Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Project Propec (and you think your job is crappy)

I dog-sat Jack, my dog-nephew, for a bit last week.

During our time together, Jack pooped three times.

Fortunately, my sister and her family live quite near the Salem Common, an exceedingly good dog-walking place, well endowed with ample trash receptacles in which to drop a plastic bag o’ poop.

What the City of Salem does with their poop round up, I have no idea.

I suppose that the solid wastes collected on The Common end up making an already odiferous landfill and even more odiferous landfill.

Last week’s dog walking weather was relatively pleasant. While not exactly warm, it was not windy, snowy, sleety, or wind-chilly. And the ground was not covered with treacherous frozen snow that makes finding just the right spot more difficult for Jack (not to mention whoever is walking him) to identify and partake of during the dead of winter.

Thus, I was quite interested in a recent Bloomberg/Business Week article on a French “boutique fertilizer company” that my brother-in-law Rick pointed out to me last week.

Agronutrition – quite the name for a place that trades in crap, which I personally don’t think of as all that nutritious (dogs, of course, may disagree here) – is not just trying to do the same old make lemonade out of lemons (metaphorically speaking) trick that’s been tried before. (Last year there was some group in either Cambridge or Somerville doing something with converting dog crap into energy in local parks.)

No, what’s interesting about Project Propec is what they’re doing behind the mercifully closed doors of their lab:

“What we have here is endomycorrhiza, the molecular detoxifying mechanism for a diffusive airborne substance with a 100 meter radius that provokes an immediate intestinal ejection at a precise position,” microbiologist Hicham Ferhout says, thumping shut the steel door. “In layman terms, we’ve finally discovered how to make a dog sh*t in a specific spot, disinfect the deposit and convert it into environmentally friendly energy  or fertilizer. I have to think like a dog.”

Dogs crap an average of 22 pounds a year – I’m guessing Jack, who is a black lab, does a bit more than that – and, with nearly 9 million dogs in France, there’s a lot of waste going to waste.

Project Propec is a joint venture between Agronutrition and the City of Toulouse, which has been spending over $50 M Euros each year shoveling shit. (And that’s not metaphorical shit shoveling, either. It’s the real deal.)

Toulouse was prompted to get down to the business of dog business when they established an Office of Tranquility to handle citizen complaints.

Forget liberté, egalité, fraternité.

These days, les enfants de la Patrie are being called aux armes to bitch about la merde de chiens. 

Toulouse deputy mayor,Jean-Michel Fabre, could point to seven dog parks, “but the dogs refused to use them.”

Fabre, quite handily, a veterinarian,  noted a key problem:

“It’s not the dog owner who chooses the place his dog will poop. It’s the dog who makes the decision and it required a lot of deep thought and analysis to get the dog owners of Toulouse to realize it.”

But once Project Propec has its breakthrough, dogs will  no longer go where they wanna go, doo what they wanna doo. They will be irresistibly drawn to an X Marks the Spot and make their deposits.

Which will be productized, and monetized, as fertilizer.

Things look (or smell) promising:

Ferhout says the initial tests getting 34 female beagles to  poop as directed were 100 percent successful and that field
experiments at seven sites throughout Toulouse are scheduled to begin this fall.

The formula for the merdish G-spot is a secret, but it is a “mélange of dog feces, urine and sex pheromones.” God knows that should have plenty of curb your dog appeal to the canine set, who like nothing better than a good old smell fest.

Agronutrition’s CEO, Cedric Cabanes had this to say:

“I can’t right now say that it will work with 100 percent certainty…But if it does, Toulouse will become the center of a miracle industry.”

I, for one, absolutely believe that getting a dog to crap in a designated spot, and to do it fast, if not a miracle, will certainly be a tremendous feat.

On the other hand, do we want to deprive our doggy friends of the great fun they have when on a leisurely, olfactory rich, nose to the ground (or groin) walk. Other than in inclement weather conditions, when I’m all for depriving them.

I’m less interested in the fertilizer aspect of Project Propec, although anything that’s sustainable and eco-friendly is all to the good. And as Cabanes has said.

“Once we’ve done it with dogs, we can do it with humans.”

That would be the fertilizer half of the equation. We (most of us, anyway, at least after the toddler stage) have already figured out where to go when we have to go.


Tip of my Black Dog cap to Ricky T.  This was a thank you gift from my sister for taking care of Jack.

dog cap

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