Greenprint: Plastic in the Great Lakes

Approximately 21.8 million pounds of plastic flow into the Great Lakes every year, more than half of which ends up in Lake Michigan, according to the Rochester Institute of Technology. For another way to grasp this fact, think of it this way: The plastic pollution in Lake Michigan is about the equivalent of 100 Olympic-sized swimming pools filled with plastic bottles.

Photo by Rachel Handbury

While this study was the first to document our plastic problem, it is only the first step toward solving it. Perhaps imagining 100 pools full of plastic bottles will inspire members of our community to make the choice to limit their consumption of plastic altogether.

Approximately 80 percent of the litter on the shorelines of the Great Lakes is plastic, researchers estimate. This includes plastics that quickly sink to the bottom, as well as surface plastics like microbeads, fragments and pellets, plastic line and Styrofoam, which is often consumed by wildlife and likely causing harm.

Through our award-winning Greenprint initiative, the Detroit Zoological Society has taken steps to reduce plastic waste by eliminating the sale of bottled water at Detroit Zoo concessions and no longer providing plastic bags for purchases made at gift shops. Affordable reusable bottles and bags are instead available for purchase. We are also currently working on reducing the plastic packaging of items sold in Zoofari Market, Drake Passage Gifts and the Arctic Outpost. Please join us on our Green Journey by making a green New Year’s resolution to reduce your own plastic waste in the following ways:

  • Bring reusable bags on every trip to the grocery store.
  • Drink from a reusable water bottle and fill it from the tap.
  • Store food in glass containers instead of zip-top bags.
  • Pack waste-free meals using a lunch box.
  • Avoid plastic packaging. If the items you currently buy have excess plastic packaging, speak up to the manufacturer.
  • When ordering beverages in a restaurant, request that the server brings them without straws.
  • Avoid using disposable party-ware at your next event.
  • Read labels and do not purchase products containing microbeads.
  • If no plastic alternative is available for purchases, consider buying in bulk to avoid unnecessary plastic packaging.

Let’s keep the Great Lakes beautiful and safe for wildlife!

– Rachel Handbury is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the implementation of Greenprint initiatives.

Greenprint: Wild (and Efficient) Lights

As the holidays draw near, Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo is now in full glow – more than 5 million LED lights are illuminating buildings, trees and more than 200 animal sculptures in an impressive display over 29 nights.

While this event lights up the night sky, efficient energy use is still paramount at the Detroit Zoo. All of the lights used to decorate the Wild Lights path are light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which consume 80 to 90 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and last for up to 100,000 hours, versus just 3,000 hours for incandescents. This is a solid economic investment that reduces the amount of energy used, saves money (prices for LEDs have come down in the last couple of years), and their durability leads to a decreased number of holiday lights that end up in landfills.

For those who are considering making the switch, Home Depot and Lowes both offer recycling programs for old holiday lights. In addition, we’re offering an opportunity for Wild Lights attendees to bring in their old lights for recycling in the events pavilion at the Detroit Zoo.

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Over the last three years, the Detroit Zoological Society has invested more than $3 million into energy efficiency projects, which results in utility costs savings of nearly $275,000 annually. Most recently, DTE Energy provided the Zoo with an energy-use assessment in order to further explore additional energy-reduction measures.

While Wild Lights uses energy, the LED lighting means it is 80 to 90 percent less wattage than it would with incandescent lighting. This is important because during these shorter, darker days, holiday lights make everything magical and well, brighter!

– Rachel Handbury is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Greenprint: Anaerobic Digester Nears Completion

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is pioneering an effort to turn waste into energy.

We are nearing completion of construction on our anaerobic digester, a system that will convert more than 400 tons of animal manure into renewable energy to power the Detroit Zoo’s Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex. The compost byproduct will be used on the gardens throughout the Zoo’s 125 acres, as well as donated to community gardens.

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No other zoo in the country has an anaerobic digester – the Detroit Zoo is the first to build and implement this system. Thus, a significant amount of research has gone into the planning, design and construction. The DZS has working closely with Michigan State University – graduate students recently completed a survey to determine the biogas potential of animal waste produced at the Zoo, as well as the increase of biogas production with the addition of food scraps. This provides the DZS with a good estimate of future methane generation. Not only is the methane generation great for the Zoo, because we will be able to power the animal hospital with renewable energy; but the methane that would have been released into the environment – which contributes to climate change as a greenhouse gas – will be reduced.

 

The excitement of composting waste is spreading over the Zoo. Animal care staff at the National Amphibian Conservation Center recently installed a batch-style composter in order to compost amphibian bedding and employee food waste – the resulting product will be used in the gardens surrounding Amphibiville.

Batch-style composters are relatively inexpensive and can be implemented in most backyards.  Those with large backyards could consider building their own composting area using wood pallets. The EPA offers great tips for composting at home on their website: https://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home.

We’d love to hear about your experiences with composting! Share your stories with us in the comments below.

– Rachel Handbury is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Greenprint: Supporting Local Farmers

Summertime provides us with a great opportunity to visit farmers’ markets and purchase local fruits, vegetables or proteins such as fish and beef jerky. Buying from your local farmer allows you to support the regional agriculture industry as well as your community.

Food in the U.S. travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to your plate. All this shipping uses large amounts of natural resources (especially fossil fuels), which contributes to pollution and creates waste with extra packaging. Conventional agriculture uses more resources than sustainable agriculture and pollutes water, land and air with toxic by-products. Food at farmers’ markets has travelled shorter distances and is generally grown using methods that minimize the impact on the earth.

When buying from a large supermarket, only 18 cents of every dollar goes to the grower. Buying local cuts out the middleman and supports farmers in your community. The Detroit Zoo supports this mission by following a sustainable purchasing policy with an emphasis on locally made products. We recently opened Pure Greens, a 100 percent vegan café with all food purchased through Michigan farmers, supporting the state we live in.

A sustainable at-home option is to grow your own food in a garden. Even with limited space, a small pot on a porch can produce tomatoes or basil. At the Detroit Zoo, there is a garden devoted to the lizards and turtles that live in our Holden Reptile Conservation Center. A few of the edible flowering plants the reptiles enjoy are nasturtiums, marigolds, pansies and geraniums. You can view the garden during your trip to the Zoo; it is located on the south side of the Holden Reptile Conservation Center.

– Rachel Handbury is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Greenprint: The Zoo That Could Conserve

Thinking globally.
Acting endlessly.
Who would?
Our Detroit Zoo.
Because it knew that it should, so it could.

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) recently launched a new marketing campaign that highlights the many things we do beyond the Detroit Zoo’s 125 acres to advance sustainability, wildlife conservation, animal welfare and education, as well as our impact on the community.

In ecology, sustainability is the capacity to endure; it is how biological systems remain diverse and productive indefinitely. The DZS’s Greenprint initiative was founded on the desire to lessen our ecological footprint. This unique, green roadmap guides our operations and is the plan by which we refine and improve our facilities and daily practices, develop new policies and programs and improve green literacy and action in our community.

Our extensive efforts in sustainability have received national recognition – we were named among the greenest Zoos in America by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums as well as the Best-Managed Nonprofit by Crain’s Detroit Business, focusing on our green initiatives.

The animals that we are dedicated to celebrating and saving serve as the motivation and inspiration for us to create a sustainable environment. As part of our efforts, we are offsetting our electricity use with 100% certified energy from U.S. Wind; constructing an anaerobic digester to compost more than 400 tons of animal waste annually to generate electricity that will power our animal hospital, and no longer selling bottled water in an effort to reduce plastic waste. We have also embarked upon an ambitious zero-waste initiative as part of our commitment to reducing landfill waste, thus reducing our Green House Gas (GHG) emissions.

We can all be part of the solution for habitat and resource conservation by keeping our precious wildlife habitats free of plastic waste. Currently, 1.8 billion plastic bags are used and discarded in America every week and an estimated one million birds, 100,000 turtles, and countless other sea animals die each year from ingesting plastic.

Small changes such as using reusable water containers and reusable bags have such a huge impact. Please join us on our Green Journey!

– Rachel Handbury is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Greenprint: Celebrate Earth Day during GreenFest April 16-17

For the fourth year in a row, the Detroit Zoo is hosting our annual Earth Day celebration called GreenFest on April 16 and 17, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. This Zoo-wide event will provide visitors with environmentally friendly activities and tips that can be used throughout the year to increase environmental stewardship.

GreenFest will feature earth-friendly crafts, kids games, zookeeper talks, science experiments, a trail mix station by Kroger, interactive performances by Drummunity and exhibitions from businesses and nonprofits working to keep our planet a healthy place to live.

GreenFest is an initiative of the Detroit Zoological Society’s Greenprint, a strategic plan to improve daily practices and facilities, develop new policies and programs and improve green literacy in the community. All GreenFest activities are free with Zoo admission; each GreenFest guest who brings a cell phone for recycling will receive a reduced admission price of $9.

If you’re unable to join us for GreenFest this year, please consider these three easy activities that will greatly improve your impact on the environment:

  • Plant a tree at your home or a nearby park (with permission from park management) – a single tree can absorb 10 pounds of air pollutants a year and produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen.
  • Upcycle, donate or recycle unwanted clothes and textiles – according to the Environmental Protect Agency, Americans send 10.5 million tons of clothing to landfills every year.
  • Commit to eating less meat throughout the year. A lot of energy and water goes into meat product; by simply cutting back on meat consumption you can greatly decrease your environmental footprint.

– Beth Wallace is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Greenprint: Five Home Improvement Projects to Prioritize

If you’re like me, you’ve already started a short list of home improvement projects to invest in with your 2015 tax return. Below is a list of five home improvement projects that you should prioritize because tax incentives are currently set to expire at the end of 2016. These projects will bring you short and long-term savings by increasing your energy efficiency as well as savings in the form of tax credits.

  • A new ‘Cool Roof’: By selecting a light colored roof material (metal or asphalt), you’re decreasing the amount of heat that’s absorbed by your home. You can also claim a tax credit that’s10% of the material cost up to $500.

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  • Replacing doors, windows or skylights: ENERGY STAR qualified materials will bring you savings in heating, cooling and lighting as well as a 10% tax credit up to $500 ($300 for windows).

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  • Going Tankless: Heating water can account for 14-25% of your homes energy use. Investing in an energy efficient model will give you energy savings and a tax credit for up to $300 of the units cost.
  • Alternative Energy:  The most opportunistic investment is still with onsite renewables, such as geothermal, wind or solar with a tax credit up to 30% of the cost, with no upper limit. (Now through 2019)
  • Insulation: By increasing the insulation in your walls or attic, you will decrease your home heating and cooling costs as well as receive a 10% tax credit for the cost of the product, up to $500.

For all of these upgrades, you should be able to verify their qualification with your contractor or sales person.

For more information on energy efficient tax credits and incentives visit: Federal Tax Credits for Consumer Energy Efficiency or Energy Efficiency Tax Credits, Rebates and Financing: What Options Are Available for You?

– Beth Wallace is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.