On a day-to-day basis, most people never think about how much plastic they use and the ways it can create a negative impact on the environment. Consider the recent Fourth of July holiday; the plastic utensils for your barbecue, the water balloons children used to keep cool or the plastic wrapping around the fireworks you purchased. Just for this one holiday, the plastic is piling up!

It’s never too late to make a change, though, and you can choose to join the Plastic-Free July event. Originally, an Australian-founded initiative, the program has been expanded by the Calgary Zoo and Columbus Zoo and Aquarium to inspire change closer to home. The mission is for people to discover and take action against single-use plastics to reduce their negative impact on wildlife through friendly competition and camaraderie of those registered for the event.

At this time, registration is limited to zoo and aquarium staff or volunteers, but everyone is able to make small changes to help reduce the impact that single-use plastics can have on ecosystems whether you’re registered or not. Visiting the event website, plasticfreejuly.ecochallenge.org, you can view the different challenges and find inspiration for your Plastic-Free July.

Under the “Lifestyle Challenge” heading on the website you’ll find suggestions of ways to create a positive impact for our planet. There are a lot of great options in this section, but my favorite is “watch a documentary” because you have the power to share your passion for protecting the planet with your friends and family. By hosting a movie night at your place, you can watch a documentary together that inspires conservation and starts a discussion on what small action everyone can take to help protect our planet.

An easy place to make changes in how often we use single-use plastics is with our food. I have a set of reusable produce bags that I bring to the grocery store so that I don’t need to take a plastic bag when I buy my bunch of apples. Another way to reduce single-use plastic waste is to avoid plastic wrap and single-use sandwich bags. Instead, consider packaging leftovers in reusable containers or purchasing reusable, cloth snack bags. Think about how much plastic you can keep out of landfills if your lunch box, or your child’s lunch, didn’t have single-use sandwich bags in it. Small changes now can create a big impact later.

Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo’s Safari Shoppe has taken steps to end its use of single-use plastic bags. This year, the Safari Shoppe started a plastic bag initiative where anyone who makes a purchase is asked if they need a plastic bag or want to carry their purchase out as is, or if they want to buy a reusable bag. If they do want a plastic bag, they will pay 25 cents and the proceeds from this go to the Turtle Conservation Fund. Once their plastic bags are gone, the Safari Shoppe will not be re-stocking single-use plastic bags. This new program has been well received by zoo guests. Next time you visit the Safari Shoppe, or any store, stop and think if you really need a bag for your purchase. If you do, then consider bringing a reusable bag with you.

We all have the ability to protect ecosystems from the impact of plastic pollution. By selecting a reusable option instead of single-use plastic, you will help reduce the impact that plastic has on our planet.


Catie Policastro is an education specialist for Lee Richardson Zoo.