How Edmonton turns your dog doodie into industrial-strength compost

Much like the daffodils and red-breasted robins, the pungent stench of dog poop — strong enough to take your breath away — is a sure sign of spring in Edmonton.

It's a crappy job but the city's waste management staff is doing it

Residential complexes across North America have conducted DNA tests on dog poop to identify the culprit. (LeslieS/Flickr)

Much like daffodils and red-breasted robins, the stench of dog poop — strong enough to take your breath away — can be a sure sign of spring.

Poop is Sabrina Hallex's business. For her, spring smells like money.

"We're definitely in large demand," said Hallex, owner of Poop Scoop and Boogie, an Edmonton family business dedicated to clearing yards of the unwanted waste.

"We currently have about 200 customers we see every week, and we've done about 500 spring clean-ups so far.

"Believe it or not, as crazy as it sounds, we put a glove on our hand, we bend down and we put it in a bucket. Truly, that is our process."

'Put to good use'

While this particular springtime phenomena is not welcomed by residents, dog poop is not maligned by the municipality.

For nearly a decade, the City of Edmonton has been turning dog poop into compost. With an estimated 150,000 dogs in the city, there's a heap of the stuff to process.

"We process the cat poop a little bit differently, because it has different pathogens that are difficult to address," said Jawad Farhad, general supervisor for organic processing and management. "But generally dog poop is much easier for us to deal with."

"We are not the only ones who do this. A lot of municipalities do allow for the composting of dog poop."

In Edmonton, once poop is placed in the trash, there is a "whole system of checks and balances" to make sure it stays out of the landfill, Farhad said.

"We want to divert as much waste as possible, whether it's organic or non-organic," he said. "Once it's made safely into a compost, the nutrients can go back in the land and be put to good use." 

Sorting it out 

Dog feces is categorized as organic waste and is processed along with things like eggshells, grass clippings and carrots when it hits Edmonton's waste management centre.

It's a crappy job but no one has to get their hands dirty. The sorting is done mechanically.   

"Normally, the dog poop arrives in the garbage stream in a black bag that the residents throw out," Farhad said. "That gets collected curbside … and the trucks will be directed to our integrated processing facility."

The bags are then fed into a series of large, churning machines called debaggers.

"Everything comes all in one big black bag, and the debagging machine basically has little teeth or little spikes that will rip through the bags, and break the bags apart."

Jawad Farhad says the compost created from Edmonton's organic waste is used for a wide range of industrial applications. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

    Once the poop and other organics are sorted through a special conveyor belt, the material is sent to the Edmonton Composting Facility, where it is carefully cured in a temperature-controlled warehouse to rid it of any dangerous pathogens.

    "The regulations call for keeping that material at 55 C for three consecutive days, and that is the process required to achieve that pathogen kill," Farhad said.

    "Once it passes the lab tests, we get the seal of approval."

    The resulting compost sits in large outdoor piles, waiting to be hauled away by trucks to industrial sites such as land reclamation and road construction projects.

    Getting your hands dirty 

    While the process is proven, Farhad said, the city is testing a new program that would have residents sort their organic waste into green bins for curbside pick up.

    If the pilot goes well, residents in every detached home in the city would be asked to put food scraps and other organics into green bins by 2020.

    While the new process would require more work from residents, the resulting compost would be cleaner, Farhad said.

    Edmonton is the only municipality in the region that doesn't make property owners separate their own trash.

    "Once we have this new process, we will have a much better, cleaner product that we can make available to the residents," Farhad said.

    "Currently, the organic [material] is co-mingled with the rest of the garbage, so it's not as clean as we would like it to be."


    Wallis Snowdon is a journalist with CBC Edmonton focused on bringing stories to the website and the airwaves. Originally from New Brunswick, Wallis has reported in communities across Canada, from Halifax to Fort McMurray. She previously worked as a digital and current affairs producer with CBC Radio in Edmonton. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca.

    With files from Tanara McLean


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