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Artist turns to dog poop to light lantern in city park

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. —It stinks and it's a hazard to walkers everywhere, but it turns out dog poop has a bright side.

Dog poop is lighting a lantern at a Cambridge dog park as part of a monthslong project that its creator, artist Matthew Mazzotta, hopes will get people thinking about not wasting waste.

The "Park Spark" poop converter is two 500-gallon steel tanks painted yellow, connected by diagonal black piping and attached to an old gaslight-style street lantern at the Pacific Street Park.

After the dogs do their business, signs on the tanks instruct owners to use biodegradable bags supplied on site to pick up the poop and deposit it into the left tank. People then turn a wheel to stir its insides, which contain waste and water. Microbes in the waste give off methane, an odorless gas that is fed through the tanks to the lamp and burned off. The park is small but has proven busy enough to ensure a steady supply of fuel.

Dog owner Lindsey Leason, a 29-year-old Harvard student, said she was all for seeing poop in a new light as she watched her two dogs play at the park.

"Since I have to pick up dog poop a lot, I think I'd rather have it be useful," Leason said.

The project was funded by a $4,000 grant from Council of the Arts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Mazzotta earned a master's degree in visual studies.

The 33-year-old Mazzotta, who is not a dog owner, got the idea after he visited the park with a friend in 2009. Mazzotta had recently traveled to India and saw people there using poop in "methane digesters" to cook food. As he watched the park's trash can fill with bags of poop, he remarked to his friend, "In other countries, they use that."

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