We touch things made of plastic hundreds of times in our daily lives. Plastic is so common that most people think nothing of using a plastic item once, and then tossing it away. How many plastic bags, straws, lids, bottles, forks, cups have you used once and thrown away?
The average American throws away 185 pounds of plastic a year. That’s half a pound of plastic a day from every one of us! Only 8 percent of the plastic used in the U.S. is recycled. The rest ends up in landfills or is burned releasing toxic chemicals or becomes litter. Plastic is not biodegradable. It breaks into smaller and smaller pieces that pollute our water, harm wildlife, and harm us. Toxic chemicals leach out of plastic as it breaks down and can be found in the blood and tissue of nearly all of us. In short, we have a plastic problem and we need to rethink how we buy and discard plastic.
To do this, OKC Zoo and OZS staff formed a team and joined teams from 50 zoos and aquariums for a Plastic Free July challenge this summer. Participants chose daily actions to reduce plastic in their lives and in the environment, and then recorded their actions each day through a website designed by EcoChallenge. Actions ranged from replacing plastic straws, bottles, bags, and cutlery with reusable items, to organizing waterway clean-up events, to contacting public officials with concerns about plastic waste, to hosting plastic pollution documentary viewing events. The website tracked the collective impact of each team and all the teams combined.
At the OKC Zoo, 101 employees participated in the EcoChallenge. Here’s a snapshot of the team’s impact:
- 177 zero-waste meals consumed
- 438 disposable cups kept out of landfills/waterways
- 871 pieces of plastic cutlery kept out of landfills/waterways
- 900 plastic straws kept out of landfills/waterways
- 927 plastic bottles kept out of landfills/waterways
- 2,038 pieces of litter picked up
Over 5,000 people took part in the challenge and the impact was amazing. For example, the total number of single use plastic items that were refused, and thus diverted from the landfill in just one month included:
- 35,383 straws
- 28,166 plastic bottles
- 37,174 pieces of plastic cutlery
We have pledged to continue to apply what we learned from this challenge and strive to reduce plastic waste every day. We hope you will join us. Replace disposable plastic items with reusable products and the next time you order a drink, please tell them to hold the straw.
-Dr. Rebecca Snyder, curator of conservation and science