Matthew Mazzotta, armed with a $4,000 grant from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, created the ingenious Park Spark converter system that uses dog poop to power a gas lantern which illuminates a corner of the Pacific Street Dog Park in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Pictured: A local resident admires Mazzotta's handiwork.
—The Editors of E The Environmental Magazine
Dear EarthTalk: Is there a way to utilize the energy in my dogs’ poop? I have three dogs and lots of poop and would like to dispose of it in a “greener” manner. —Mary C. Wallace, ID
No doubt creating a way to do so is possible, as large systems called anaerobic digesters (or biogas digesters) are often used in landfills to wring energy out of trash, as well as on some big farms and ranches where large amounts of cow manure provide plenty of feedstock. In such systems, microbes generate methane gas—which can be captured and used for power—once they are set free on manure or trash. The economics of putting biogas digesters in landfills or big cattle operations can make the up-front expense tolerable—money can be made or saved by selling or utilizing the resulting power—but doing so in one’s backyard might be a different story.
Not to say it can’t be done. This past September, artist Matthew Mazzotta, armed with a $4,000 grant from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)—where he earned a master’s degree in visual studies last year—created the ingenious Park Spark poop converter system that uses dog poop to power a gas lantern that illuminates a corner of the Pacific Street Dog Park in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The system uses two steel, 500-gallon oil tanks, connected by diagonal black piping and attached to an old gaslight-style street lantern. “After the dogs do their business, signs on the tanks instruct owners to use biodegradable bags supplied on site to pick up the poop and deposit it into the left tank,” reports Jay Lindsay on the Huffington Post. “People then turn a wheel to stir its insides, which contain waste and water. Microbes in the waste give off methane, an odorless gas that is fed through the tanks to the lamp and burned off.” Although the park is small, neighborhood dog owners have provided enough waste for a steady supply of fuel.
The 33-year-old Mazzotta got the idea after travelling in India and seeing people there using poop in small “methane digesters” to cook food. When he visited Pacific Street Dog Park with a friend in 2009 and saw the park’s trash can filled with bags of dog poop, the Park Spark idea was born. He hopes the installation, which was dismantled after its one-month run, has helped point out to people that there are potential energy sources all around us and that we must consider every option at our disposal, so to speak, as we wean ourselves off oil in the face of impending climate change.
Besides reducing waste going to landfills, another environmental benefit of utilizing dog poop for energy is reducing one’s carbon footprint. Burning methane derived from dog poop or other biodegradable waste material in an anaerobic digester is carbon neutral, meaning it doesn’t contribute any new greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that could exacerbate global warming.
While it might not be worth $4,000 or a degree from MIT for you to create your own version of the Park Spark in your backyard, it’s good to know that such technology exists and will no doubt someday be available and affordable for the rest of us, as long as we continue to find ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle everything we possibly can.
Big Brothers/Big Sisters joins up with Placitas Recycling Center
Placitas residents may have seen the green box located in the Placitas Recycling Center parking area. The Placitas Recycling Association (PRA) has partnered with Big Brothers/Big Sisters (BB/BS) of Central New Mexico to offer additional recycling capabilities, while supporting an organization that provides an important community service. Donations of usable men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing, bedding and linens, curtains, housewares, and small appliances can be dropped into the BB/BS bin at any time.
BB/BS places collection bins around the community to raise funds for the organization, which matches children and youth that need mentorship with responsible adult mentors. The organization makes meaningful, monitored matches between adult volunteers and children ages six through 18. Its mission is to help children reach their potential through one-to-one relationships with mentors who have a measurable impact on youth. Proceeds from resale of donated items are used to pay staff and other expenses and to perform background checks on prospective matches. According to Chief Operations Officer Alan Wilson, BB/BS of Central New Mexico is hoping to support 1,365 matches in the Albuquerque area this year.
PRA is continuing its drive to sign up more volunteers to work at the recycling center on Saturday mornings and at other times during the week. The drive has had good success in signing up new volunteers to help keep the experience pleasant and manageable by spreading the workload. More are still needed to reach the organization’s goal to have enough volunteers so that individuals are only called upon to help out two or three times a year. Anyone interested in volunteering can sign up at the recycling center during Saturday operating hours or contact Chris Anderson at (505) 554-1951 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In other news, the PRA Web site (www.placitasrecycling.com) has added a link to catalogchoice.org, a one-stop location for opting out of unwanted catalogs. To connect to this service, click on the “Recycling Info” tab. Thanks to webmaster Gary Priester for providing the link.
The Placitas Recycling Center accepts cardboard, white and pastel office paper, mixed paper, No. 1 and No. 2 plastics, aluminum, polystyrene peanuts, printer ink cartridges, and rechargeable batteries. It is located on Highway 165, about a quarter mile east of I-25 (Exit 242). Collection times are Saturday mornings from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m., except posted holidays. As a reminder, the center will be closed the Saturday following Thanksgiving.
For more information, visit the PRA Web site at www.placitasrecycling.com.
California: Dope, eBay, pollution and moonbeams,
—Jonathan Thompson, High Country News
California's ballot is sizzling hot. Top of the list is Proposition 23, which would emasculate or kill California's pace-setting 2006 climate change law, Assembly Bill 32. That law takes a multi-pronged approach, including statewide cap-and-trade and more rooftop solar, to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Prop. 23 would put the law on hold until unemployment drops from the current 12-plus percent to 5.5 percent or lower.
Oil companies are backing Prop. 23, using the poor economy as an excuse not only to attack California's law, but also to discourage copycat laws from popping up in other states. Tea Party benefactors David and Charles Koch and other oilmen have poured millions into the effort. Environmental groups trying to keep the climate-change law alive are getting a boost from venture capitalists and executives in the high-tech industry. Since California's energy policies affect power-generation decisions everywhere it buys electricity, this vote's impacts will extend to the Pacific Northwest and the Southwest.
Best flashback Back in the 1970s, Democrat Jerry Brown was governor and voters had the chance to legalize marijuana in California. Now they have another chance to legalize marijuana and return Brown to the governor's mansion. Brown, who's currently the state's attorney general, is facing off with Republican billionaire Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay, who's pumped a record-breaking $119 million of her own money into her campaign. Whitman had to swing rightward, especially on immigration, to pull off a primary win against Tea Party candidates, and she's mired in an ironic scandal over employing an undocumented immigrant as her longtime nanny. Brown projects a liberal image -- his old nickname is "Gov. Moonbeam" -- but he's not ideologically constrained; he studied in a Jesuit seminary, earned a Yale law degree, ran for president three times and served as Oakland's mayor, among other things. This race is a toss-up.
The 1972 attempt to legalize pot went down in flames. This time, polls indicate that Proposition 19, which decriminalizes the growing, selling and possession of small amounts of reefer, is backed by a slim majority of voters. The proponents sound sober enough, citing economic rationales: Decriminalization would cut the cost of the war on drugs while providing legitimate jobs to growers and sellers. And it would allow state and local governments to collect various taxes on pot and pot-based jobs.
In another flashback, former Rep. Richard Pombo, the scandal-plagued Republican foe of the Endangered Species Act, moved from his former district to a more conservative one to try to tiptoe back into politics. It didn't work. He got creamed in the primary for the 19th Congressional District, placing a dismal third and vowing to get out of politics for good. Meanwhile, Jerry McNerney, who booted Pombo out of his 11th District seat in 2006 with big-time environmentalist support, is in a tight contest with Republican David Harmer, a lawyer with ties to libertarian think tanks and complaints about federal "socialism."
Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, another green champion, faces another formidable Republican, Carly Fiorina. Fiorina became the most powerful businesswoman in America when she was named CEO of Hewlett-Packard in 1999, but after instituting massive layoffs and bringing in lower-than-expected profits, she was canned. Now she's trying her luck as a Tea Party politician, taking a hard-line social and fiscal stance -- pro-gun, anti-abortion, against the Endangered Species Act and in favor of repealing health-care reform. With the help of an endorsement from Sarah Palin, Fiorina beat moderate Tom Campbell in the primary. Polls favor Boxer, but this will also be a close one.
Landscaping made simple
Real trees for the holidays
—Mike Dooley, High Desert Gardens
This is the first in a series of garden articles written to help you install and maintain your desert landscape. I’ll use my 30 years in the design and installation experience to show you the tricks of the trade and make your project as painless as possible. If you have questions please check my website or just give me a call. Welcome to LANDSCAPING MADE SIMPLE.
Each year tens of thousands of acres of land are used to produce Christmas trees that in January will clog landfills throughout the U.S. For many people the solution has been to buy artificial trees. Fake Christmas trees are for the same people that like fake grass. Both have their place but most of us still like the smell of the forest better than plastic. So what can we do that is “green” and still gives us that childhood experience of a real Christmas tree? Let’s consider a live containerized tree that we can actually plant once the season is over. This is not a new idea but it is one that makes more sense as our culture evolves. Just think of how many more beautiful trees we would have if this had been the norm for the last 100 years! So let’s get started. First we have to accept that this requires a little more planning. We need a strong helper because the new tree has a heavy root ball. Secondly we need a large plastic saucer to put under the container. The nursery will have these large saucers to protect your floors. Here are some of the choices that can be planted in this area.
Alberta Spruce: This dwarf tree grows very slowly to 10 ft. It looks great with garland but it’s too dense for ornaments. At this elevation it does best with a little protection from full summer sun.
Blue Spruce: This is not a dwarf tree and in a lifetime can attain 60’ in height and 20’ in width. It grows slowly but is better adapted to Christmas ornaments than the Alberta Spruce.
Pinon Pine: The state tree of New Mexico, this classic is native to Placitas. It looks good with garland and has the branch spacing needed for ornaments.
Austrian Pine: This species is extensively used as a large, relatively fast growing, large evergreen tree for our area. It can look a little sparse for those that are used to the standard cut Christmas trees because the branch spacing is a little too far apart for some folks.
All of these trees should not be inside for longer than 2 weeks so enjoy them on the front porch until you are ready to bring them in and decorate the little beauty.
For more plant information and “how to” videos go to www.highdesertgardensinc.com or call 400-0257.