What Reid Park Zoo Learned from the Plastic Free EcoChallenge

Eliminating single-use plastic isn’t easy, but it’s important. Every year, an estimated one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die from plastics in the environment. With our mission to protect wild animals and wild places, this challenge was necessary and important to Reid Park Zoo.

Reid Park Zoo’s Green Team – made up of employees from all areas of the Zoo – wanted to advocate for the public to reduce plastic use, and realized that the movement had to start internally. You can’t ask your friends to stop using plastic while you are carrying your groceries home in a plastic bag! 

In their search for a start to this somewhat daunting goal, they found the Plastic Free EcoChallenge sponsored by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. This online campaign’s purpose is to ask people to make small, daily changes to their lifestyle in order to reduce single-use plastics for a month. 

In sitting down to look at what we would need to do as an organization to eliminate single-use plastics, our team made the commitment to move forward. Zoo staff answered the call to make the effort to do what we can, and to continue to improve after the challenge. Most importantly, we wanted to ask the public to join us.

Our food service provider was eager to jump on board and make a change, in spite of having to make an economically difficult decision to stop selling water in single-use plastic bottles. Zoofari Market now carries Proud Source water in terrific ice-cold aluminum containers, alongside our reusable plastic zoo cups and our compostable plastic cups made from corn, which complement our compostable plates and eating utensils.

The gift shop hasn’t used plastic bags in years, and their commitment to environmentally friendly products didn’t stop there! They have just unveiled brand new items called Eco-Pals – adorable stuffed animal toys made from 100% recycled materials with no plastic eyes or whiskers — even the tags are tied with string instead of plastic!

In the office, we looked at how we serve food for meetings and celebrations, as well as not using sandwich bags for birthday treats, but paper bags instead. We even brought utensils from home to stock our cupboard

We moved forward with the EcoChallengeand the Reid Park Zoo community blew us all away. With over 700 organizations participating from around the country, we placed 6th – that’s in the top 1%. Wow! 

The stories were inspiring and informative in both the successes and failures. Most impactful was the number of conversations that took place about reducing the use of single-use plastic. We built habits, we talked to our families and friends. We reduced, recycled and reused.

I love the quote “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” To the Reid Park Zoo community, Congratulations, you did us proud!