Greenprint: Reducing Harmful Litter One Drink at a Time

Twisty straws, crazy straws, straws with little umbrellas on them – these may seem fun and convenient but the environmental impact of plastic straws far outweighs the benefits of sipping drinks without having to lift them. In fact, the statistics behind straw usage and plastic pollution can be difficult to digest.  According to the National Park Service, Americans alone use 500 million straws every day. Plastic straws are non-recyclable and non-biodegradable, which begs the question: Where do all these straws go?

As a part of the 91 percent of plastic waste that does not get recycled, these straws either sit in landfills or become litter that contaminates the environment. This is of special concern for an institution providing care to animals because this piece of litter can be extremely dangerous. Straws can be blown by the wind into animal habitats and ingested by the inhabitants, causing significant harm.

For many, this issue was brought to life in 2015 when a video of a scientists removing part of a straw from a sea turtle’s nostril went viral. The eight-minute video is quite painful to watch, which is why it garnered so much attention and sympathy. The video sparked several movements to reduce straw (and plastic in general) usage, but many efforts were in place long before the internet brought it to mainstream attention.

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) stopped providing straws and plastic lids at Detroit Zoo concessions more than 10 years ago, not only preventing some 242,000 pieces of waste from potentially entering animal habitats annually, but also keeping these out of the waste stream. Because for us, this goes beyond animal welfare – it’s about sustainability too. By cutting down on plastic usage, we contribute less to landfills and pollution while preserving oil, a depleting resource. Eight million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year and at this rate, by 2050 there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste in landfills. We’ve kept more than 2 million straws out of landfills in the last decade by removing them from our concessions.

Other straw-banning movements have sprung up worldwide, including London’s Straw Wars, Straws Suck, and The Last Plastic Straw Movement, asking people to reject using straws and encourage restaurants to do the same.

Animals are not the only ones who suffer.  Toxic chemicals from plastic waste seep into groundwater and flow into lakes and streams contaminating the water that is eventually consumed by humans and animals. Every piece of plastic waste comes with a negative consequence. When one part of the ecosystem is disrupted, all life suffers.

As an organization dedicated to creating a more sustainable future, the Detroit Zoological Society has taken many steps that yield a big impact on saving the environment. In 2017, the DZS received the Keep Michigan Beautiful award for our environmental contributions. We are keeping 60,000 plastic bottles out of the waste stream annually by no longer selling bottled water at Detroit Zoo concessions. Reusable bottles are available for guests at an affordable price. We are further reducing our plastic waste by no longer providing plastic bags at our gift shops. Instead, guests can purchase reusable animal-themed bags.

When we walk on this Green Journey together, it can make a big difference for the animals and the Earth. So, without a straw, let’s raise a glass to those dedicated to the cause. No litter goes unnoticed and neither do your efforts for a more sustainable planet.

Stay tuned to the Detroit Zoological Society Blog to learn more about our award-winning Greenprint initiatives and what you can do to help.

Detroit Zoological Society Honored for Environmental Contributions

In recognition of our ongoing efforts in environmental sustainability, the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) recently received the Keep Michigan Beautiful award. This honor, bestowed by Keep Michigan Beautiful Inc., highlights contributions we’ve made to preserve the land around us and create a better future for all.

This includes building an anaerobic digester, which will annually convert 500 tons of animal manure and organic food waste into a methane-rich gas that will power the Detroit Zoo’s animal hospital. We are also keeping 60,000 plastic bottles out of the waste stream annually by no longer selling bottled water on Zoo grounds. As part of this effort, we have free refillable filtered water stations throughout the Zoo and offer affordable reusable water bottles for guests. We also encourage visitors to purchase wildlife-themed reusable bags at our gift shops as we no longer provide plastic bags for purchases in order to reduce plastic waste. We’re incorporating permeable pavement into new visitor walkways – and even a parking lot – reducing storm water runoff and filtering pollutants. All of these efforts contribute to keeping Michigan beautiful.

All of these actions are guided by the Greenprint, a green roadmap that helps us refine and improve our facilities and daily practices, develop new policies and programs and improve green literacy and action in our community. Join us on this Green Journey! Download the Shades of Green Guide and learn how you can lighten your impact on the Earth.

Greenprint: Don’t Waste Your Chance to Recycle

Michigan households are recycling far less than the national average – only 15 percent of our municipal solid waste is recycled compared to 35 percent nationwide. Some states, including Minnesota, Florida, Washington, Oregon, California and Massachusetts, have proven that we can do so much better – their recycling rates are at 50 percent and higher, according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

At the Detroit Zoo, we are making strides to not only reduce the amount of waste generated by guests and staff, but to recycle – and compost – what we do create. When we recycle, we are not only decreasing the amount of material we send to the landfill, but we are conserving natural resources and reducing pollution.

We can all take steps in our everyday lives to reduce the amount of waste we produce, reuse and recycle items when we can, and purchase items we know can be recycled. When we’re not mindful of this, and a recyclable item ends up in the landfill instead of a recycling center, the waste can live on indefinitely.

Check out these mind-blowing statistics showing how long it takes certain items to decompose:

Aluminum cans: More than 80 years
Plastic bottles: More than 450 years
Plastic bags: More than 500 years
Styrofoam cups: More than 500 years
Glass bottles: 1 million years

Oftentimes, these items wind up in creeks, lakes and oceans, endangering wildlife that eat the plastic or become entangled. The Detroit Zoological Society’s (DZS’s) Green Team recently volunteered to clean up the shoreline of Lake Muskoday on Belle Isle, and collected more than 30 pounds of trash in the process.

Plastic bags, plastic film, Styrofoam and glass bottles were among the items we collected on Belle Isle. While many municipal recycling facilities are unable to accept all kinds of plastic, large department stores such as Target and Walmart provide free recycling receptacles at the front of their stores for these items. They accept grocery bags, clean bread bags, Ziploc bags, plastic film and bubble wrap.

Join us on our Green Journey! There are countless actions we can take as we go through our daily lives to lighten our impact on the planet. Here are just a few, but you can also download our Shades of Green guide for more suggestions:

  • Host a stream or lake cleanup
  • Bring a reusable bag when shopping
  • Drink from a reusable water bottle
  • Request only paper packaging when ordering online. By refusing Styrofoam, bubble wrap and unnecessary plastic packaging, you can help drastically reduce waste.

Greenprint: Team Spirit Empowers Sustainable Business Practices

Reducing our ecological footprint, creating a more sustainable future and protecting wildlife and wild places – these are initiatives that are near and dear to the staff and board of the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS). Guided by the Greenprint, a strategic plan for operations at the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center, our goal is to inspire others to join us on our Green Journey as we continuously look for ways to live and operate in more sustainable ways. To accomplish this, we started from within.

The DZS Green Team was founded in 2002 – before the Greenprint was even conceived – to help minimize the ecological footprint of our operations and to educate staff and visitors about choices that enable us to live a more Earth-friendly lifestyle. Being a part of the team is voluntary; it is comprised of representatives from every DZS department who share their commitment, expertise and time to make the Zoo a greener place for staff, visitors, animals and the planet. The Green Team was a strong advocate for development of Greenprint goals and objectives and has been instrumental in carrying out those policies and procedures.

Because of our passion and accomplishments in these areas, we have become a regional leader in sustainable business practices.

Recent initiatives include building an anaerobic digester, which will annually convert 500 tons of animal manure and organic food waste into a methane-rich gas that will power the Zoo’s animal hospital. We are also keeping 60,000 plastic bottles out of the waste stream annually by no longer selling bottled water – previously the No. 1 seller at Zoo concessions. As part of this effort, we have free refillable filtered water stations throughout the Zoo and offer affordable reusable water bottles for guests. We also encourage visitors to purchase wildlife-themed reusable bags at our gift shops as we no longer provide plastic bags for purchases. We’ve incorporated permeable pavement into new visitor walkways and a parking lot, reducing storm water runoff and filtering pollutants. These are just a few of the steps we’ve taken on our Green Journey thus far.

Green Team members have assisted with projects ranging from educating Zoo visitors about the anaerobic digestion process to sorting trash at zero-waste events. Staff recently volunteered at the 2017 Metro Detroit Youth Day on Belle Isle, which drew more than 37,000 attendees. The Green Team educated participating children on the value of using a refillable water bottle in order to reduce plastic waste in Michigan. More than 4,000 Detroit Zoo refillable water bottles were given to the children during this event, thanks to a generous grant by the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation.

DZS staff feel so strongly about plastic reduction that we have incorporated this initiative within many of our events. Our annual 5K/10K/Fun Walk, Run Wild for the Detroit Zoo, was one of the first races in the country to eliminate bottled water – instead, refillable bottles filled with fresh, chilled water are provided to participants after the race. Assistance from our Green Team was invaluable as we worked to accomplish this important sustainable task. Prior to the 2016 event, volunteers filled more than 4,200 water bottles for the racers. We are gearing up for the 2017 event on Sunday, September 10 – registration is open. Run Wild raises critical funds for the Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex and veterinary care for the animals at the Detroit Zoo.

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

Porous Pavement Protects Sewer Systems

Observe storm water disappear right before your eyes through the environmentally beneficial phenomenon known as permeable pavement. Constructed of porous materials, it allows for the passage and filtration of water. While “normal” asphalt and concrete tend to be a less expensive option, permeable pavement has many benefits that help our environment, making it a better – and greener – alternative. During heavy rainfall, sewer systems tend to get overwhelmed and may result in flooding, along with basement backups and polluted waste water. To combat this, the porous material captures the runoff and filters out any pollutants. This collection of rainwater also helps to recharge groundwater and reduce surface temperatures, which is extremely beneficial to the surrounding ecosystems.

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is paving the way for a more sustainable environment by utilizing this progressive green design. We first implemented permeable pavement at the Detroit Zoo in 2015 with the construction of the Cotton Family Wolf Wilderness, which features visitor walkways made with porous material. As we continue to improve the infrastructure at the Zoo, we are incorporating permeable pavement within our design plans, such as a parking lot we constructed in 2016 near the main entrance with 215 additional spaces, as well as a new visitor walkway outside the Edward Mardigian Sr. River Otter Habitat added in 2017.

Join us on our Green Journey! By implementing sustainable storm water infrastructures, we can help relieve the influx of water into the sewer system. Try disconnecting your downspouts and channel the water into your lawn or garden, plant a rain garden with native Michigan flowers and/or harvest rain water – these are all cost-effective ways you can help too.

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

Greenprint: Hosting Eco-Friendly Celebrations

Americans amass 258 million tons of garbage annually, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. And while 35 percent of that is recycled or composted, the remaining 169 million tons of trash ends up in landfills – the breakdown of which creates toxic gases that pollute our air and water and contribute to global warming. An even more staggering statistic is that in Michigan, only 15 percent of waste produced annually is recycled – far less than the national average.

We can all take steps in our daily lives to reduce the amount of waste we are creating. At the Detroit Zoo, we no longer sell bottled water or provide plastic bags at zoo concessions. We’re converting 500 tons of animal manure annually into energy to power our animal hospital. And we are working toward a lofty goal of becoming an entirely waste-free zoo – which is not an easy task.

It’s all a part of this journey we’re on – our Green Journey – to create a more sustainable future and protect the wildlife and wild places around us. We encourage you to join us. Download our Shades of Green guide and learn what actions you can take to lighten your impact on the Earth.

With summer upon us, barbecues, picnics and pool parties are in full swing as we enjoy the beautiful weather. But oftentimes with these events, we generate a great deal of waste. Disposable paper plates and paper napkins are common, as are disposable plastic cups and cutlery. By reducing cleanup time, the event becomes easier on the host; however, the waste becomes significant. Consider holding a waste-free event and ask your guests to embrace the effort.

Here are some tips for hosting a zero-waste event:

  • Decorate with flowers and plants, which can be composted when the event is over.
  • Use cloth napkins that are easy to launder.
  • Serve food with reusable dishes and cutlery.
  • For a unique party favor, go to a second-hand store and purchase vintage-inspired plateware and encourage guests to take their plate home.
  • Forget the red solo cups; use glasses and purchase an erasable marker to write guests’ names on their glass.
  • Consider composting. If you do, be sure to educate your guests on what items can be composted before they scrape the food. Also, if they know the goal is to be waste-free, they may be more conscientious of how much food they put on their plate.
  • Get creative and have fun with it – zero-waste parties can be beautiful, along with being greener!

Portions of our annual 21-and-older fundraising gala, Sunset at the Zoo – this Friday, June 16 – are going to be waste-free. Guests will receive a commemorative glass with their champagne welcome that they can use throughout the evening as they sample drinks and dishes from more than 50 restaurants and distributors and enjoy live entertainment. Reusable bags and our Shades of Green guide will also be gifted to guests. In addition, food waste generated from the event will be composted in our anaerobic digester. This is all a part of this year’s theme of “Green is the New Black” – which celebrates our award-winning sustainability initiatives. But Sunset at the Zoo is more than just a great party – it raises funds that are critical to supporting the Detroit Zoological Society and our mission of Celebrating and Saving Wildlife.

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

Greenprint: Using Compost to Fertilize Gardens

Spring fever has officially set in and naturally, one of the things on many people’s minds is gardening. We recommend incorporating “gardener’s gold” as you prep your plots this year: Composting can help you save money while also reducing waste and improving the quality of your soil. As you work on cleaning up your yard, you can add the materials to a compost bin and toss in your organic food scraps – they’ll naturally decompose to create a nutrient-rich fertilizer that will help you grow healthy plants.

There are many benefits to composting:

  • Reduce landfill waste. Nearly 30 percent of the garbage that is sent to Michigan landfills could actually have been composted.
  • Decrease the amount of greenhouse gases produced by food waste sent to landfills.
  • Improve soil quality by adding compost to gardens.
  • Reduce the use of chemical fertilizers.
  • Save money – use your own compost instead of purchasing fertilizer from a store.

How to compost at home:

  1. Choose an area in your backyard with good drainage and shade.
  2. Start the pile with a layer of twigs or mulch as a base.
  3. Add a thin layer of “green” materials, e.g., fruit and vegetable peelings, grass clippings or weeds.
  4. Cover with a layer of “brown” materials, e.g., dry leaves, twigs, paper or straw.
  5. Moisten your compost pile.
  6. Repeat steps 3, 4 and 5.
  7. Turn the pile every four to six weeks.

*Avoid placing meat or dairy products in compost.

You’ll be able to use the compost in your gardens in three or four months. If you’d like to speed up the process or don’t have room for an outdoor compost pile, you can purchase a batch-style composter for under $100 at most hardware stores. These bins can be placed on decks and take up less space in your yard.

For more in-depth information on the benefits of composting as well as detailed instructions on how to compost, you can refer to https://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home and www.howtocompost.org.

We’re breaking down organic matter at the Detroit Zoo on a much grander scale! More than 500 tons of waste is generated annually by the animals that live here. So, in order to reduce our ecological footprint and move closer to reaching our goal of becoming waste-free, we constructed an anaerobic digester on Zoo grounds. Anaerobic digestion is a process by which plant and animal materials are broken down, producing a methane-rich gas. This renewable energy will be used to power the Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex at the Detroit Zoo, saving us $110-120,000 a year in energy costs. By diverting manure and food waste from the landfills, we are also reducing the greenhouse gases which contribute to climate change – methane and carbon dioxide – in the atmosphere. The remaining nutrient-rich material will be used as compost to fertilize the gardens throughout the Zoo’s 125 acres.

Next time you are at the Zoo, check out our new sign detailing the anaerobic digestion process and contemplate the impact of keeping 55 wheelbarrows of manure each day out of the landfills!

Join us on our Green Journey and begin composting this spring! Take a look at the many other steps you can take to help us create a more sustainable future by downloading our Shades of Green guide.

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