Brown Gold: Introducing Zoo Poo Compost

Just over a year ago, Horticultural Curator Lance Swearengin looked up at the Oklahoma City Zoo’s ever-growing mountain of organic plant and animal waste and began formulating a plan. He realized this increasingly hard to manage 15-year-old compost heap wasn’t a burden, but an opportunity in disguise... there was (brown) gold in that hill.

Swearengin reached out to Oklahoma City-based landscaping company Minick Materials and presented a plan that would utilize their composting expertise and the OKC Zoo’s abundance of organic waste to create a new product: Zoo Poo.

Minick agreed and the plan was in motion. Starting in October 2017, it took a full month and about 60 truckloads to completely transport the Zoo’s massive compost heap, estimated at 2,000 cubic yards of waste (that’s 400,000 gallons or about two-thirds the capacity of an Olympic-sized pool), to Minick’s composting field for processing.  

Effective composting requires a complex mixture of heat, water, mixing and time to turn organic waste into productive fertilizer. Minick adds a special mixture of microbes to accelerate the process, breaking down the waste in about 90 days, depending on the weather. That’s approximately two months faster than the process took in-house.

Swearengin says the Zoo transports from one to three truckloads of organic waste each week to Minick’s Zoo Poo pile. Materials included in the compost are waste from herbivores, grass/tree clippings, chipped bamboo, organic animal bedding and other sources. Not included is waste from carnivores (it breaks down more slowly and contains less soil-benefiting nitrogen) and waste/bedding from animals on antibiotics. While the stream of animal waste is basically the same week-to-week, the amount of plant waste varies greatly due to a number of factors.

Once the finished product is available, Zoo Poo will be used to fertilize the Zoo’s 160 acres of botanical gardens/flower beds and will be made available for purchase to the public, either in the form of small, bagged units or by the truckload. Minick will also sell Zoo Poo to their customers in the future. Stay tuned to the Zoo’s social media and blog for more details.  

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