned in, eventually collecting 14,500 bags of poop.There were 86 winners, the top prize being a gold ingot worth $2,200 at the time, although other dog poop lotteries might want to consider giving cash prizes — that ingot has lost 23% of its value since the contest ran in early 2011.In another effort, ad agency DDB México teamed up with Internet provider Terra and set up a system in dog parks whereby depositing dog waist into designated containers would provide free WiFi for park visitors based on weight — of the poop, not the visitors. In New York, the app Emrals provides Bitcoin based payments as an incentive for people to clean up the city’s waste, including dog feces.
  5. There’s a (cr)app for that…
    Speaking of apps, in Japan, developers have created a system to allow residents to use their smartphones to create an interactive, map of uncollected dog poop around the city. Roughly translated, the app is called Town Report Tell Me Izumisano, Izumisano being the name of the town.The app uses GPS coordinates to build the map when a user posts a comment or picture, and also serves to alert authorities about areas needing repairs. When enough reports have been made in a particular area, the city re-routes their “G-Men” to collect the poop.
  6. Get your hands dirty
    Britain’s DogsTrust has started a “Big Scoop” initiative, which is designed to raise awareness of the dog poop problem as well as to encourage people to “pick up an extra” when they’re cleaning up after their own dogs. Elsewhere, charities have tried to create volunteer clean-up crews, although they’ve run afoul of government health organizations, which are leery of the danger of infection to the volunteers.
  7. Suck it up
    Starting with Paris in the 1980s, various municipalities now use crews that ride around on what is essentially a mobile vacuum cleaner with one target: dog poop on city streets. The experiment didn’t last long in Paris because the machines made a lot of noise, created pollution, and were expensive — just about half of the city’s entire poop scoop budget.In the UK, these machines are generically referred to as “poovers,” which vary in design from something that looks like a dumpster on wheels to an oversized leaf-blower. In Islington, the poovers are based on motorcycles, while Nottingham’s FIDO (Feces Intake Disposal Operation) is an all-terrain vehicle that can collect and convert 63 gallons of waste at a time.
  8. Go green
    In Melbourne, Australia, the company Poo Power is working to create biogas generators than can use the methane in collected dog waste to provide electricity.In the U.S., the Park Spark Project uses dog poop deposited by visitors to power an “eternal” flame, inspiring students in Gilbert, Arizona, to set up a similar system at the Cosmo Dog Park.

So what does happen to all of that collected poop? Currently, the best solution is counterintuitive. Unlike human waste, which goes through sewage treatment plants, the best way to neutralize the bacteria and parasites in dog poop is to bury it in a landfill, where the pathogens are baked away.

Ideally, the biogas generator idea will catch on and one day we’ll be able to light Central Park with dog waste instead of burying it under it. In the meantime, be a good Pack Leader and pick up after your pooch!

What interesting solutions have been used in your neighborhood to deal with the poop problem? Tell us in the comments.

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