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: Understanding Green Literacy

Would you support the expansion of the Michigan bottle deposit law to include bottled water? How about requiring our public schools to include environmental education at all grade levels? Or requiring companies to use only recyclable packaging with their goods? According to a recent survey carried out through the Detroit Zoological Society’s Greenprint, these are just a few of the efforts that Detroiters support to improve our community’s environmental efforts.

Through this survey, we sought to understand “green literacy” in the community, and conducted it in partnership with local environmental organizations, educational institutions and other groups. Our goal was to determine how greater Detroit residents view and understand environmental and conservation issues. Not surprisingly, the survey highlights a community with a personal commitment to environmental concerns that is supportive of public policies to protect our environment and resources.

Michele Arquette-Palermo, program director of the Clinton River Watershed Council and one of our partner organizations on the survey, said that as an environmental educator in southeast Michigan for the last 15 years, she’s very happy to see evidence that reaffirms that environmental education influences attitudes and actions.

The survey also suggests that our community would like to have greater access to public transit, at home recycling programs and access to food with the environment in mind.

The online survey was carried out by Belden Russonello Strategists, a Washington, D.C.-based public opinion research firm, and was completed by 1,000 residents ages 18 and older who reside in a four-county area that includes Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne.

In addition to the DZS and the Clinton River Watershed Council, other partners include Kurt R. Metzger, mayor of Pleasant Ridge and director emeritus of Data Driven Detroit, DTE Energy, Lawrence Technological University, The Nature Conservancy and Wayne State University, among others.

To read more about this survey, including all of the questions presented, please visit: http://dzoo.org/greensurveyreport.

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