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The city and county of Denver, Colo., has set up a one-year pilot project with Denver-based Poo Free Parks to improve pet waste management. Poo Free Parks, a privately held firm, has installed and is maintaining a minimum of 200 pet waste bag dispensers in 25 Denver-area parks, at no cost to taxpayers.

"It's good for the parks, the people, the planet and our cities," said Poo Free Parks’ President Bill Airy. "Pet waste can ruin an otherwise beautiful park, creating health hazards, an unsightly mess, not to mention the large amounts of plastic waste that accumulate."

The program aims to address several environmental and civic issues, including cleaner parks, waterways and walkways; improved water quality in rivers, streams and lakes; and a reduction in the amount of plastics in landfills. The waste bag dispensers are made from recyclable aluminum, and the bags are designed to biodegrade within 18 months. The company’s crews drive hybrid vehicles when they service the dispensers.

The pilot plan, according to Airy, will save taxpayer dollars by delegating pet waste tasks to a private entity. The plan also provides jobs to at-risk individuals from local rehabilitation networks and battered women's shelters.

When he announced the plan this past summer, Kevin Patterson, manager of Denver Parks and Recreation, explained that "the service will be funded through cause marketing, aligning publicly minded businesses with a public need through an environmentally conscious effort." Sponsorships, which help defray the costs for dispenser installation and maintenance, are available at three levels: the single park level, city quadrant level or the exclusive sponsorship level.

Nonprofit development groups and beautification foundations already have signed on as sponsors, said Airy. Pet food and supply retailers, landscaping contractors and tree services also are likely sponsors, he added.

The sponsor signs on the dispensers were originally going to be sized at 12-by-18 inches, but protests before the Denver Parks and Recreation Advisory Board led to a decision to shrink the sign size, according to press reports.

“It's a very expensive problem,” Airy told GovPro.com. “Denver spent $38,000 last year just on the pet waste bags for people to pick up after their pets. With the labor and maintenance, as well as the parts for the dispensers, a medium-size city could spend a quarter-million dollars easily per year on controlling pet waste.”

Plans call for expanding the program to other markets, including San Francisco and New York. “We hope to expand after we become more established in the Denver market,” Airy told GovPro.com “We want to just make sure we are fully established in Denver before we stretch our arms out too far. We are accepting inquiries from many other cities right now, and we are open to starting new projects beginning this coming spring.”