How do you make learning about animal waste recycling fun? Give kids the chance to play with virtual poo and turn it into compost, of course.
That was the approach taken by RMIT students who worked with the Melbourne Zoo to promote its animal waste recycling system.
Digital Media students developed an interactive experience to engage zoo visitors – creating an app for children – while Communication Design students drew upon their practices of systems, interpretive and experience design.
John Mackinnon, who teaches Digital Media, said the studio’s focus on the zoo’s recycling program was an ideal opportunity for students to devise a response through interactive experiences of play that informs us about the recycling process.
“The Digital Media team designed and developed an app aimed at young children that hopefully would both engage and educate them about the Zoo’s waste management system,” he said.
“Let’s face it, what child could resist the opportunity to play with virtual poo and then turn it into compost.”
Communication Design lecturer Tania Ivanka said Melbourne Zoo was a significant living case study of zero waste to landfill practice.
“The zoo waste management team regularly provides tours to local government and business groups but this amazing story is largely unknown to everyday visitors of the zoo,” she said.
“Using mapping and visualisation to make sense of the flows of materials and waste and the interaction of people, students have gained insight into the successes of a relatively enclosed system.
“This includes not only the onsite composting of organic materials, but also the challenges for the zoo of operating under a different paradigm, with the aim of becoming a ‘zero waste to landfill’ enterprise.”
Thomas Meek, Sustainability Manager at Melbourne Zoo, said that organic waste is collected every day at the zoo, including animal manure and bedding, visitor food, compostable packaging from the food outlets, and horticultural waste.
“This material is composted onsite through an in-vessel composter called Hot Rot.
“It’s then commercially blended to create Zoo Gro that is sold in nurseries as a great soil conditioner and organic fertiliser,” Meek said.
Students learned how organic waste becomes food for the zoo and how landfill could be eliminated.
From these insights, students developed interpretive and playful artefacts that could be used to educate zoo visitors on the fascinating behind-the-scenes of the zoo.
Communication Design student Nadia Raineri thought it was “genius” that the mulch and compost created was a closed loop.
“The compost goes to Werribee Zoo, the food is grown, the food is eaten, pooped out, and so on and so on. It's a nice visual cue, too, for further designs,” Raineri said.
“What stood out for me was people putting things in the wrong bins.
“I thought a lot about how much time and energy is used trying to sort the waste when there are specific bins designed for people to put things in.”
Digital Media student Ding Hou Edwin Ang admires Melbourne Zoo’s goal to produce zero waste by 2019.
“It has definitely challenged my perspective on what waste is to me, and the effort we can make individually on recycling,” Ang said.
Using insights gathered from the field trips to the zoo, students developed a diverse range of interpretive and interactive works, both digital and physical, to educate the public about this amazing story.
Story: Wendy Little