Diocesan News

Sixth-Grader Thinks Outside the Box to Encourage a Cleaner Neighborhood

Bay Ridge Catholic Academy student John Cafiero said “people in the dog park and on Shore Road loved my idea” of the bag dispenser. (Photo: Courtesy of Christina Cafiero)

BAY RIDGE — One environmentally-conscious local youth is hoping to make the world a cleaner, healthier place, one bag at a time.

The Cafiero family got their first puppy — a beagle named Bella — towards the beginning of the pandemic last year. Since then, when they’ve taken Bella out for walks or to baseball and football games at fields on Shore Road in their Bay Ridge neighborhood, they’ve encountered a pesky problem — pet waste.

“It’s really gross if you step in dog poop,” said John Cafiero, a sixth-grader at Bay Ridge Catholic Academy. “We should be able to walk down the street and not worry about this.”

As a result, John was inspired to make a pet waste bag dispenser for his school’s virtual Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math fair this spring. But then, when he realized the idea could benefit the greater community, he designed a pair of wooden holders that could be filled, and refilled, with biodegradable pet waste bags.

John’s mother Christina said her son and her husband, who loves woodworking, built a prototype and made the final products. “I was excited to see the development from the ideas on paper to the actual wood box,” she said.

John placed them at the 97th Street/Shore Road entrance and at the Owl’s Head Park dog run where locals often bring their dogs to walk them. He also hung laminated flyers alongside his bag holders, with a message describing the harmful effects of pet waste.

“When people do not pick up after their pet, rain washes away the waste into our storm drains, which gets into our waters,” John explained. “I didn’t realize pet waste could contaminate our waterways.”

“One gram of pet waste contains approximately 23 million coliform bacteria,” he continued. “Using a biodegradable bag eliminates this problem.”

Since he first placed the bag holders at the locations on May 16, John said he has heard and seen mostly positive reactions from the community — and has even refilled one of the holders with 50 more dispensable bags. However, he later discovered that one holder had been destroyed, and plans to replace it.

“The people in the dog park and on Shore Road loved my idea,” John said, “and when the community board [10] found out about it, they wanted to feature my flyer in the monthly community board newsletter.”

As warmer weather approaches and dog walkers visit the park and dog run more frequently, John hopes they’ll use his invention to pick up after their pets.

“The best way to dispose of the waste is not in a tissue or paper towel — you need to use biodegradable bags,” he said. “And remember my slogan, ‘Take one for number two! It’s your doody! Clean up after your pet.’ ”

John Cafiero and his dog Bella. (Photo: Courtesy of Christina Cafiero)

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