As a conservation organization, it is our responsibility to help create a healthy, just and sustainable future for not only the human race, but for the flora and fauna that don’t have a voice. For the second year, Virginia Zoo staff, volunteers and community members teamed up with 388 other organizations internationally to commit to making a difference in the world by participating in the Plastic Free EcoChallenge during the month of July.
In 2018, the ecochallenge was only available to staff from zoological organizations, but was opened to the public this year to extend the project’s reach. The Plastic Free EcoChallenge is intended for individuals on teams to participate in easy and difficult one-time or daily challenges. Participants can earn points for eco-friendly tasks they already do as well as for new tasks. The team with the most points at the end of the 31-day challenge wins; but there isn’t a trophy. Bragging rights and the satisfaction of knowing you made a difference are the only prizes received at the end of the month.
Two teams represented the Zoo this year. Zoo staff, Zoo Crew volunteers, Conservation Youth Team members and even summer interns created the (Non)Plastics team, while the Zoo’s community members comprised the Virginia Zoo Fans team. The teams had 93 and 45 participants respectively, who committed to ditching plastics for the month of July.
The Zoo had incentives for participants who were active weekly, including colorful reusable sporks for (Non)Plastics team members and random giveaways of environmentally friendly items from metal straws to bamboo toothbrushes and cloth produce bags. For a majority of the prizes, the Zoo worked with EcoManiac, a Virginia Beach based company that is dedicated to selling “eco-friendly alternatives to single-use plastics”.
The Maryland Zoo triumphed over the competition, finishing well above the other teams. Overall, the Virginia Zoo collaboratively finished in 16th place, with the (Non)Plastics team finishing in 19th place out of 776 teams, beating the Virginia Aquarium’s Polymeric Purge Party team, who finished 22nd overall, in a head-to-head points competition. The Zoo Fans team also fared well, finishing in 94th place.
During the various challenges, the teams made quite the impact:
- 975 plastic straws saved
- 2,537 pieces of litter picked up
- 10 documentaries watched
- 1,223 plastic bottles not sent to the landfill
- 104 hours volunteered
Even though the ecochallenge is over, the Virginia Zoo remains committed to ditching plastics and encourages the community to continue to or start taking action to do the same. Please visit EcoChallenge.org for a list of upcoming challenges and recommendations for being plastic-free.