Plastic Free July is an initiative that started in Australia that is now taking hold in the US and largely being promoted by zoos across the country, including the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo.
“One of the main goals of the many zoos is to save species and at the heart of that is saving the environment where critically endangered species live,” said Sara Hamlin, supervisor for the facility. “Every single person has the power to create change.”
The problem with plastic is that it can take thousands of years for it to start to degrade, she said. Even plastic that is recycled is often only recycled once into a lesser quality plastic.
“Scientists are finding that plastics will break down to smaller pieces and are often ingested by animals in our food chain, like fish,” Hamlin said. Humans have created so much trash that there is an “island” of garbage in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and California called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
This floating dump is estimated to hold 1.6 million square kilometers of trash and, depending on currents, it can be anywhere from the size of Texas to the size of Russia, she said. “Even here in Great Bend on windy days large amounts of plastic trash can be seen up against the perimeter fence.”
Hamlin said the solution to the problem is simple: avoiding and refusing plastics.
“Americans use 500 million plastic straws every day,” she said as an example. If each person were to switch to a reusable stainless steel or glass straw that would be tons of plastic out of the landfills.
Hamlin gave several ideas on how to reduce personal plastic use:
• Taking reusable shopping bags to the grocery store cuts down on plastic use and sometimes grocery stores offer a small discount for using one’s own bags.
• Shop at local farmers markets like the Summer Street Stroll because one gets their produce without plastic wrapping.
• Take your own Tupperware out to dinner so the containers can be reused when one has leftovers.
For the month of July, the zoo is offering 10 percent off all items in the gift shop that reduce plastic use, such as reusable shopping bags, drink tumblers and stainless steel reusable straws.
Now, Hamlin is challenging other city departments to follow suit.
The Plastic Free July movement started with a handful of participants in Western Australia in 2011 and has grown to millions of participants across more than 200 countries worldwide today.
For more information about the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo Plastic Free July, contact Hamlin at the Zoo, 620-793-4226.