Americans produce a staggering 258 million tons of garbage every year, with each individual throwing out nearly 4.5 pounds per day, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2017 Infrastructure Report Card. What’s even more mind-blowing is the fact that Michiganders are among the biggest culprits – our recycling rate is just 15.3 percent, according to the Michigan Department of Quality. We can do so much better than that.
Solid waste has contributed greatly to the rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions, which is having catastrophic impacts on wildlife and wild places around the world. Moreover, many creatures mistake unnatural waste as food and can end up swallowing or becoming trapped in it, which often leads to serious injuries or deadly consequences.
If we all did our part to be more mindful in the choices we make in our daily lives – including reducing the amount of waste we produce – we could lighten our impact on Earth. Consider the following actions:
- Switching from single-use items (disposable water bottles, cutlery, plates, etc.) to reusable items such as wood, metal or glass.
- Recycling items properly to prevent them from sitting in a landfill.
- Only purchasing foods you know you will eat.
- Choosing a reusable fabric bag for grocery or leisurely shopping.
- Opting out of receiving magazines you no longer read, or junk mail.
- Composting food waste to naturally fertilize your soil.
- Reusing items you already have. For example, save that old pickle jar to store loose change!
An important aspect of the Detroit Zoological Society’s mission is to lessen our impact on the environment and create a more sustainable future. To do this, we have made it a priority to reduce the waste we generate at the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center. As a part of our award-winning Greenprint initiative, we are keeping 60,000 plastic bottles out of the waste stream annually by no longer selling bottled water on Zoo grounds. We are also selling reusable animal-themed bags in lieu of providing plastic bags at Zoo concessions. We do not provide plastic straws with fountain beverages, and we have made the conscious effort to use eco-friendly cutlery at the Arctic Café, which is one of only four restaurants in Michigan that is “green-certified”. In an effort to turn waste into energy, we were the first zoo to construct an anaerobic digester, which converts more than 500 tons of animal manure and food scraps annually into renewable energy to help power the Zoo’s Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex. The byproduct from the digester is used to create compost called Detroit Zoo Poo, which is available for purchase at Zoo concessions.
Our annual 21-and-older fundraising event, Sunset at the Zoo, is part of this zero-waste journey. The VIP Party and champagne welcome have been waste-free for the past two years. We also have volunteers stationed at various locations throughout the Zoo during the event to help guests learn what items that might otherwise go in the trash can be recycled or composted.
Becoming a waste-free organization is a journey, and these are just a few steps we’ve undertaken, with many more to come.