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Are we the greenest of them all? Sorting waste in search of sustainability!

Woodland Park Zoo is committed to sustainability and continues to push the boundaries of what is possible. Currently, over 80% of waste at the zoo is diverted from landfills each year and our goal is to achieve 90% diversion from landfill by 2022. The purpose of a waste audit is to measure our current waste and increase compost and recycling diversion while simultaneously reducing/eliminating contamination. The last zoo-wide waste audit was conducted in 2013, which occurred before the roll-out of public tri-sorting stations and before Seattle’s food packaging ordinances were implemented.

To understand how to help keep more waste out of landfills, the zoo’s Green Team organized a zoo-wide waste audit in 2019 to assess our waste streams. The waste audit was possible through the sponsorship of Waste Management and Cedar Grove as well as the zoo staff and volunteers who sorted through 95 bags of garbage, recycling, and compost!

Meghan Sawyer, a member of the public relations team here at Woodland Park Zoo, joined the Green Team and has the scoop on what the team found.

The Green Team and volunteers pose during the big undertaking of sorting nearly 500 pounds of waste.

Posted by Meghan Sawyer, Communications

If you had told me last year that I would be spending several hours digging through almost 500 pounds of trash, voluntarily, I would have laughed. But I had joined Woodland Park Zoo's Green Team and that’s how I found myself (gloved) elbows deep in who-knows-what, all in the name of making the zoo a more sustainable place. 

Woodland Park Zoo’s Green Team, founded back in 2001, is made up of employees from every department across the zoo. Its mission is focused on advocating for sustainability practices on zoo grounds and beyond.

I joined the Green Team last summer, representing the zoo’s public relations team. I’m definitely nowhere near perfect when it comes to making eco-friendly choices in my life, so I was intimidated, but I also knew it would be a great learning opportunity. Plus, if I could learn to change my ways to better the planet, anyone could! 

Meghan (me, on the left) and some other folks from the Green Team begin to sort. It was hard work, but we were all smiles knowing that the results would help us be greener than ever.
So what does digging through waste have to do with sustainability? Woodland Park Zoo welcomes over 1.3 million visitors every single year ̶ and that comes with a lot of waste. The zoo encourages guests to lessen that amount of waste by recycling and composting as much as they can. The Green Team’s waste audit got to the bottom of how well waste is being sorted, with the goal of finding out how to make it easier for people to sort their waste correctly.

At the waste audit, 20 volunteers analyzed nearly 100 bags pulled from bins across the zoo, totaling 492 pounds of trash. The findings: 71% of material was sorted correctly. 

What will we find?
During our waste audit, we found that a few dirty plastics and non-recyclable food packages were ending up in recycle bins and some food and recyclable plastic containers were going to the garbage. Woops! We’ll use what we’ve learned during our audit to help educate guests and staff about what goes where and keep improving our waste IQ.

Et voila! Your waste is our benchmark in sustainability.
Kaitlyn Welzen, the zoo’s recycling and compost coordinator, says this about the results, “We are really pleased with having such a high level of correctly sorted material. What we found is that people are generally good at recycling and composting, but there are some key itemslike compostable plasticsthat are confusing for people and often end up in the wrong bin. Based on the results of the waste audit, we are working to improve signage at waste sorting stations to be more helpful for guests.” 

To help maximize the benefits of recycling and composting, always check packaging labels to see how to properly dispose of things. At the zoo, 

Overall, the waste audit assessed 492 pounds of material and found that 71% of material (by weight) was put into the correct bin. The waste audit also showed that some materials were consistently being put into the wrong container, and demonstrates an area where Woodland Park Zoo can improve to help guests sort materials correctly.
If you’re ever unsure about packaging, just throw it out. Of course, just like me,  you want to recycle and compost whenever possible, but putting something into the wrong bin is actually worse than throwing it in the trash! There's even a name for it... "wishcycling."

Kaitlyn explains, "Throwing things into the recycling bin in the hopes that it can be recycled is called ‘wishcycling’ and has caused major issues for the recycling industry and ultimately leads to less material actually being recycled into useful new products." For a handy guide on what to recycle, check your local waste management website (if you live in King County, you can look here.)

To learn more about your green zoo and all the ways you can join us in sustainable practice, visit 

Photo via Reto Stockli/Alan Nelson/Fritz Hasler/NASA

Save the Date for Earth Day for All! 

We’re thrilled to be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2020. We are committed to inspiring conservation in everyone’s lives. 

On Saturday April 25, join us—along with our conservation and community partners—on zoo grounds to help make Earth Day for All extra special. Activities include pollinator awareness, tours of the Zoo Doo yard, and a full suite of animal keeper talks and delicious treats for the animals. Special efforts will be made to make talks inclusive for people with a wide range of abilities and sensory needs, including American Sign Language interpretation, and complimentary wheelchairs. Visit for details.

Thanks for joining us in being green. #SavingSpecies