Busting Green Myths with Nine Simple Tips

In the face of the changing climate, there are small things we can do to preserve wildlife and wild places for generations to come; however, making any life change can be tough at first. Whether it is quitting a bad habit, starting a new job or even making more sustainable choices in your life, some people find themselves resistant to the unknown. So, what is getting in our way of taking action? Here are three common myths we’ve debunked that prevent people from making more sustainable choices:

Myth No. 1 – Green choices are too expensive.

How many times have you stood in the produce section deciding between an organic option and the cheaper one? Or in the cleaning supplies aisle? You’re definitely not alone. While some sustainable options might not fit your budget, there are simple ways we can go green that can actually help you save some green!

  • Buy locally and seasonally. One way to save money is to choose organic produce that is in season. You’ll pay more for berries in winter than you will in summer. For the month of August, lemons, strawberries, blueberries, potatoes, carrots and avocado are all delicious foods that you can find in abundance and, therefore, at a lower price! Heading to your local farmer’s market is a great way to support your community, see exactly where your food is coming from and buy produce that is at its peak freshness and nutrition.

  • Go meatless. Whether you live a vegan lifestyle or you participate in Meatless Mondays, reducing the amount of meat and animal products can not only save you money, but help the Earth and your health
  • Change how you do laundry. Another way to save money is by washing your clothes in cold water. This helps you avoid using the energy spent on heating the water (and yes, it still gets your clothes clean). Drying your clothes on a line or a rack saves energy too, and also helps prevent air and water pollution.

  • How often do you leave small electronics plugged in but turned off, such as your phone charger, a lamp or the TV? Approximately 50 devices and appliances in the typical American home are constantly draining power – even when you’re not using them. Unplugging is better on energy and for the environment and will save you money on your electric bill. Want to save your company money? Turn off your computer when you leave for the day.

Myth No. 2 – I’m too busy.

  •  Small changes save time. Tossing things in the trash can instead of the recycling bin is one way people try to save their time. Researching what can and can’t be recycled in your area, paying additional fees to have your recycling picked up with your trash (if it isn’t already) and cleaning out containers once they’re empty – it can be a lot of work. One way to avoid this feeling is to reduce your waste. Easier said than done, right? Start out with small changes such as bringing your own reusable bags to the grocery store and seeking out items that are free of plastic packaging. To read more on eliminating plastic waste, read our recent blog post.

Myth No. 3 – I can’t make a difference.

One of the biggest myths about sustainability is the idea that small changes don’t matter. But just think what would happen if everyone made one small change you did.

  • Buy smarter. By demonstrating a few smarter decisions each time you make a purchase, you can help make a big impact on the environment. For example, many major manufacturers are cutting down forests to make household paper goods. A switch to tea cloths or reusable cotton kitchen cloths can make a huge difference by decreasing the need for paper products. Did you know that paper towels weren’t sold in grocery stores until 1931? If generations before us could handle life without paper towels, then why can’t we? Another option is to use vinegar in place of the typical all-purpose cleaner. It’s environmentally friendly and costs less than $1 a cup.
  • Change your driving habits. The greenhouse gas emissions from a typical passenger vehicle are approximately 4.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, according to the EPA . While it may be hard to avoid using your car, try making greener choices about driving. One easy option is to make a habit of not idling your car for more than 30 seconds. If you can, try using public transportation or a bike once a week. If you have plans with a friend who lives nearby, try to carpool. There are plenty of ways to lessen your carbon footprint, and how you drive is just one.

  • Add it up. Through our daily decisions, we have the power to make our lives more environmentally friendly. By choosing to bring your own bags to the store, you can save between 350 and 500 plastic bags each year. By using a reusable water bottle, you could save an average of 156 plastic bottles By choosing to line dry instead of using the dryer, you could save close to $200 a year.
  • Speak up! Remember that your voice is powerful. Talk to friends, family and coworkers and use social media to share the changes you’ve made in your life. You could also write a letter to your representative urging them to support environmentally conscious policies. Being an active voice may just inspire others around you to make similar choices.

Making more sustainable choices may seem difficult or inconvenient, but all you have to do is change your perception. Doing so will create a more sustainable future for people, animals and the environment. If you take some of these small steps now, you can save money, time and maybe even the planet.

The Detroit Zoological Society is a leader in environmental sustainability, guided by our award-winning Greenprint initiative. By taking the time to overcoming these obstacles to make changes in your life, you can help us take a step forward in our Green Journey.

A Little Goes a Long Way: Adapting to Minimalist Living

With the growing popularity of shows such as “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” or “Tiny House Hunters,” it has become evident that minimalist living is now mainstream. This lifestyle is centered on living with less. Minimalism is about changing the way you think about the things you own and surrounding yourself only with items that have purpose.

Experience Over Things

Minimalists stress the value of experiences over things; “things” waste time and money and may invoke joy for only a brief period. While trying new things, you have time to soak in the moment and really enjoy life. After all, as cheesy as it may sound, a memory is a souvenir that will last forever. Some take this principle of minimalism to mean that they should take as many vacations as possible, but that isn’t necessarily the case. While vacations are great opportunities to try new things, new experiences can be found right around the corner – such as a trip to the Detroit Zoo, which has been proven to reduce stress.

The Decluttering Process

To be able to shift our focus to the more important items in our lives, we must first get rid of the stuff that clutters them. Successfully decluttering requires you to go through every room in your house reexamining the things you own, from your clothes to your furniture and everything in between. This can seem like a daunting task at first, but there are a couple of great methods to help you declutter:

  • KonMari Method: Growing in popularity thanks to her popular Netflix show Marie Kondo’s “KonMari Method” involves sorting through your belongings and asking yourself if the items spark joy. For all the items that do not spark joy, Kondo suggests letting them go.
  • The 90/90 Rule: For those household items that don’t necessarily invoke happiness but still feel difficult to give up – we’re looking at you cleaning supplies – try the 90/90 rule: If you haven’t used the item in the past 90 days and can’t see yourself using it in the upcoming 90, then it is okay to get rid of.

When it comes to saying goodbye to all the clutter, try to donate and recycle as much as you can. The Salvation Army will take everything from clothes to furniture and will even pick it up right from your house!

Changing the Way You Shop

To avoid falling down the rabbit hole of “stuff” again, minimalism requires us to challenge the consumerist habits we’ve developed. To change the way you shop in-store, first take stock of what you have at home. Currently more than 30 percent of the U.S. food supply is wasted, so when grocery shopping, try to empty your fridge before buying more. Make your food last by purchasing food items that pair well with your leftovers or even find ways to reinvent them by using the left over ingredients to create a brand new dish, like baking over-ripe fruit into a delicious bread or making a sweet jam. This will save you time and money. Most importantly, create a grocery list and stick to it to avoid any impulse buys and make sure you leave the store with only what you need.

While many of us love to shop for new clothes, the fashion industry has largely become unsustainable; it takes more than 700 gallons of water just to produce one cotton T-shirt. Not only does the clothing industry use a tremendous amount of water, but it is also responsible for 20 percent of industrial water pollution. Instead of filling your closet with trendy “fast fashion” pieces that go out of style as fast as they are produced, minimalism calls for a smaller wardrobe of better-constructed, classic pieces that will last longer and won’t go out of style. In fact, many minimalists’ wardrobes consist of less than 30 items. Having a minimal wardrobe will save you money and eliminate extra time spent debating outfit choices.

The Bare Necessities

As the name suggests, minimalists only possess the bare minimum with regard to the entire household, not just the kitchen and closet. Minimalism décor is as simple as possible – bright colors, ornate patterns and art-covered walls all lead to distractions and oftentimes require frequent changes as trends evolve. Minimalists opt for more neutral color choices and fewer knick-knacks. Furniture should also be simplified; an entire minimalist bedroom can be complete with merely a bed, a nightstand and a lamp.

Many of us today have multiple niche appliances, but most of these can be pared down. For example, instead of owning a microwave, a toaster oven, and an air fryer, a minimalist home will only include a traditional oven. The same goes with electronics; instead of a TV in every room, keep only one or ditch it all together and use your laptop to watch TV, saving money and space.

When we only own the household items that are truly necessary, the amount of space in your home will significantly increase. This is why many minimalists have taken up “tiny living” by moving into homes that are often smaller than 500 square feet. Tiny homes are great for the environment because they take up less land, require less energy and can even be built inside old shipping containers.

Good for the Environment and Good for You, Too

The minimalist lifestyle can not only save you time and money, but it can benefit your health as well. Clutter has been proven to increase stress levels and lead to procrastination. By committing to a minimalist lifestyle, you can reduce unwanted stress from your life.

Consumerism has contributed to more than 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, a leading cause of climate change. As minimalism aims to stop consumerism, it is a great lifestyle for reducing your impact on the environment. Additionally, by only owning and purchasing what you need, you will considerably reduce your waste output.

Through our award-winning Greenprint initiative, the Detroit Zoological Society is working to create a more sustainable future for wildlife and wild places. Choosing a minimalist lifestyle is one way you can join us on our Green Journey.

Join us in the Plastic-Free EcoChallenge this July

Imagine the weight of one billion elephants; that’s a hefty load, right? Well, humans have produced nearly that amount of plastic since 1950 – and almost 80 percent of this plastic has ended up in landfills or the environment. Join the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) and many others across the globe this July by participating in the 31-Day Plastic-Free EcoChallenge to help eliminate plastic waste.

The challenge features more than 65 actions participants can take to reduce their use of plastic while earning “points” and building more eco-friendly habits along the way. Don’t be discouraged by the thought of having to go completely plastic free   participants can start small by choosing to complete one simple action each day.  Many of these actions require you to “choose to refuse” different plastic items. In honor of the challenge, here are six things we can easily go without on the road to becoming plastic free:

Plastic Straws. Ask your server to leave the straw out of your drink at a restaurant or bar – or bring a reusable straw with you. There are many options made from sustainable materials such as stainless steel or bamboo. A great place to bring a reusable straw with you is the Detroit Zoo! We choose to refuse plastic straws and lids for beverages at all Zoo concessions – and disposable cups are made from recycled materials.

Plastic Water Bottles. You can easily reduce single-use plastic waste by drinking beverages from a reusable bottle. During your next trip to the Zoo, bring your own bottle or purchase an inexpensive one from any of our concession stands and fill up at one of our 21 free filtered-water stations. We are keeping 60,000 plastic bottles out of the waste stream annually by no longer selling plastic single-use water bottles.

Plastic Shopping Bags. BYOB the next time you hit the market or grocery store – bring your own bag! Most stores today sell their own reusable bags at reasonable prices or you could use a tote bag you have laying around the house. Leave them in your car and have them ready to go on all your shopping trips or even when you go to the Zoo. The DZS no longer provides plastic bags for gift shop purchases; visitors are encouraged to bring their own bags or purchase wildlife-themed reusable bags at Zoofari Market, Arctic Outpost, Drake Passage Gifts or any of the souvenir stands.

Take-Away Coffee Cups. Save plastic by bringing your own reusable mug from home. Choose one made out of metal and it will keep your drinks hot or cold for longer than the plastic cups from the coffee shops.

To-Go Boxes. The next time you go out to eat and wish to bring leftovers home, refuse the Styrofoam boxes they typically provide by bringing a few reusable containers with you.

Plastic Packaging. Many foods are pre-packaged in plastic; seek out items that are free from this wrapping. For meat and seafood, find a butcher that sells unpackaged meat and bring it home in your own reusable containers. While in the produce section, refuse to use the plastic bags available for fruits and vegetables and opt instead for a reusable mesh bag.

For more information on the Plastic-Free EcoChallenge, visit https://plasticfree.ecochallenge.org/. Join the challenge today and make your start toward a #PlasticFreeLife.

Everything we do is guided by our award-winning Greenprint initiative, a sustainable roadmap we developed to continuously refine and improve our facilities and daily practices, develop new policies and programs, and improve green literacy and action in the community. To learn more about our work, visit https://detroitzoo.org/about/greenprint-sustainability/.

Toss Out Your Old Spring-Cleaning Routine and Bring in the Green

The grass may always be greener, but you can be too! As you begin your annual spring-cleaning routine, consider making some changes that will impact the environment in a positive way. Some simple modifications will help keep your home fresh and clutter-free while also creating a sustainable future for people and animals. From choosing the right cleaning products to watching your water usage, here are some helpful tips you can adopt to clean the green way:

Purchase environmentally friendly cleaning products. Popular cleaning products often contain chemicals that are harmful to you and the environment. Next time you purchase your spring-cleaning necessities, double check the ingredients for harsh chemicals, including phthalates or triclosan, which can poison our bodies and our aquatic ecosystems. Phthalates can cause disruptions in our endocrine system while triclosan is an antibacterial that kills algae in more than half of the streams in the U.S. Instead, look for eco-friendly, plant-based products. They offer the same cleaning benefits with less risk to our health and the Earth’s water.

Make your own cleaning products. Save money and the environment by creating homemade soaps and disinfectants – it’s easier than you might think. There are many simple recipes you can follow to clean your bathrooms, floors, counters and cabinets. Try substituting chemical-filled cleansers with white vinegar or baking soda and water. Adding a couple drops of essential oil to your natural concoctions produces a great scent and has cleaning benefits of its own. Tea tree oil is a natural disinfectant; peppermint and lemon also have natural and powerful cleaning agents and they will leave your home smelling fresh.

Declutter clothing and household items the right way. Channel your inner Marie Kondo while sorting through old clothes and instead of throwing these items away, toss them into the hands of someone who might find your trash as their treasure! You can gather your items and have a garage sale or donate them to charity. This eliminates waste in our landfills and you could earn some extra cash. But if you do decide to toss some items, there are environmentally friendly ways to do so. Recycle or reuse what you can to try to eliminate as much waste as possible.

Watch your water usage. We can accidentally waste a lot of water by leaving the faucet on longer than is necessary. By being conscious of this, we can help preserve this important resource. When cleaning areas of your house, a bucket full of water works to rinse out the mop or rag and uses far less water than taking it to the tub. These few changes can help you not only save water, but also your hard-earned dollars!

Purify the air with houseplants. Not only are plants beautiful décor, they can also purify the air and provide health benefits to those who reside in the home. Houseplants reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in our homes while also keeping air temperatures down. They even eliminate dust levels, making spring-cleaning a little easier! Having plants around us creates a sense of comfort and lowers stress levels, too.

Together, we can make small changes to our yearly spring-cleaning routine that can make a huge difference in our lives and the lives of Earth’s wonderful creatures. By incorporating these few tips and tricks, we can take another step forward on our Green Journey and help create eco-friendly communities. Spring is in the air, but harmful chemicals don’t have to be.

Foster Empathy While Spending Time Indoors

The days may be shorter, the weather colder, and our lives might be spent mostly indoors during this time of the year, but it can still be a valuable, educational time for families. There are a number of activities we can do with our children to follow and support the Detroit Zoological Society’s humane education goals of fostering empathy for others and developing respect for wildlife and wild places.

Empathy is the ability to understand another person or animal’s experience from their perspective. It’s being able to place yourself in some else’s shoes/paws and mirror what they are feeling which, in turn, is known to increase positive social behaviors. While it can be innate for some of us, empathy is actually a learned behavior.

One way to help nurture empathy in children is through stories, which can help them process thoughts and information. Stories allow us to put on different hats, try out new experiences, think through future actions and develop our moral compass – all of which can be done from the comfort of our own home.

We do this in a number of our humane education programs offered by the Detroit Zoological Society. We share experiences of people helping animals and books that enable us to explore the world around us from an animal’s perspective. Even after a story has been read, there’s still an opportunity to continue building empathy by taking action.

For example, you could read “Stranger in the Woods”, a beautiful picture book about local wildlife, and then build a wildlife-friendly snowperson by incorporating decorations that can feed animals. Examples include a carrot nose, potato eyes, a birdseed scarf, etc.

After reading “How to Heal a Broken Wing”, a book about helping an injured bird who flew into a window, you could make window decals to prevent bird collisions. You could also learn how to humanely deter ants from your home after reading “Hey Little Ant”, a book that sheds light on an ant’s perspective. Fostering empathy in children can start at a young age. Together, we can help instill values of walking softly and treating the Earth’s creatures gently.

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

Celebrate your Sweetie Sustainably this Valentine’s Day

While Valentine’s Day is usually a sea of pink and red, let’s add some green to our celebrations this year. Date nights and gifts that show your significant other how much you care can easily include a little love shown to the Earth as well. Options abound for eco-friendly ways to revel in the romance.

Date Night. Embrace the weather and spend time in nature by bundling up and heading outside. Go skiing, ice skating, find a local winter festival, or head to the Detroit Zoo with your significant otter for a Valentine’s Day date.

Cook at home. Some restaurants require reservations weeks in advance. Instead of hitting the town, cook dinner together at home using locally sourced food. It’s a fun activity that’s more intimate than being surrounded by other couples; plus, it will save you money. Finding fresh ingredients can be challenging during Michigan winters, but a trip to your local farmers’ market could produce everything you need. Many vegetables are ripe this time of year in their extended season, including onions, potatoes and carrots – learn more about what grows when in this handy guide. Get creative in the kitchen by finding recipes incorporating these in-season foods. And don’t forget about maple syrup! It’s a delicious staple of Michigan’s agriculture industry and can be tapped as early as February. This can make for a delicious breakfast in bed for your partner.

Gifts for your sweetie and the environment. This year, consider giving your loved one something a little more environmentally friendly. Jewelry and perfume can be expensive – and toxic. Instead, choose a gift that shows your love for both your partner and the Earth. Here are some ideas:

  • A potted plant or flower seeds for those with a green thumb
  • An indoor herb garden to spice things up for those who love to cook
  • A sustainably sourced bouquet of flowers – either from a local grower and/or one that uses green methods of growth and production
  • Reusable snack bags and travel cups for those always on the go
  • A “date night jar” with ideas for outings to pick at random throughout the year
  • Fair trade candy and chocolate

Skip the pricey wrapping paper – instead, reduce, reuse and recycle! Reduce the cost of wrapping paper by purchasing reusable gift bags. Reuse your cookie tins and jars to present a gift instead of cardboard boxes. Recycle old newspapers and magazines as a sustainable alternative to fancy paper. And for this category, let’s add another “R” – romance. A hand-written card can be more sentimental than a store-bought greeting card.

Crafts for children. Children’s arts and crafts can be good for the environment too. Skip the messy glitter and make a heart-shaped bird feeder! It’s a fun craft to do together while fostering respect for wildlife and providing food for birds. Other options for home-made gifts for the young people in your life rather than pricey presents include friendship bracelets made out of colorful yarn or snow globes made out of recycled baby food containers.

There are countless creative ways we can demonstrate our devotion to each other and to the Earth on Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air, so let’s keep the air clean and safe for all of us who share this planet.

Resolve to Go Green

With the dawn of a new year comes a host of resolutions being set – exercise more, eat healthier, trim the budget, purge the closets. As you set your goals for 2019, consider the planet and what you can do to protect wildlife and wild places. We invite you to join us on our award-winning Green Journey to create a more sustainable future and kick some of these habits to the curb this year.

  • Plastic bags are sooo last year: More than 100 billion plastic bags are used by consumers in the U.S. every year and they can take up to 1,000 years to break down in landfills. That’s a lot of unnecessary plastic waste. Many cities, such as Seattle and San Francisco, have banned plastic bags altogether or require a fee to use them. For those of us living elsewhere, let’s make a pact to just say no. Many grocery and retail stores offer inexpensive reusable totes – they’re sturdier and stronger than plastic bags, so they won’t break from the bottom when carrying your haul. We no longer provide plastic bags at Detroit Zoo gift shops, but we offer wildlife-themed bags for a nominal fee. Stop by Zoofari Market on your next visit and pick one up! 

  • Can the single-use coffee cup: You don’t have to cross the coffee stop off your morning routine – just change the container. Single-use plastic and cardboard coffee cups often end up tossed in the trash, and they have a plastic waterproof lining on the inside that makes them difficult to recycle. The solution is easy – and will save you money. A one-time purchase of a reusable mug or thermos helps the environment every time you stop for coffee and leave that cardboard cup on the counter. Many coffee shops, such as Starbucks, offer a discount for bringing your own reusable cup. What’s better than being green while saving green?
  • Save water one drop at a time: From brushing our teeth to doing the dishes, bathing our bodies and washing our clothes, we’re consuming water at a rapid rate. But there are small steps we can take every day to reduce our water usage, such as turning off the tap while brushing our teeth or reducing shower time by a couple minutes. A standard showerhead uses 2.5 gallons of water per minute, so any time you shave off your shower is less water down the drain. Shorter showers will save money on your water bill, too.

  • Ditch those receipts: More often than not, stores will give you the option to choose if you’d like your receipt printed or emailed to you. Printed receipts often end up tossed in the trash, crumpled at the bottom of a purse or wrinkled in our wallets. Let’s save paper – and the environment – by passing on the printed receipts this year.

New Year’s resolutions don’t have to be hard-to-attain goals – small steps taken every day can have a huge impact on the world around us. Learn more about what you can do – and the strides we’re taking, too.