Behind the Scenes banner
Sustainability intern weighs trash

Caroline weighs the waste!

Let there be (little) waste! Our sustainability team recently finished a waste characterization study—the first of its kind at the Zoo! This project, which analyzed the waste compositions of various areas of our campus, helped us identify how much waste we’re producing, how much of that is being placed in the correct streams and determine what programs we might implement in the future based on our findings.

Our sustainability manager, Sarah Burke, and sustainability intern Caroline Morales spent three weeks in late December and early January sorting through trash and recycling. Not a glamorous job, perhaps, but one that was imperative in determining a baseline for sustainability at the Zoo and identifying areas for improvement.

They then categorized each item as landfill fodder, compostable material, food waste, plastic, metal or cardboard. These items were weighed and recorded, then placed back in the bags and discarded. Misplaced items were redirected when needed.

Currently, our compostable and food waste items are being treated as landfill fodder as we do not have more eco-friendly, economical methods of disposal available. That’s part of what we’re trying to figure out—if we’re producing a lot of compostables or food waste, there may be a need to introduce a third stream.

After sampling 323 pounds of waste, we came to the results. Of the landfill waste, 95% was accurately placed, meaning just five percent of the items found in this stream should have been placed in recycling.

However, just 69% of the recycling was accurate; this means around a third of what we found in this stream cannot actually be recycled. What we discovered, overwhelmingly, is that liquids inside plastic bottles heavily contributed to this number.

Our sustainability team will be doing another waste characterization study later in the spring and periodically conducting smaller studies going forward.

In the meantime, you can help us lessen our waste output by purchasing a refillable cup at our dining venues, making sure that you are placing items in the correct bins and emptying your bottles before recycling them!