One of today's top environmental concerns is pollution. Just look around you, how many pieces of trash do you see on the ground? Humans are amazing at creating new items, but sadly, we are not as good with managing these resources once we’re done with them.

I’ve spotted people stopped at a red light on Kansas Avenue open their car door to drop their trash in the street! As a population, we frequently base our choices on what is easiest rather than what is right. It is an extra step to dispose of your trash properly, but it is an important one.

Many times, the pollution that I, and probably you, see is plastic-based. The massive amounts of plastic found as litter is troubling for many reasons. First, large plastic pieces can be an obstacle that wildlife must maneuver around or possibly become trapped in. Over time the plastic weathers and breaks down, but not quickly and it doesn’t really go away.

Thicker plastics, like a water bottle, can take over 400 years to break down. As the plastic breaks down, it is not decomposing. Decomposing is when natural material degrades and eventually becomes part of the soil. The plastic is weathered and crumbles into smaller and smaller pieces. Once the pieces are too small to see with our eye, this material is called microplastic. These tiny plastic fragments will remain in the soil and our oceans; these pieces are so small that animals eat it without even knowing. Plastic pollution is having a major impact on our planet.

With plastic pollution being such a large scale issue, Lee Richardson Zoo, along with other like-minded individuals are taking a stand against plastic pollution. 772 teams have chosen to participate in a 31-day Eco challenge to reduce the use or refuse the use, of single-use plastic items.

If you are not familiar with the term single-use plastic, this refers to any plastic item that was created to be used once and then thrown away. Examples of single-use plastics include; plastic bags, plastic cutlery, water or soda bottles, and even dental floss picks. By learning about, and choosing sustainable options over plastic, we are decreasing the impact that plastic pollution is having on wildlife and wild places.

Lee Richardson Zoo's volunteers and staff stepped up to the challenge! To start off, each team member selected plastic-free challenges that fit their lifestyle. By participating in this event, the biggest take away for many of us was realizing how much plastic we use each day.

Look around yourself, how many plastic items can you count? How many of these items will be thrown away by the end of today? Some individuals might ensure that the plastic items are recycled properly, but if these items are just thrown in the trash, then they will end up at a landfill. The next step was changing our habits and using plastic-free alternatives in our daily routines.

Making changes to our daily routines is not always easy. Each team member has worked to achieve their individual goals, and some of us have faced challenges during the event. The small changes our team has made, combined with the 14,922 other participants, will have a major impact on our planet. Each time someone switches from a traditional toothbrush to a bamboo handled brush or remembers to bring reusable bags to the grocery store reduces how much plastic is ending up as pollution.

Together, Lee Richardson Zoo's team has refused over ninety plastic straws and kept over 460 plastic bottles out of landfills. Altogether, the event participants refused over 35,000 plastic straws and kept over 59,200 plastic bottles out of landfills. These numbers are just a small example of the positive impact the plastic-free eco-challenge has created. One person might not be able to change the world, but together, we can make a difference.

The July challenge is wrapping up, but there will be more eco-challenges to join this year. If you are interested in joining a plastic-free challenge, visit www.plasticfree.ecochallenge.org.

 

Catie Policastro is the conservation education specialist at Lee Richardson Zoo.