AURORA | This year the dog days of summer are a time for celebration at Heather Gardens, Aurora’s largest senior living community. In August its Green Team completed one full year of a recycling program that’s a first for U.S. HOAs and a first for the city.

Every month the Green Team gives pet parents who voluntarily sign up for the program a free supply of certified compostable dog waste pick-up bags. When those residents walk their pooches along the center’s extensive outdoor walkway, they can deposit used dog bags in one of 26 strategically placed collection bins designated “Dog Poop in Compostable Bags Only.” Inside the lids are citronella sticker cups that eliminate odor.

The Heather Gardens grounds maintenance crew empties the bins and transfers the contents to Pet Scoop technicians who take it to a Longmont composting facility as part of the company’s “Waste Not” service.  Pet Scoop is a partner of EnviroWagg, an LLC that promotes dog waste composting with dozens of programs currently operating at Boulder and Northwest Denver Metro trail heads, dog parks and dog daycares.

The Green Team’s project started in early 2018 when members began thinking of how to reduce un-scooped dog poop, which persisted despite the presence of convenient bag and collection stations along the perimeter walkway bordering the community’s golf course. From the start, they decided that wrapping dog poop in plastic and trashing it was a poor environmental solution.

Green Team member Janet Arce with one of Heather Gardens’ 26 dog waste collection bins. Contributed photo

The team did some online research, found EnviroWagg and asked what they needed to do to get a composting project started. They drew up a plan and calculated the cost of bins, signs, compostable bags, transport and composting services. To entice sign-ups, they designed a program that would be voluntary, free and easy to access.

An Aurora Neighborhood Beautification grant helped to cover some of the expenses for the project’s three-month trial period using 10 bins and a limited supply of bags. Resident enthusiasm was remarkable. The grant application was submitted in hopes of enlisting 50 dog owners to participate. Eighty owners soon registered 95 dogs.

After a participant questionnaire yielded overwhelmingly positive results, the team requested and received funding from the Heather Gardens Foundation plus a second city grant to continue and expand services. A total of 160 dogs are now registered.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average pooch produces ¾ lb. of poop per day. That translates into diverting close to 22 tons of dog waste per year from the local landfill.

On the last Friday morning in July, the Green Team’s Marsha Bengen and Janet Arce were staffing a table at the Heather Gardens clubhouse, handing out a month’s supply of dog bags to participants. “Are 50 bags enough for Lexie?” Mrs. Arce asked cheerfully as she checked a waiting pet owner off her distribution list.

Mrs. Bengen, primary project coordinator, speculated that success might be due to the fact that many seniors grew up in rural places where composting was common. “They understood the idea right away,” she said. “Everybody loves it.”

Both team members agreed that they’re finding a lot less dog poop these days along the walkways and grounds. Some supporters have even volunteered to patrol the area and round up stray droppings. After all, at some later point, Heather Gardens dog poop will rise Phoenix-like from the composting bin to fertilize flowers and trees.