Two years ago, Lance Swearengin, the Oklahoma City Zoo’s horticultural curator, looked up at the 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: OKC Zoo Poo. Minick agreed and the plan was in motion.
“OKC Zoo Poo is a great example of how community partnerships can create unexpected benefits,” Swearengin said. “We have a wealth of organic waste and Minick has an exceptional ability to convert that raw material into compost. The Zoo can, in turn, use that compost in its 160 acres of botanical gardens while both the Zoo and Minick can package the compost into a great product for consumers.”
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. The Zoo transports from one to three truckloads of organic waste each week to Minick’s OKC Zoo Poo pile.
“We are proud to partner with the OKC Zoo in helping to eliminate waste going into our landfills and maximize efficiency of our natural resources,” said Jason Huffaker, Operations Manager for Minick Materials. “When making the OKC Zoo Poo, we follow a strict, monitored process that ensures proper decomposition of the elements as well as boosting the productive microbial activity that makes OKC Zoo Poo a rich, robust, all-natural compost.”
OKC Zoo Poo will be available during Party for the Planet™ on Saturday, April 20, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Zoo’s entry plaza. Two sizes are currently available: a small bag for $3.99 and a large box with pollinator seeds for $9.99. OKC Zoo Poo is available from Minick Materials in bulk for $50 per cubic yard. For more details, call (405) 789-2068.
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. 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.
Rhino photo from Katie Van Singel