Students Showcase Sustainable Solutions in 2019 Green Prize Competition

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is seeking inventive ideas from local students who wish to join us on our Green Journey toward a more sustainable future. K-12 classes, green teams and schools in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties may enter the DZS’s 2019 Green Prize competition now through March 1 and be eligible for cash prizes and a field trip to the Detroit Zoo.

Students are encouraged to research green practices – from incorporating renewable solar energy to eliminating plastic water bottles – and then create and implement ideas that lead to a better tomorrow. The winners of the 2018 competition were members of the West Bloomfield High School EARTH Club, who came together as a team to determine how much energy the science department was using and develop strategies to reduce this rate. Ultimately, they switched to LED lights and installed solar panels to completely power the department. Their project – from inception to execution – exemplified environmental stewardship.

To enter the DZS’s 2019 Green Prize competition, students are asked to complete the following:

  • Identify an environmental or sustainability issue
  • Propose a solution that will address the issue
  • List the material and labor needed to implement the solution
  • Describe the positive impact this solution would have on the environment
  • Submit a video, artistic rendering of the project or any other method that portrays your green journey

Prizes will be awarded for first, second and third place. First-place winners will receive $1,000 and a class field trip to the Detroit Zoo, which includes an in-depth look at the DZS’s Greenprint initiatives that are already in action. Second-place winners will receive $600; third-place winners will receive $400. All entries will receive a certificate of participation for their efforts in making the world a greener place.

The top three entries will be selected and notified on March 15. The winners will be showcased during GreenFest, the DZS’s celebration of Earth Day on April 27 at the Detroit Zoo. Visitors will have the chance to see how these students are paving the way to a more sustainable environment.

All 2019 Green Prize entries should be submitted to rhandbury@dzs.org

The Detroit Zoological Society is a leader in environmentally sustainability, with all operations guided by our award-winning Greenprint initiative. As part of our Green Journey, we are working to create a healthier environment for all animals, visitors and the planet. We’re doing this through initiatives such as our waste-to-energy anaerobic digester, keeping 60,000 plastic bottles out of the waste stream annually by no longer selling bottled water, using permeable pavement in our new pathways and parking lot, and installing a solar panel system called the smartflower. Learn what you can do to lessen your footprint by downloading our Shades of Green Guide.

Answer the Call – Gorillas are on the Line

Grab your cell phone (if it’s not already in your hand) and go to your most recent calls. Scroll through your list. How many calls did you receive? How many minutes did you spend talking? What about texts – how many have you sent today? What if I told you, that every time you grab your phone, whether it be for a call, a text or to browse your social media accounts, you’ve held the fate of a gorilla in the palm of your hand?

A little heavier than you thought? The topic – not the gorilla. While gorillas can weigh upwards of 500 pounds, a cell phone typically only weighs about 4 ounces. But the actual weight of this issue is so much larger than what can be measured with a scale.

While materials like plastic, nickel, copper and zinc are common in most cell phones, there’s one rare and valuable mineral, coltan, in all cell phones and small electronics that directly impacts the survival of gorillas. Eighty percent of the world’s supply of coltan is found in Central Africa, which is prime gorilla habitat. Imagine having the cell phone equivalent of gold in your backyard. There would be a lot of people showing up at your house with shovels in their hands and dollar signs in their eyes. That’s the situation for coltan and the gorillas.

Coltan is luring miners into the forests, which causes trouble for these animals. Their habitat is becoming logged and dug up so the miners can reach the coltan, and people are bringing in diseases, which the gorillas can easily contract. People are also illegally hunting gorillas – either to eat, sell or trade for more supplies. The more cell phones people buy, the more coltan needs to be mined, and more gorillas are becoming homeless. With their numbers dwindling in the wild as it is, let’s work together to save them.

The Detroit Zoological Society is partnering with other accredited zoos within the Association of Zoos & Aquariums to launch a cellphone recycling program from February 1 through April 30. Our collective goal is to gather 10,000 mobile phones and engage 10,000 children and community members to help save gorillas. In addition to mobile phones, we will also accept iPads, iPods, cameras, chargers, etc., because they, too, contain coltan.

Fewer than 20 percent of old cell phones are recycled. So, whether yours are collecting dust in the garage or in a junk drawer somewhere in your house, consider bringing your old phones and electronics to the Detroit Zoo during the next three months. Donation bins will be set up at the Main Entrance; you can also deliver them to the guest relations associates manning the ticket booths. We’re also looking for local schools to join us in this venture and make a direct impact on saving species. If your school or classroom is interested in helping us protect gorillas, you can email cvankampen@dzs.org. Also, mark your calendar for our World Gorilla Day celebration at the Detroit Zoo on Tuesday, September 24.

– Aaron Jesue is a zookeeper for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Don’t Trash Your TV – Recycle it Instead

If you’re daunted by dusty DVD players, tossed-aside televisions or rejected radios taking up space in the basement, the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) can help give them new life. The DZS is hosting its first-ever America Recycles Day electronics recycling event at the Detroit Zoo on Thursday, November 15.

Michigan’s recycling rate is among the lowest in the country at only 15 percent. Gov. Rick Snyder set a goal of doubling that number, which would get us closer to (but still below) the national average of 35 percent. People may be shocked when they hear how low we rank – especially when they know there’s so much more we can do.

Old electronics – including radios, printers, computers, televisions and cell phones – can be dropped off for recycling from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the large 10 Mile Road parking lot near the gazebo on November 15. Sustainability talks will be held throughout the day to highlight the DZS’s award-winning initiatives and share important information about the impacts of waste on the environment.

For example, cell phone production – and its reliance on an ore found in Africa called coltan – is damaging wild habitats and decimating populations of gorillas and other animals. A 2:30 p.m. talk at the Great Apes of Harambee will dive deeper into how recycling old cell phones can help animals in the wild. Additional talks will be held at 11:30 a.m. near the guanaco habitat, where staff will discuss the DZS’s anaerobic digester and how it is annually turning 500 tons of animal waste into energy. A 1:30 p.m. talk at the Edward Mardigian Sr. River Otter Habitat will focus on plastic pollution and how the DZS is keeping 60,000 plastic bottles out of the waste stream annually by no longer selling bottled water. In addition, an activity in the underwater gallery of the Polk Penguin Conservation Center from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. will highlight the dangers animals face due to plastic waste.

While the following items aren’t a part of our electronics recycling event and can’t be recycled curbside, here are some options you have to still help the environment:

  • Batteries: Batteries contain heavy metals and chemicals. Throwing them out with the trash can contaminate the soil and pollute water. Many hardware stores will accept your household batteries prevent them from ending up in landfills. You can even take an old car battery to your local auto parts store to be recycled, too. Earth 911 can help you find locations near you to bring your old batteries.
  • Running shoes: If your athletic shoes have seen better days, there are a few things you can do instead of tossing them in the trash. If they’re still in decent shape, you can donate them to your local thrift store or to One World Running. One World Running is a nonprofit organization that distributes lightly used running shoes to those in need all over the world. If your shoes are completely worn out, you can donate them to Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe program by dropping them off at any Nike store. Through this program, your old shoes will be recycled into things such as running tracks, underlay material for basketball courts or padding for football goal posts. The shoes can be any brand to be donated to Reuse-a-Shoe.
  • Holiday lights: It’s almost that time of year – you know, the time to take out the holiday lights just to discover they don’t work anymore? If that’s the case, bring them to the Detroit Zoo during Wild Lights for free holiday light recycling. Or, you can ship them to Holiday LEDs and they will take the burnt-out bulbs off your hands! If you choose either of these methods, Holiday LEDs will provide you with a coupon for 15 percent off HolidayLEDs lights.

Even though America Recycles Day is celebrated once a year, it’s important to consider the world around us and what we can do to help in our daily lives.  Learn more about our award-winning commitment to sustainability here.

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.