The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is helping save the planet one pile of poop at a time.
And they have a lot of it.
"One of the first things that struck me is how much poop we have," said Mark Fisher, vice president of facilities at the zoo, which has partnered with a firm to process some 2 million pounds of organic waste each year into fertilizer to help sustain its facilities.
Since being dubbed the "Greenest Zoo in America" in 2010, the zoo has set a goal of producing enough of its own renewable energy to meet its annual consumption needs by 2025.
"We were just sending it to the landfill, and there's got to be a better way," Fisher said.
The zoo has partnered with a company in Ireland to use an aerobic digester to "cook" the waste material and break it down into fertilizer. The fertilizer then is used at a farm in Warren County that grows food for the zoo animals and will be available to the zoo's neighbors in Avondale to improve the quality of their own soil.
The final product's unofficial name: Fionalizer, after the zoo's beloved young hippo, Fiona.
"We'll see if that sticks, but I kind of like it. We'll see if that holds," Fisher said.
The material that could be sent to the digester includes anything organic: fish, feed, manure and grasses, among other waste matter.
Fisher said this type of technology at this scale is a Cincinnati first.
"There's no one else doing this in this town or, quite frankly, within a hundred miles that I know of," he said. "I've already gotten about a dozen phone calls from other zoos across the country saying, 'Let me know how that goes.'"
The digester solution has been a slow burn, though, and is still in its trial phase. It has taken nearly a decade to develop the technology as it's being used today, which still only processes roughly 20-30% of the zoo's organic waste.
The zoo said fertilizer could be available for neighbors in Avondale as soon as next month.