There are people making millions from your pet’s poo
BBC By Eric Barton 23 June 2016
Every time Kathleen Corridon’s kids blew out a birthday candle, it was the same wish.
The Corridon family from Port Monmouth, New Jersey, finally gave in when their children reached 10 and 12. But in exchange for the pup, Corridon said she made her kids promise to pick up anything the dog left behind in the garden.
That deal lasted a month. So Corridon repurposed the children’s weekly allowance, or pocket money, and hired a company called When Doody Calls, for $9 a week. “Picking up the poo isn’t an extra, it really has to be done,” Corridon said.
New industries are emerging in the unlikeliest place. (Credit: Alamy)
And it’s far from the only poo-related company. If there’s one thing that’s clear about this dirty business, it’s that it’s making a serious profit. It’s an industry that has seen dramatic growth in the past decade, from pet poop pick-up to turning human waste into medicine and energy.
It wasn’t science that got Meg Retinger into the business of poo but a misplaced shoe.
But then the company had a ground-breaking idea. In 2010 the firm started selling kits that could test the DNA of dog droppings. PooPrints is now in all 50 states in the US, Canada, and expanding internationally. The system is marketed mostly to owners and managers of apartment buildings, which require owners to register the DNA of their pets before they sign the lease. Any misplaced surprise is then tested, and the owner is sent a fine.
The tests, called PooPrints, are now the company’s primary business. Nearly 3,000 apartments, mostly in North America, have signed up for the service, which costs $50 for the initial DNA test and $75 per sample. Costs of the tests are passed along, Retinger explained, in the form of fines to the “poo-petrators.”
According to Debbie Violette, the property manager at Timberwood Commons, a 252-apartment complex, in Lebanon, New Hampshire, that has been using PooPrints since 2011, about three quarters of the tests come back conclusive, while the other quarter was likely left behind by a neighbourhood dog.
“After three strikes, it’s like, it’s not working, and we really don’t want you to stay if you can’t pick up after your dog,” Violette said. “Most people get it, but there is usually one or two people who just can’t seem to figure out we mean business.”
The Greater London borough of Barking and Dagenham — no joke — has begun a pilot program with the PooPrints service. Retinger said the trial has gone so well that local authorities plan to make it permanent.
“We like to say that we’re No. 1 in the No. 2 business,” Retinger said. And if there’s one truth about the business of dog poo, she said, is that it’s always picking up.
Reducing the carbon footprint
Forget solar, human waste also has the potential to become an efficient renewable energy source. Bus operator, First West of England, began running a 40-seat Bio-Bus that runs on biomethane gas generated from sewage and food waste. Now, First West has proposed adding another 110 waste-powered double-deckers. The “poo bus”, which is fuelled by the Bristol sewage treatment works, has become so popular that rival Wessex Bus has also applied for a government grant to run 20 bio-buses by 2019.
According to First West, a single passenger's annual food and sewage waste would fuel the Bio-Bus for 37 miles (60km). Its green credentials are good too: the Bio-Bus emits 30% less carbon dioxide than conventional diesel vehicles.
Medical breakthroughs. Yes really.
Poo also has a growing value for doctors. Increasingly, human faeces is being turned into medicine, injected or ingested by patients fighting infections.
The idea that human faeces could be used in this way was little known in 2005 when Catherine Duff, now 60 and living in Indiana, developed an infection after taking an antibiotic. The infection led to nausea, diarrhoea and other health problems so severe she couldn’t leave the house. Seven years after her problems began, her doctor recommended removing her colon. But even with surgery, the doctor told her that her chances of survival were slim.
Instead of a colon transplant, Duff decided to try something different altogether : a faecal microbiota transplant, after which her health improved almost immediately. Donated poo meant she could lead a normal life again.
To help those suffering with similar stomach problems, Duff created the nonprofit Fecal Transplant Foundation. Since Duff’s life-changing procedure four years ago, an entire industry has sprung up around faecal transplants. Companies are now selling kits and Duff said big pharmaceuticals companies have begun testing their own versions.
One of these is OpenBiome. The nonprofit has shipped more than 12,000 stool samples to doctors and clinics performing transplants, at a cost of $385 to $535 each. They’re collected from 32 donors who are paid $40 for daily donations that must be delivered within 45 minutes of passage.
It’s serious work benefitting the medical community, and it’s often met with lots of snickers, said Sasha Liberman, with the stool bank. “You get a really long line of responses when you tell people what you do,” she said. “A lot of people tend to think it’s really gross, but when you explain it, they’re often really fascinated.”