May 8, 2019

For the Birds

Denver Zoo’s Best Tips for Beating Plastic Pollution

This year, the theme for World Migratory Bird Day (Saturday, May 11) is “Be the Solution to Plastic Pollution.” When we think wildlife and plastic pollution, we often think of images of whales with stomachs full of plastic bags or sea life tangled in plastic. But we’re in Denver you say; we’re landlocked! For starters, our very own migratory birds are at risk. The Canada goose, double-crested cormorant and snowy egret are all Colorado species that are suffering due to plastic pollution. And as for the great blue sea, just because we don’t see the effects of ocean pollution firsthand, doesn’t mean we don’t contribute. Plastic threatens animals everywhere.

How Does Plastic Affect Birds?

Imagine a plastic bag, covered in algae, floating on the water. To birds, that could easily look like a fish past its prime. And it’s not just adult birds: birds unwittingly feed plastic to their chicks who are even more vulnerable due to their underdeveloped organs. Birds also end up with plastic soda rings or bags wrapped around their bodies, which in turn impedes their ability to fly, and ultimately survive.

So, What’s a Concerned Citizen to Do?

  • Get Serious About Recycling
    Just because you throw it in the recycling bin, doesn’t mean it’s recyclable. When recycling is contaminated with non-accepted materials, it can gum up recyclers. To prevent that, processing plants will often throw the entire contaminated bin in the dump. Be sure to read up on your city’s policies and sort your household waste as carefully as possible. Here’s Denver’s policy as a friendly reminder.
  • Go Zero Waste
    Ninety percent of plastic items are single use. Just by auditing the items you use and replacing them with reusable items, you can make a big dent in your personal plastic footprint. At Denver Zoo, most of our single-use items, like straws, food containers and packaging, are compostable and should be placed in the compost bins located throughout our campus.
  • Start Small
    If going Zero Waste is intimidating, start small. Purchase items like popcorn, chips, cereal, and pasta in bulk to cut down on packaging waste, then pull out your reusable tote bag to take it all home. There are plenty of reusable food storage containers on the market that help ensure freshness, too!
  • Ditch the Microbeads
    Plastic exfoliants might look harmless, but they’re small enough to easily slip through water treatment plants. What’s more, they look like food to certain marine animals. Luckily, salt, oatmeal and sugar are fantastic, natural replacements.
  • Pitch In and Clean Up
    Volunteer. Around the world, citizens are pitching in and getting plastic out of the environment in the most immediate way. For some feel good social media content, check out #trashtag, where hundreds of people share photos of themselves litter-picking in trash-strewn parks and streets.

Spread the Word

Finally, the last way to make an impact is to spread the word. Tweet it! Talk about it! Conservation organizations can only do so much. Real, lasting change, happens when towns, communities and individual citizens say enough is enough. So, if you want to be part of the solution to plastic pollution, tell your friends and family about the issue and what they can do to help. It’s up to all of us to make sure that our ecosystems are safe and healthy for all animals.

Photos by Kai Sender and Onny Carr 

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