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How Zoos and Aquariums Can Create Robust Compost Programs

Between animal poop, bedding, inedible food scraps, landscaping debris, and restaurant or snack food waste created by guests, zoos and aquariums generate tremendous amounts of waste. In fact, these facilities contribute to the 2.01 billion tons of solid municipal waste produced each year, playing an enormous role in methane emissions and exacerbating global warming. By embracing composting, zoos and aquariums can reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills, improve the health of our environment, enrich soil, and foster sustainability within the communities they serve (and help protect the native environments of the animals they are working to protect). Here’s how zoos and aquariums can begin composting: 

Waste Assessment and Separation System

Zoos and aquariums should first conduct a comprehensive examination of the type and amount of waste generated (e.g. animal excreta, plant trimmings, consumer food waste). Then, they should implement an effective, clear waste separation system that allows for waste to be separated into organic and non-organic waste. To facilitate proper waste disposal, they must make sure to provide designated bins with clear signs illustrating what can and cannot go in each bin, and consider placing them in areas such as enclosures, kitchens, and facility entrances/exits.

Designated Composting Areas

After waste has been assessed and bins for waste separation implemented, establish designated composting areas within your facility’s premises. When deciding where to compost, it is important that they consider factors such as available space, volume of waste, airflow, drainage, and accessibility, and make sure decisions comply with local regulations and zoning ordinances to prevent any environmental or health concerns.

On-Site Composting Systems

Once designated composting areas have been established, zoos and aquariums should begin investing in on- or offsite composting systems tailored to the facility’s needs, infrastructure, budget, and sustainability goals. Some potential options include small to industrial-sized traditional compost piles, vermiculture (worm composting!), or aerobic composting systems. Next, begin engaging and educating staff members on proper composting practices and maintenance through training and workshops.

Integration into Educational Programs

Zoos and aquariums can also integrate composting initiatives and events into educational programs and visitor experiences to raise awareness about waste reduction and sustainability. Signage, displays, guided tours, and hands-on activities that enable engagement with and learning about the composting process and its ecological benefits will help foster a community interest in sustainability, ultimately increasing the facility’s positive impact on the environment.  

Collaboration and Outreach

Collaborate with local community organizations, schools, and composting experts to enhance composting efforts, share best practices, and identify areas for growth within their current composting system. Consider participating in or hosting composting workshops, events, and partnerships to promote sustainability beyond the facility and the community served. Utilize online platforms as mediums to share the facility’s composting efforts, educate about composting, and inspire others to begin composting and incorporating sustainability into their daily lives.

Composting is a valuable opportunity for zoos and aquariums to reduce waste, enrich soil and environmental health, and promote environmental education. By implementing composting initiatives, these facilities can demonstrate their commitment to sustainability, foster sustainability among visitors, and help create a greener, more sustainable future for our planet.

To learn about food waste and composting, check out our other blogs and consider attending a community workshop


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