This is the Last Straw

It is estimated that 119 billion pounds of plastic waste is currently in our oceans and waterways, and every year millions of pounds of new plastic waste builds up from the improper disposal of straws, cups, water bottles, plastic bags, and other single-use items. These items can and often do negatively affect some of the world’s most magnificent creatures including sea turtles, birds, fish, and aquatic mammals like whales and seals. For organizations such as the Virginia Zoo and the Virginia Aquarium, the time is now to stop using these items that harm our planet and our wildlife. We’ve decided that this is the last straw. Literally.

In 2018, the Zoo decided to go completely straw free for Earth Day and our annual Party for the Planet event. With more than 3,962 guests who visited the Zoo that day, we possibly saved that many straws from potentially ending up where they don’t belong! The event was such a success that we’ve decided to ditch giving out plastic straws altogether and are now offering paper straws at our food locations or encouraging guests to bring their own reusable straws. And we’re not stopping there!

We’ve switched some of our catering and food service products to recyclable and even compostable. Visitors are encouraged to properly dispose of these items in our new trash and recycling receptacles, which are made out of recycled milk jugs! Even our new benches and picnic tables are made of the same material.

If you’ve visited the Zoo recently, you may have noticed that we no longer have paper maps. The Virginia Zoo has more than 500,000 visitors every year, which adds up to a lot of paper! We’re no longer printing maps to save paper, which means no more trees cut down! Instead of paper maps, we have the Virginia Zoo app for your locating convenience, as well as a few large posted maps around the Zoo.

Trash and waste isn’t the only thing we’re attempting to help save the Earth and wildlife from. The Virginia Zoo is now a partner with Seafood Watch and Sustainable Seafood. These programs can help you choose seafood that’s fished or farmed in ways that have less impact on the environment. Over-harvesting of seafood, especially oysters that filter the water, can have a chain reaction on the animals and plants that rely on clean water. Since the Virginia Zoo lies within the coastal community, we have the opportunity to make a big impact on seafood consumers by partnering with this program and also continuing our partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to clean up the Elizabeth River and grow new oysters near the Zoo via our conservation program.


One of the biggest ways we’re cutting back on our carbon footprint is through staff-initiated projects. The Virginia Zoo put together a Zoo-wide staff challenge to cut out the use of plastics for one day in the month of April, and will be challenging themselves to do it for the entire month of July. Through the help of staff can track their daily progress for certain actions including using reusable containers for takeout lunches, making hygiene items from home instead of using store-bought items in plastic bottles, and encouraging political leaders to advocate for eco-friendly policies. We also encourage Zoo fans to partake in the fun while we continue to help save the planet!

Little actions, like forgoing your straw, go a long way in helping the Earth and saving wildlife. So stay mindful of your purchases and the items you use on a daily basis; our plant and animal friends thank you in advance!