Dog Poo! From Hero to Zero to Hero. A Brief Circular History

At last, I get to use one of my holiday pictures (Iceland 2016)

How can a noxious substance like dog poo move between multiple uses in society?

  • a manufacturing process ‘raw’ material sought after by humans, 
  • a public nuisance leading to enforcement and prosecution, and 
  • a new opportunity to light the streets and improve communication?

To put some context around my sudden interest in dog poo, it’s featured quite a lot in my life this week:

  • It’s something I have to deal with as a responsible dog walker. Just remember to bin the offending package before you get home, and not leave it in your coat pocket when you hang it over the warm radiator (yep, I’ve done that…24 hours later it stinks!).
  • A friend of mine was accosted at 6.30am by Council Enforcement Officers while he was walking his dog through the park. He didn’t mind that too much, he’s a responsible citizen. What he did find irritating was being asked to turn out his pockets to prove he had poop bags. Apparently a lack of sufficient poop bags is indication of intent to commit the crime of not picking up your dog poo.
  • Another friend is standing for public office (in a Council). One of their manifesto promises is to tackle the (perceived) dog poo problem in the town. Dog Poo a big issue for the local voters. Yes, it really is, but it wasn’t always so…

London Dog Poo, ‘Pure’ and Useful. There was a time when Londoners (well, some of them) would scour the streets of the Capital looking for valuable dog poo. The poo was taken to Bermondsey, the leather tanning district, where tanners paid good money for the smelly cargo. More detail about the Bermondsey Poopmongers in this Londonist article: A Brief History of London Poo.

Apparently some Tanners would agitate the soaking pits with their feet. Nice!

The poo was used in the leather tanning process. This involved either ‘drenching’ (soaking)  animal hides in a liquor of dog dung and water or ‘masterings’ where a ‘confit’ of dog dung and vegetable matter was laid (by hand) onto the animal hide. Lovely!

The words pure, puer or pewer were used to describe the dog poo. If you haven’t gone a bit queasy and want to know more about the use of ‘pure’, there is a fascinating article written by Julian Walker, ‘More poo, and some words from tanning’.

As a consequence of the demand for dog poo in tanning, it meant that the streets of towns with tanneries were kept free from the nuisance, hurrah! Unfortunately the perfectly natural dog poo became replaced by more efficient chemicals during the industrial revolution (chromium compounds). Since then, with the increase in the population of people (and dogs) the nuisance has returned to the street. From Hero to Zero.

One quick thought, I wonder if any of the Artisan Hipsters of Bermondsey (and other hipster enclaves) would consider a return to the old ways of leather tanning? It might help to keep the streets clean?

The Menace on the Streets. Since the decline of using ‘pure’ dog poo in leather tanning it has been a significant problem on the streets of cites, towns and villages across the globe.

This article from OnEarth Magazine, The Poop Problem summaries the scale of the problem:

  • America has 83 Million pet dogs,
  • They produce 10.6 million tons of poo every year,
  • One gram of dog poo contains 23 million bacteria,
  • Studies have attributed 20-30% of the bacteria in urban watersheds to dog waste,
  • Air samples in Cleveland and Detroit contain bacteria that is 10-50% from dog waste.
  • I won’t go on…. Total Zero.

Bright Lights and Wi-Fi, Moving back from Zero to Hero. This is quite interesting if you are into the science behind behaviour change.

Things like the Keep Britain Tidy poster above, ‘There’s no such thing as the dog poo fairy’ are examples of campaigns designed to educate and appeal to people’s better nature. Other ‘campaigns’ involve shaming techniques, like painting poo fluorescent yellow, or sending it back to the dog owner in a gift wrapped box. You can have a read of some of the best examples in this article on Pet Poo Skiddo, 10 Bizarre Campaigns Pushing People to Pick Up Dog Poop.

Three things stick out on the ’10 Bizarre Campaigns’ list that aren’t focussed on education or punishment. These seem to offer incentives as a method of changing people’s behaviour:

  1. Pick up your Dog Poop and get a Lottery Ticket in return. An interesting idea, but it does remind me of the Cobra Effect (link here), where there the solution actually made the problem worse.
  2. Put your dog poo into some sort of ‘digester’ that creates methane gas, that powers something that generates electricity, possibly a bright light. I’m not sure that these digesters are very effective at small scale, but you can have a look at the idea in Fast Company Magazine, ‘Don’t Throw Our Your Dog’s Poop: It’s Now a Valuable Resource’.
  3. Offer people free wifi in public places if they deposit their dog poo in a special collection bin. The more poo that gets deposited, the longer the WiFi lasts. There is a lovely example from Mexico City where an internet company, Terra have installed these facilities in 10 parks across the City. You can read more here in this New Atlas article, ‘Mexican internet company exchanges public Wi-Fi for dog poo’, not a headline you see every day… Alternatively you can watch the video, there is a particularly hilarious bit at 1 minute 26 seconds with a dog owner massaging his dogs stomach to produce the ‘goods’ that will allow him to send an email. Enjoy!

So, What’s the PONT?

  1. Problems aren’t always problems, sometimes they can be solutions to someone else’s problem. Things change and you need to be aware of opportunities.
  2. Incentives and things that make people’s lives easier might be more effective at changing behaviour than just a threat of punishment or educational posters.
  3. Free WiFi might be the answer to all of life’s problems. If you don’t believe me have a look at this post about the use of Free WiFi to reduce the risk of skin cancer in Peru.


The source of the WiFi transmitter intrigues me



About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s