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The scoop on poop: Is it garbage or compost?

Black cat
Black cat - Lynn Curwin

In looking for the poop on how municipalities handle pet waste, there’s a lot of information on dumps to wade through.

It turns out there are a couple of different policies across the province. For Halifax, it all goes to the Otter Lake landfill. Other areas, however, like the Municipality of Colchester, Pictou County and the Annapolis Valley, make composting the number-one way to handle your furry companions’ number twos.

Matt Keliher, Halifax’s manager of solid waste,said the best bet for the provincial capital’s residents is to put dog feces, cat litter and other pet waste like hamster bedding in your household garbage.

“Realistically, our message has been just to put it into your clear bag or your black bag and put it out at the curb and we’ll take it away and it’ll get managed,” Keliher said.

Doug Hickman of PHA Consulting Associates handles waste management and environmental consulting in about 50 countries around the world. He sees no issues in going with the flow for either option regarding pet poop.

“Landfills, theoretically, should be able to accommodate that material,” Hickman said.

“They’re designed with leachate collection systems and — at least in the case of Halifax — with a gas recovery system for greenhouse gases. But that’s not the case for all landfills in the province at all. So in Halifax there shouldn’t be any particular environmental concern in terms of contaminants coming from the landfill. Of course, it is a material that’s taking up landfill space and if what we want to do is minimize reliance on landfill, or ultimately get rid of landfills altogether, then of course it’s good to get pet waste out of landfill. Certainly it can go into composting systems and in terms of a waste management perspective that’s a good thing to do.”

Between four and six per cent of a typical municipal landfill is pet waste, Keliher estimated.

A 2013 Stantec Waste Resource Strategy Update report to municipal council pegged the total residential waste sent to the landfill in 2011 at around 140,000 tonnes for the year. Four to six per cent of that would be about 5,600 to 8,400 tonnes annually.

A 2010 study — available on the Divert NS website: ( assets/files/CLDF-REPORT.pdf) — on suitability of cat litter and dog feces as compostable materials, estimated a total of about 10,000 tonnes of dog and cat waste is produced in the province per year.

That study, authored by Dr. Jason Hofman, offers nuggets on the chemical composition of cat litter, its nutrient value as a compost material, and pathogen issues related to cat litter and dog feces. Its conclusion, in essence, was that the material is suitable as long as the compost reaches a temperature of 55 C for a long enough duration to “inactivate” pathogens like fecal coliform bacteria, salmonella, protozoa like the one that causes toxoplasmosis, E-coli, Giardia intestinalis and helminth worms. The study points out that Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment standards require that duration must be three days for “in-vessel and static pile compost” and 15 days with a minimum of five turnings for “windrow compost.”

Keliher said the possibility that the temperature range might be missed is one reason why Halifax doesn’t compost pet waste. Another is that the facilities weren’t designed for it. A third is the negative stigma that can be attached.

“That’s when you look at the least overall potential impact on a risk scale to the residents of HRM and the products that we’re trying to move,” Keliher said.

The city is looking at upgrading the compost facilities and, in a request before council for qualifications for the bids, “pet waste was not included in our list of items that should be included,” Keliher said. But that doesn’t mean it won’t come along sometime in the future, he added, so the ability to add the capability should be part of the plans.

In the Annapolis Valley, residents now can put cat litter in their green bin, effective immediately.

“It’s kind of a soft launch, we call it, no pun intended,” Andrew Garrett, communications manager with Valley Waste Management, said with a chuckle.

“Really, we’re following the lead of a couple ofother areas,” Garrett said. “Colchester County, they’ve been doing it for many years. They take both cat and dog feces. And Pictou County just started doing cat litter last year.”

Garrett said it makes sense to divert litter and make it a resource but there are a couple of reason why they’re turning their noses up at dog poop.

“One is a lot of people collect dog feces in plastic bags,” he said. “We can’t have that showing up in the green cart. (It) causes more problems than good. Secondly is cat litter is a little less odorous, I’d say, than dog feces, because it’s absorbed. . . . But I can see dog feces in a green cart, large quantities of it, being quite odorous.”

Darlyne Proctor, waste reduction manager with the Municipality of Colchester, said they’ve been composting it since 1996.

“We take all pet waste. No livestock. But whether it’s the wood chips from a guinea pig cage or cat litter or the dog feces, as long as it’s unbagged and in the (green) cart, it can be in a paper bag or a box or anything.

“The only thing, I think, why other municipalities haven’t done it is there’s a sense of a yuck factor. There’s absolutely (no) scientific reason why it can’t be done.”

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