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Many thanks for a fantastic plastic-free July!

Posted by Daphne Matter, ZooCorps Intern
Photos by Daphne Matter, Woodland Park Zoo.

Woodland Park Zoo staff pledged to reduce or refuse single-use plastics during Plastic Free July! With support from Seattle Public Utilities, we then invited you to join us by taking the Plastic Free for Me pledge. Here is a recap of what we learned, what we found difficult to give up and a few surprising plastic confessions.

Participants will receive a #PlasticFreeForMe water bottle sticker.

Thank you to all those who participated in our Plastic Free for Me campaign! 236 of you joined us in our collective effort to lessen our impact on the environment during the month of July. By reducing your consumption of single-use plastics and taking this pledge, you have done your part to save wildlife from the great threat that plastic pollution poses.

Why is it so important to keep plastic waste out of our oceans? Plastic presents a grave issue in our world today, especially for marine life. It is not biodegradable, meaning it never breaks down. Plastic only breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces, meaning that the large majority of all the plastic that has ever been made (9 billion tons!) still exists on our planet today. Our rapid consumption of single-use plastics (like water bottles, bags, straws, packaging, and more) is only creating more of this pollution. 

Our amazing ZooCorps interns who helped out with Plastic Free July and Plastic Free For Me! Maddie and Daphne definitely earned their stickers!

Although large plastic litter is very harmful, the majority of the plastic in the oceans is less than a quarter of an inch long. These tiny pieces of broken down plastics are called microplastics. Microplastics make their way up the food chain and contaminate it, including much of the seafood we eat! Even with the few plastics that are recycled, they are almost always only recycled one time before it becomes waste, and most of plastic waste ends up in the environment, posing a huge threat to many marine ecosystems and species worldwide.

We also went plastic bottle free at the zoo this summer. You'll find water filing stations across the zoo!
By the end of our July campaign, we had received 236 pledges! A common trend we had not expected was how many people’s confession included having reusable bags in their car, but forgetting to bring them into the store when they shopped. This means that that although the reusable bag may just be in the parked car outside, they ended up still walking away with  single use plastic bags. There were also a large number of iced coffee drinkers who use single use plastic cups every day. It's so easy to forget to make these simple actions into habits.

Some of our favorite plastics confessions were:
  • Admiral shimmering sea turtle “I’m a plastic straw fiend! I buy boxes of single use bendy straws and take extras from restaurants. 😣”
  • Admirable Floaty Washington Water Wizard “I always take my reusable bags to the grocery store but forget when I go into Target.”
  • Outstanding Floaty Seal Sympathizer “I always use a plastic straw so I don’t get soda in my mustache.”
  • Admirable Diverse Big Cat Conservationist “Too many iced coffees!”
  • Marvelous Coastal Sea Turtle Accomplice “In every way! Plastics at the grocery store, forgetting my reusables, not speaking up. Takeout, takeout, takeout!"

The great news is that with over 200 pledges taken, we have put a stop to these practices for one entire month and have learned how easy it is to do better in the future! 

Participants will receive a limited edition #PlasticFreeForMe water bottle sticker to proudly share their success with others! The stickers are durable, waterproof and made from 100% recycled materials from PURE Labels, by Elevate Packaging. 

We would love to see your stickers on social media! Share a photo of your reusable water bottle and sticker on your next adventure and tag #woodlandparkzoo. 
In addition to the great work you all did with #PlasticFreeFor Me, zoo staff were also challenged to do more. During Plastic Free July, 214 of Woodland Park Zoo's staff and volunteers stepped up to the plate and took on the challenge of reducing their single-use plastic consumption. Throughout the month of July: Over 1,200 pieces of litter were kept out of Puget Sound Over 300 zero-waste meals were made Over 400 disposable containers were kept out of landfills Over 1,500 minutes were spent learning about alternatives to single use plastic... and so much more!

Across America, 77 other zoos and aquarium teams joined us to take enormous strides towards reducing single-use plastic waste. Together, all 78 teams kept over 68,000 straws and utensils out of landfills, made 9,000 zero-waste meals, over 14,000 disposable cups and 16,500 single use containers out of landfills, 2,000 petitions signed and conversations had with public officials supporting reducing single-use plastics, and tens of thousands of other actions. Whew!

Now we’re heading into the month of August and Plastic Free For Me is technically over, but we challenge you to keep these practices up going forward to help save our oceans. Even if you missed the challenge in July and didn’t make a pledge, you can always start being an animal hero now by bringing reusable containers when ordering out, attending a local cleanup, buying unpackaged produce and minimally packaged products, or learning about plastics and the ways you can do your part.
Keep those plastic free habits going and make a big difference for wildlife!

River otter! Photo by John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo.