Composting Zoo Poo!

4 Asian Elephants, 2 Maasai Giraffe, 2 Sumatran Rhino, 1 Black Rhino, 2 Indian Rhino, 2 Bactrian Camels, 2 Przewalski’s Horses, 5 Red Pandas, 2 Grevy’s Zebra, 4 Bongo, 2 Okapi, 2 Takin, 5 Red River Hogs and 1 Yellow-Backed Duiker

What do all of these animals here at the Cincinnati Zoo have in common? They are all herbivores, and their waste is going to become rich, organic compost! For years, the Zoo has been sending all of their organic waste directly to the Rumpke landfill.  Wanting to find an alternative solution for our organic waste, the Zoo partnered with Marvin’s Organic Gardens to have our organic waste hauled there to be composted. Marvin’s is a Class II composting facility and is currently collecting organic waste materials from places like WalMart and Lebanon Raceway.

Prior to this project, all of the Zoo’s organic waste had been going to the landfill. Every day, Rumpke would come to each of these animal houses, tip the dumpsters into their trucks and haul the waste off to the landfill. Knowing how quickly the landfill is filling up, and how valuable the organic material is, the Zoo came up with a plan to have the waste diverted to Marvin’s Organic Gardens instead. Rather than having Rumpke empty all of the dumpsters filled with organic waste, a team of dedicated employees from each of the areas whose animals are contributing, along with our maintenance and horticulture staff, jumped in and are now the ones hauling the waste to a central location. Rumpke then comes just once a week to haul the waste away, saving us money in addition to diverting waste.

A week into the project, the Zoo diverted 7.31 tons of organic waste from the landfill! That material will sit in static piles at Marvin’s Organic Gardens, getting turned every so often, slowly decomposing. In about a year, the organic material will have turned into rich, organic compost to be used in gardens and landscaping! Using the first week as an estimate, the Zoo will be diverting somewhere between 420 -530 tons of waste during 2011! This equates to a reduction of about 8,000-10,000 kg of methane, and 170 to 210 metric tons of equivalent carbon dioxide!

Composting is something that everyone can take part in. For the Cincinnati Zoo, this project would not be possible if it weren’t for the dedication of the Zoo’s Volunteer Green Team, the horticulture and maintenance staff, and the keepers at Wildlife Canyon, Elephant Reserve/Giraffe Ridge and Rhino Reserve, with more keepers from other areas of the Zoo wanting to get involved.  Stay tuned to find out more about how you can compost in your own home and join the Zoo in diverting waste out of the landfill!

Check out some photographs of the composting project in action. Paul Reinhart, Team Leader in Wildlife Canyon, is hard at work in the wee hours of a cold, winter morning in early February. Click on each thumbnail for more information.