I took advantage of the beautiful weekend weather (and a few days off!) to take my daughter on her first adventure to the St. Louis Zoo. My family is not big on visiting zoos, as we are all animal lovers and hate the idea of confining such beautiful beasts in a pen of any sort. But this trip was well worth it — between my daughter's joy at seeing giant anteaters and mine at witnessing the conservation efforts made on the zoo grounds, we had a marvelous time.
My first clue that the zoo had made some major changes was at my immediate destination: the little girl's room. I was delighted to find a dual flush toilet. Although it wasn't well signed, I noticed the indicator on the toilet handle instructing me to lift for liquid waste and push down for solids. A typical toilet uses five gallons per flush, but the dual kind uses less than a gallon for liquid, and a bit more than one and a half for solids. Just calculating the women and children in line with me, that was a phenomenal savings in water.
As we toured the site I fell in love with the lush horticulture — bamboo and plant life as amazing as the animals. But being "the crazy recycler," I also noted the plethora of landfill-saving opportunities: in the snack areas, collection sites during our walk — even a cart driving around with the chasing arrows on its backside, gathering plastic. To me the conservation practices at the zoo were very noticeable and impressive. I wasn't the least bit surprised to find that in 2009 the zoo won the Missouri Waste Control Coalition's Outstanding Achievement Award for Environmental Stewardship.
According to its 2009 Sustainability Report, the zoo reused or recycled a stunning amount of material, including 17.5 tons of mixed paper, 72.47 tons of cardboard and 5,639 pounds of plastic. The zoo also gathered metal — 35,660 pounds of scrap, 1,480 of aluminum and 8,816 of precious metals — and kept tons of electronics, appliances and construction materials out of the landfill by coordinating with other groups to reuse or recycle them.
The zoo hasn't stopped with the basics. The website
explains how the zoo gathers used cell phones and accessories to earn cash for its conservation efforts. The zoo recycles nearly all of the animal waste, bedding materials and green refuse in coordination with St. Louis Composting. In 2009, 32,150 pounds of fryer oil was saved for reuse. Light bulbs, many of which were recently retrofitted, are picked up and recycled through Project Incorporated. Even old uniforms manage to stay out of the landfill and into a reprocessing program.
When we stopped for a much needed frozen treat I got even more excited. Not because cherry slushies are the bomb or that the heat was breaking down my brain cells, reducing me to sugary snacks. I was thrilled that we were served from a compostable cup (and yes I managed to get it home for my bin!), without plastic lid or straw and the accompanying wrapper. Just the cup and spoon. Considering we had rehydrated ourselves all day with our reusable cups, our footprint was pretty small.
The zoo, an incredibly popular attraction in St. Louis, boasts free admission. But after our visit I can say it should shout out its winning approach to conservation, not only from a lessen-the-landfill point of view, but in all of its practices. Energy reduction, water conservation and outfitting the business with products made from recycled materials keeps pollution and waste down even further. Even birthday parties are no longer disposable, as they are served with cloth napkins and tablecloths, real dinnerware and table service. Conservation techniques are taught to campers and visitors and are shared on the zoo's website.
On our way out we stopped at the gift shop. I was thrilled to find products with a conscience, either made from reclaimed materials, or without ingredients such as palm oil, as palm farms are devastating orangutan habitats. Perhaps my favorite items were the stationery sets, made from elephant dung and paper fiber. Now that's recycling!