Va. Zoo steps up plastic waste conservation and education efforts


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A special summer program is proving to be a big help for our animal friends at the Virginia Zoo.

Every year, millions of pounds of new plastic is added to the 119 billion pounds of plastic waste that’s already in the world’s waterways.

This year, the Virginia Zoo eliminated plastic straws, lids and paper maps.  Plus. they’re working with teenagers to spread the message of conservation. 

It’s a fitting mission for the Zoo: reduce plastic waste through education.

“You’ll see people just throw their trash down like ‘oh whatever,’ but they don’t understand that that’s going to end up in the ocean and end up hurting our animals,” said Conservation Youth Team member Faith Williams.  

Williams and fellow team member Kaylee Fernandez are both part of the team at the zoo.

“We’ll clean up trash at the aquarium and put oysters back into the bay,” said Williams.

On Wednesday, Williams and Fernandez were out in the park, educating kids and adults about plastic waste.

“A lot of people are unaware of the problems in the environment, they’re just walking around and all their favorite products have plastics and stuff in it,” said Fernandez.

On their cart, they have different examples of plastic waste and how it can hurt wildlife.

“Honestly all of this can affect any animal,” said Williams.

The teens are led by Virginia Zoo staff.

“They are getting the message out,” said Virginia Zoo Education Manager Michelle Lewis.  “They have also been learning about plastics themselves.”

The Zoo and its staff have taken steps to reduce their plastic waste like recycling K-Cups and eliminating plastic straws and paper maps.  They believe creating conservation habits early is key. 

Lewis said, “While it’s a small step, its one that needs to be taken and we can do a lot more, but we have to start somewhere.”

Just like each piece of trash adds up, each person these teens speak with adds up. 

Fernandez said, “People are so unaware and when we show them things like this, they’re always awed like ‘wow, really?'”

Together, they are taking small steps toward reducing plastic waste. 

If you want to get involved, you can visit the Zoo’s website or make your own plastic waste reduction pledge.

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