There’s a new resident at the Akron Zoo and she has a pretty voracious appetite.She will eat tons of just about anything.
The enclosure for “Big Hanna” — the first aerobic composter ever to be used at a zoo or aquarium — is situated just off the zoo’s main parking lot.
Built in Sweden, the composter is just one more step in the Akron Zoo’s effort to be a zero-waste facility.
Zoo President and CEO Doug Piekarz said this means food waste and animal droppings will no longer have to be disposed of off-site.
Piekarz said the new technology makes it possible to compost on property and, more important, do it odor-free.
The hope, Piekarz said, is that visitors will wander from the parking lot to check out Big Hanna, from its solar panels that keep it off the grid to its compost capabilities that can turn organic garbage into usable compost in just six weeks.
“I believe that we can change the future,” he said. “We need to show them [our visitors] the way.”
Food waste, said Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler, is a major contributor to garbage dumped into landfills and eventually a generator of harmful methane gas as it decomposes.
Efforts like the initiative at the Akron Zoo to divert this waste from a landfill is an important step to help reduce greenhouse gases, he said.
“This was a really important project for us,” he said.
The Ohio EPA and Summit ReWorks worked together to help fund and plan the project that has been in the works for years.
Marcie Kress, executive director of Summit ReWorks, said finding ways to deal with food waste, from restaurants to major institutions such as hospitals, has been kicking around since 2008.
And with a county goal of reducing the food waste being dumped in landfills by 25 percent by 2026, Kress said, the time has come to get serious about the problem.
She said having a working solution like Big Hanna that can be toured to show how effective it can be is a great first step.
“This can start a conversation that can spread throughout Summit County,” she said.
The project cost $243,700, with the Ohio EPA contributing $162,000. ReWorks is chipping in $20,000 to help fund its daily operation.
How Hanna works is fairly simple.
Food and animal waste is gathered from throughout the zoo and then loaded onto a special motorized cart.
A worker backs the cart onto a platform next to the composter.
The load is dumped and grinded into smaller pieces, and wood shavings or straw are added as it is loaded into the composter.
Once inside a heated tumbler, the material is spun two to three times an hour and slowly makes its way through a series of stainless steel chambers before coming out as a ready-to-use compost.
The compost will be used at the zoo and shared with Keep Akron Beautiful and Let’s Go Akron for landscaping and beautification efforts throughout the city.
Piekarz said this not only shows the zoo’s commitment to the environment but its willingness to collaborate with others.
“We believe in collaborative leadership, and this project is an example of this,” he said.
Article by Craig Webb reproduced courtesy of Akron Beacon Journal.