This summer, a Cambridge park on Pacific Street near Central Square found something to do with dog feces other than decorate the undersides of our sneakers. The Park Spark project, which ended last Friday, consisted of a digester that converted dog feces into energy in the form of methane. Its creator, conceptual artist Matthew Mazzotta, strives to build systems that restore peoples’ connections to their environment, and reveal the impact that our actions have on our surroundings.
Through Park Spark, he hoped that people would start questioning the way they deal with waste. Usually, dog owners pick up their dogs’ waste in a plastic bag, dump it into a trash can, and forget about it.
“Waste doesn’t go away when we put it in garbage cans,” said Mazzotta. Once at a landfill, the organic waste releases methane, a greenhouse gas 30 to 70 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.Conventionally, farms have been targeted as sources of methane gas. Inspiration for Park Spark came when Mazzotta started thinking about the waste produced by “animals of the city”—humans and their canine best friends.
At Park Spark, dog owners put their pets’ waste in biodegradable bags and throw it into an airtight methane digester. Anaerobic bacteria breaks down the waste, releasing the methane for the machine to collect.
But there’s more—the energy that comes from burning methane can be harnessed to power anything else, and Mazzotta has left it up to the community to decide what project it wants to invest in.This year’s Park Spark was a pilot, meant to be a catalyst for more interesting projects. Park Spark itself will be back next spring. “When it returns, it will be able to take different forms,” said Mazzotta.
Even such ingenuity and good science, however, can never win over all the skeptics. Local dog owner Mario Ortiz said, “It’s a great idea...if it works.”