McKinley Dortch is a senior Environmental Science major at Oklahoma State University. This summer, she served as the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden's sustainability intern. Dortch documented her work assisting in internal waste audits.
Growing up in Edmond, some of my favorite memories were playing in creeks and being in nature. Fast forward to college I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I kept coming back to wanting to do something for the environment. There are not many opportunities for my dream job of wanting to work with businesses to become more sustainable, but lucky enough I became the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden’s first-ever sustainability intern.
I walked into an environment that already had strong conservation initiatives ready to dig a little deeper into their green practices. My goal was to observe and interpret data to make suggestions that are both environmentally practical as well as financially sustainable. I am motivated by knowing a change I can make would benefit employees, the animals, and the environment. My proudest moment so far has been finding an easy way to save money by introducing a project into the zoo.
During my first week, the Zoo conducted its second employee waste audit to evaluate trash and recycling. We took a bag of recycling and a bag of trash from each department’s building to estimate contamination rates. I was impressed to see that there was very little recycling being thrown away, but there was still a bit of contamination in the recycling. By comparing each audit, the Zoo can see how efficiently the recycling program is and how to improve. We also learned that we could potentially divert an additional 25.6% of waste from the landfill by composting our paper towels and food waste. Some commonly misplaced items in recycling include plastic films such as plastic bags, Ziplocs®, and film from microwavable meals.
After I shadowed our sanitation staff, I got to see just how much trash the Zoo produces daily. I got curious and wanted to conduct a waste audit on the public side. The main contents in the trash were Lunchables®, Caprisuns®, Ziploc bags®, and plastic water bottles. The contamination in the recycling was mainly food, Styrofoam®, and compostable straws and silverware provided in the restaurants. Recycling helps reduce the need for raw materials as well as reducing pollution and habitat destruction. Guests can help make a difference by recycling plastic water bottles, bringing their own reusable water bottle, following the recycling signs, and packing snacks that have minimal plastic. By recycling and reducing your plastic consumption you are helping to protect wildlife.
McKinly Dortch, OKC Zoo Sustainability Intern