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.

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.

Education: Out-of-this-world Technology Brings Scientists and Educators to Detroit Zoo

We are thrilled to welcome scientists and educators from all over the world for the 2017 International Science On a Sphere Users Collaborative Workshop April 25-27 at the Detroit Zoo. It is an honor to be the first-ever zoo selected to host this global workshop, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and share how we can engage the community with science by combining important environmental messages with technological advances.

Science On a Sphere (SOS) is a 6-foot spherical display system developed by NOAA that can showcase data simulations as visual media regarding climate, weather and animal movement. While it is used by more than 130 museums, science centers and other organizations to help people understand global connections between land, water and the atmosphere, the Detroit Zoo is one of only three zoos in the country to feature SOS. It is located in the Wildlife Interpretive Gallery and is free with Zoo admission.

The upcoming workshop is titled “Pole to Pole: Connecting People, Places, Animals and Spaces”. Topics will be focused on the various ways SOS can be used to educate audiences of all ages, especially about animals, habitats and the environment. Most of the communication among the SOS community happens online, so having the chance to meet in person once every 18 months is a benefit both personally to those who work on this system, and professionally – giving participants the chance to advance the educational capacity of this technology as a larger group.

If you haven’t spent time with SOS during your Zoo visits, we encourage you to stop and take a look. This amazing piece of technology is regularly updated with different content. If you love technology and want to see the types of data available on a flat screen, using SOS Explorer is a great place to start. This is also a great tool in the classroom, which can complement a field trip to the Zoo either before or after your visit. You can find it at https://sos.noaa.gov/SOS_Explorer/. The content you see on the Detroit Zoo’s SOS is ever-changing, so each time you visit, there’s a good chance you will see and learn something new.

Carla Van Kampen is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Sustainability and Conservation Go Hand-in-Hand

The Detroit Zoological Society’s (DZS) award-winning sustainability initiatives go hand-in-hand with our commitment to wildlife conservation – every step we take to reduce our carbon footprint serves to protect the habitats of animals around the globe.

Wildlife are facing great challenges – from climate change and habitat loss to poaching and the exotic animal trade – leaving many species threatened, endangered or teetering on the brink of extinction. Human impact on the Earth has, in many cases, led to these dire situations they are in. More than 40 percent of all amphibians are at risk. From snow leopards to snails and from penguins to polar bears, the DZS is actively involved in wildlife conservation efforts worldwide – in the last two years alone, we were engaged in projects on six continents.

We have the power to make a difference. That’s why our inaugural Wildlife Conservation Gala on Saturday, March 18, is themed “Making a Difference”. All of us can take steps in our own lives to help reverse the crisis many animals are facing. It is our hope that our community will be motivated to join us on our Green Journey and commit to a better future for all that share this magnificent planet.

Our award-winning Greenprint initiative is a strategic plan that guides our operations and all that we do toward a more sustainable future. Our efforts include discontinuing the sale of bottled water on Detroit Zoo grounds – previously the No. 1 seller at zoo concessions – keeping 60,000 plastic bottles out of the waste stream annually. We also no longer provide plastic bags at our gift shops or souvenir stands; visitors are encouraged to bring their own bags or purchase wildlife-themed reusable bags.

We built the first zoo-based anaerobic digester in the country, which will annually convert more than 400 tons of animal manure into methane-rich gas to power the Detroit Zoo’s animal hospital. We recently unveiled a new parking lot that uses a progressive green design, reducing storm water runoff and improving water quality by filtering pollutants. Additionally, our operations are powered with 100 percent renewable electricity from wind farms, thanks to the support of the ITC Holdings Corp.

Our goal is to inspire others to join us on our Green Journey as we continuously look for ways to reduce our ecological footprint. By downloading our Shades of Green guide, you’ll find a number of actions you can do at home, including:

  • Switch to a reusable water bottle and reduce the amount of unnecessary plastic pollution
  • Bring reusable bags with you to the grocery store
  • Turn off the lights when you leave a room
  • Recycle
  • Plant native species in your garden to create a natural habitat for pollinators such as bees and butterflies

Please also consider joining us on March 18. By supporting the Wildlife Conservation Gala, you’ll help to ensure the long-term survival of critically endangered amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and invertebrates that represent the diversity of life on our planet. For more information or to purchase tickets to this 21-and-older, black-tie-optional affair, visit https://detroitzoo.org/events/zoo-events/conservation-gala.

Education: Instilling Respect for Gorillas and the Environment in the Congo

I recently had the opportunity to travel to the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE), located in the eastern part of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). GRACE is truly a special place – it is the only facility in the world that cares for highly endangered Grauer’s gorillas that have been rescued by wildlife authorities after being illegally captured by poachers and traders.

Grauer’s gorillas are endemic to this region and only approximately 4,000 remain in the wild. There are currently 14 gorillas residing at GRACE, where a dedicated Congolese staff provides daily care and monitors the group while they explore a 24-acre forest – the largest gorilla enclosure in the world.

GRACE is overseen by a dedicated board of directors, which includes Ron Kagan, Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) CEO and executive director, who has also served as board chair. In addition to Ron’s valuable leadership, the DZS’s involvement with GRACE also includes financial and staff support. In 2015, Ron helped secure funds for a new night house enclosure for the gorillas, which I was able to see in operation while I was there. Also in 2015, DZS Director of Animal Health Dr. Ann Duncan traveled to the Congo to perform health examinations on 12 gorillas, which had never been done before.

I traveled to the DRC with three staff members from Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the executive director of GRACE as part of the GRACE Education Advisory Group. We carried quite a bit of luggage with us, which included a number of veterinary medicines and supplies provided by the DZS.

While at GRACE, we worked extensively with the Congolese education team. We observed current programs, provided our feedback and facilitated trainings focused on methodology, messaging and differentiating instruction to meet the needs of their various audiences. We also began to draft a strategic plan for their education programming and evaluation efforts as they move forward. The team’s reach is vast; not only do they work with primary and secondary school groups onsite and in local villages, they also conduct programs with community groups and the military, to name a few. GRACE doesn’t have open visitation hours, so all of the groups that they work with have been scheduled by the educators. Throughout all that the team does, there’s a common theme of instilling reverence and respect for not only gorillas, but all animals and the environment. They work with people of all ages to help foster behavioral changes that result in a positive impact for people, animals and their shared home.

I can’t say enough about the amazing people that I met throughout the course of our visit. The team at GRACE is truly a hard-working, dedicated, passionate group of people and they give tremendous hope for the future. Additionally, on our last day at GRACE, we were fortunate to take part in a tour of the local village, led by the women’s cooperative, where we met many members of the community. We were invited into homes to see cooking demonstrations and to learn about some of the small-scale businesses they own and operate. We also visited Muyisa Primary School, where we were greeted with song and dance and hundreds of smiling faces. Everywhere we went, people were kind and welcoming. They definitely made it difficult for me to leave.

As we move forward, the Education Advisory Group and the Congolese educators will continue to meet by way of monthly conference calls. We’ll continue to advise efforts and offer additional training. I’ll also be working on developing humane education curriculum and projects for the children’s conservation clubs which currently exist in five communities. Stay tuned for more to come on that!

– Lisa Forzley is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Berman Academy for Humane Education.