FROM ZOO TO YOU Making July a plastic free month

By Alyssa Mechler

Summertime brings about a lot of fun outdoor activities: family vacations, trips to the lake, camping, and fairs! All these events usually involve food, prizes, souvenirs, and so much more. Ask yourself a question about these events: do we typically produce a lot of garbage? Yes! Are there ways we can reduce the amount of garbage we produce at these events or in our everyday lives? Of course! Every summer, participating zoos and aquariums host a challenge called Plastic Free Ecochallenge.

This challenge was started to help bring awareness to how many non-reusable items we use and how we can practice making smarter choices. This July, the Lee Richardson Zoo has a team, and you can join by visiting https://plasticfree.ecochallenge.org/ and searching for Lee Richardson Zoo.

Why is plastic so bad anyway? Plastics are made synthetically and take longer than natural materials to break down. When plastic breaks down, it breaks down into microplastics which are small, microscopic particles that can build up in the ecosystem, and even end up in the foods we eat. This can affect the health of many animals in the world, including humans. Humans are the ones who can make a difference, though.

Scientists have proven that it takes 21 days to form a habit. That is a little less than a month, so by starting this challenge at the beginning of the month, we can develop habits that can last! Maybe joining the online ecochallenge community isn’t your thing. Does that mean you can’t participate? Of course not! Just by making one change in your habits, you can participate in Plastic Free July. How about bringing a reusable bag into the grocery store instead of getting a plastic bag? Reusable bags are often stronger and carry more items than plastic bags, making life a lot simpler when bringing groceries inside.

Sometimes you forget your bags, it happens to the best of us, ask for paper bags. It’s a lot easier to recycle paper than to recycle plastic bags.

You may be saying, “I already bring in my reusable bags.” Take on another action. Skip the straw by refusing plastic straws or purchase a collapsible travel straw and use it when you order drinks while eating out. Purchasing mesh bags for produce is another great way to reduce your single-use waste. Use glass containers for your leftovers; they last forever, and you can stick them in the microwave. Looking for more ways to make an impact? Join the ecochallenge and learn about the many ways you can make a difference.

There are many actions that you can try, from beginner to expert, small actions to large actions. The Plastic Free Ecochallenge helps bring awareness to your individual habits and make small changes to help the planet. This July, we encourage you to see how many healthy habits you can adopt.

Alyssa Mechler is a conservation awareness manager at Lee Richardson Zoo.