Preventing Pollution? Rain Gardens are a Solution

An average annual rainfall for Michigan is more than 31 inches, which equates to more than 52 million gallons of rainwater per year. That much rainwater can severely damage downspouts and create pollution. A rain garden is an environmentally friendly and attractive way to filter and return storm water runoff from surfaces such as sidewalks and roof tops, while protecting our groundwater and waterways. They can be created on your own property using just a few steps – ultimately minimizing the pollution that emerges from the rainwater gushing out of downspouts.

First, determine if you have a suitable site for a rain garden. The ideal spot is one that is:

  • Fed by only one or two downspouts
  • Far from a septic tank, drain field, or wellhead
  • Free from trees

Next, follow these easy steps:

  • Find an outdoor space that can absorb water, ranging from 100 to 400 square feet. A rain garden should be about 20 percent the size of the roof, patio or pavement area draining into it.
  • If there are trees in the area, make sure they can handle wet soil conditions for lengthy periods of time to ensure that your rain garden is set up for success.
  • Remove the grass and dig a hole at least 2 feet deep.
  • Lay an inlet pipe used for catching the storm water. These small pipes can be purchased at any hardware store for under $20.
  • Add native vegetation, and you’re all set!

The benefits of rain gardens are tremendous. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, they are easy to maintain and improve water quality by filtering out pollutants. And perhaps the most magnificent benefit is that they attract wildlife such as birds, butterflies and insects who use the plants as a food source.

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is working to protect storm water on the grounds of the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center. We built a rain garden near the Ford Education Center, which collects rain water from the roof of the 38,000-square-foot building and is maintained throughout the entire year, incorporating native Michigan plant species. The downspouts drain into the garden through a pervious pipe located 3 feet below the surface. We’re in the midst of creating a second rain garden near American Coney Island. Native, drought-resistant plants have already been planted and we plan to build a mock house with gutters and rain barrels. Signage will educate guests about how they can incorporate rainwater collection and rain gardens at their homes. In addition, we have incorporated permeable pavement within parking lots and public walkways, which also reduces storm water runoff and improves water quality by filtering out pollutants.

We all have an impact on the planet – projects like these are simple steps we can take to make sure it is a positive one.

Trim Your “Waste” at Home

Americans produce a staggering 258 million tons of garbage every year, with each individual throwing out nearly 4.5 pounds per day, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2017 Infrastructure Report Card. What’s even more mind-blowing is the fact that Michiganders are among the biggest culprits – our recycling rate is just 15.3 percent, according to the Michigan Department of Quality. We can do so much better than that.

Solid waste has contributed greatly to the rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions, which is having catastrophic impacts on wildlife and wild places around the world. Moreover, many creatures mistake unnatural waste as food and can end up swallowing or becoming trapped in it, which often leads to serious injuries or deadly consequences.

If we all did our part to be more mindful in the choices we make in our daily lives – including reducing the amount of waste we produce – we could lighten our impact on Earth. Consider the following actions:

  • Switching from single-use items (disposable water bottles, cutlery, plates, etc.) to reusable items such as wood, metal or glass.
  • Recycling items properly to prevent them from sitting in a landfill.
  • Only purchasing foods you know you will eat.
  • Choosing a reusable fabric bag for grocery or leisurely shopping.
  • Opting out of receiving magazines you no longer read, or junk mail.
  • Composting food waste to naturally fertilize your soil.
  • Reusing items you already have. For example, save that old pickle jar to store loose change!

An important aspect of the Detroit Zoological Society’s mission is to lessen our impact on the environment and create a more sustainable future. To do this, we have made it a priority to reduce the waste we generate at the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center. As a part of our award-winning Greenprint initiative, we are keeping 60,000 plastic bottles out of the waste stream annually by no longer selling bottled water on Zoo grounds. We are also selling reusable animal-themed bags in lieu of providing plastic bags at Zoo concessions. We do not provide plastic straws with fountain beverages, and we have made the conscious effort to use eco-friendly cutlery at the Arctic Café, which is one of only four restaurants in Michigan that is “green-certified”. In an effort to turn waste into energy, we were the first zoo to construct an anaerobic digester, which converts more than 500 tons of animal manure and food scraps annually into renewable energy to help power the Zoo’s Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex. The byproduct from the digester is used to create compost called Detroit Zoo Poo, which is available for purchase at Zoo concessions.

Our annual 21-and-older fundraising event, Sunset at the Zoo, is part of this zero-waste journey. The VIP Party and champagne welcome have been waste-free for the past two years. We also have volunteers stationed at various locations throughout the Zoo during the event to help guests learn what items that might otherwise go in the trash can be recycled or composted.

Becoming a waste-free organization is a journey, and these are just a few steps we’ve undertaken, with many more to come.

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.

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.

Greenprint: Trash from Great Lakes Turned into Art at Detroit Zoo

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) recently partnered with ArtRoad Nonprofit, an organization that provides art-based activities, instruction and supplies to elementary schools in southeastern Michigan that are lacking in art programs.

In addition to the incredible educational opportunities this organization shares with hundreds of students annually, they also reuse donated items within their art projects in order to reduce waste. This aspect of the organization especially appeals to us as we continue with our Greenprint initiatives and award-winning efforts to create a more sustainable future.

I recently had the opportunity to volunteer in an ArtRoad classroom, where we worked with students on repurposing various items into works of art. The students greeted me with a warm welcome, and knowing that I work at the Detroit Zoo, created penguin art using recycled vinyl for the birds’ feet.

In turn, I provided the students with journals that DZS staff created using recycled millage signs. We hope these journals will help the budding artists capture their imaginations on paper.

Recently, ArtRoad collaborated with the Alliance for the Great Lakes to collect recyclable materials and debris from the shorelines of Lake Michigan. Using these items, more than 150 elementary school students spent two months creating five fish sculptures, one for each of the five Great Lakes. This effort aims to bring awareness about the effects plastic pollution has on freshwater ecosystems.

We are excited to be able to share this educational and impactful project with Detroit Zoo visitors – these fish sculptures will be on display April 22-July 9. It’s only fitting that the art exhibition will be unveiled during GreenFest, our Earth Day celebration, and will be on display during Sunset at the Zoo, our annual fundraising gala that carries a theme this year of “Green is the New Black”, celebrating our groundbreaking efforts in sustainability.

Our recent initiatives include discontinuing the sale of bottled water on Zoo grounds – keeping 60,000 plastic bottles out of the waste stream annually – and building an anaerobic digester which will convert more than 500 tons of animal manure annually into methane-rich gas to power the Zoo’s animal hospital.

Be sure to check out the ArtRoad exhibition on your next visit to the Detroit Zoo!

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

GreenFest – A celebration of Earth Day

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” – Jane Goodall

For nearly 50 years, millions of people around the globe have been celebrating Earth Day. Held annually on April 22, Earth Day represents the birth of the modern environmental movement and a worldwide demonstration of support for environmental preservation. As a leader in sustainability, guided by our award-winning Greenprint initiatives, the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) annually holds GreenFest at the Detroit Zoo as a celebration of Earth Day. This year’s event is scheduled for Saturday, April 22, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The event is free with Detroit Zoo admission and includes a variety of engaging activities as well as a sustainability tour – complete with 10 stations that showcase our Green Journey. Upon arrival, guests will be given a “passport” that can be stamped at each of the stations. The passports were created by DZS staff using recycled millage signs and can be taken home and used as a journal.

These stations will provide guests with information about our anaerobic digester – the first zoo-based system of its kind that will annually convert more than 500 tons of manure into electricity that will power our animal hospital – as well as permeable pavement, bird-strike reduction, vehicle maintenance, recycling and native-species gardening, among others. In addition, we will be sharing information on how visitors can incorporate these initiatives at home. For example, not everyone can build an anaerobic digester in their backyard, but many can choose to compost their food scraps; we will provide information on how to start doing so.

The first 3,000 guests who complete the sustainability tour will receive a reusable bag to help them as they join us on our Green Journey. There will also be a station for folks to take our Green Pledge – several pledges will be selected in a raffle to win a Detroit Zoo reusable water bottle.

GreenFest will also include chemistry demos, worm composting education, zookeeper talks, and much more.  Additionally, a travelling art exhibition by ArtRoad Nonprofit will be unveiled during the event, illustrating the impact of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes.

Attendees who bring a cell phone for recycling to GreenFest will receive a reduced admission price of $9. Admission is free for DZS members.

The DZS will also host Green Day at the Belle Isle Nature Center on April 22 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Green Day will feature crafts, games, storytelling, zookeeper talks and exhibits by local conservation groups.

Both GreenFest and Green Day events are initiatives of the DZS Greenprint, a strategic plan to refine and improve green practices and facilities at the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center, incorporate sustainability in all policies and programs and improve green literacy and action in the community.

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