Green Team

Green Tip #6: Rainwater Collection

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Five barrels across the Zoo collect rainfall – up to 9,256 gallons of harvested rainwater.

The Dallas Zoo Green Team is back just in time to help you go green for spring! This month, we are taking you on a learning adventure about rainwater collection. Here are some questions and answers to help you get started with your own rain barrel at home:

  1. What is rainwater collection?

Rainwater collection is simple. It’s the practice of harvesting and storing rainwater for later use. The practice dates back thousands of years in Thailand, China, Israel, and many other parts of the world.Garden Photo2 AA

  1. What can rainwater be used for?

Rainwater that you collect can be used for a wide variety of things including: landscape watering, gardening, in-home use, and wildlife and livestock watering just to name a few.

  1. What makes this a “green” practice?

Using rainwater can reduce the use and demand of municipal water, alleviating cities’ aquifers. It can also reduce the flow to storm drains, lessening their impact on erosion and keeping pollutants out of natural bodies of water.

  1. How much rainwater will I actually collect?

It varies by roof size and shape, but for every inch of rain falling on a 2000 sq. ft. roof, about 1000 gallons of rainwater can be collected. In Dallas, we have about 37 inches of rain a year, which could yield 37,000 gallons of water!

  1. Why should I collect rainwater?_MG_1202-flower and bee

If we haven’t convinced you yet, here are some awesome reasons to start your own rainwater collection:

  • Save money – using less municipal water will lower your monthly water bill, and in Texas, rainwater harvesting equipment is exempt from sales tax (Texas Tax Code §151.355). For more info, visit the Texas Water Development Board.
  • Grow healthy plants – rainwater is free of chlorine or other chemicals, meaning your plants and lawns will love it.
  • Help relieve drought – if you start collecting this spring, you’ll have water to use during summer droughts when there are restrictions on municipal water usage.

Spring showers are on their way, and we hope we’ve sparked your interest in rainwater collection just in time! Need a little help getting started? The City of Plano is currently selling a particular model of rain barrel and compost bin at a discount. For more information about composting, take a look at our previous blog. Before you start, check with your city office and take advantage of any discounts or incentives offered for rainwater collection.

Interested in assisting in a Zoo conservation project? Learn more about how you can be a part of Dallas Zoo’s Green Team.

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Green tip #4: Pack a trash-free lunch

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This month’s green tip is another double whammy: helping the earth and your pocketbook! Did you know that the average U.S. child produces 67 pounds of lunch trash per school year? That’s about a billion pounds a year going straight to our landfills. Fear not, you can help reduce that by following these lunch-packing tips.

1. Pack everything in a reusable lunch pail, instead of paper bags. Paper bags often end up in the trash, rather than the recycling bin. A reusable bag can be used year after year! They also come in all different sizes, shapes, colors, patterns, and materials.

2. Ditch the plastic sandwich and snack baggies! Swap them out for reusable containers and snack bags. Do you like having your foods separated, but don’t want too many bulky containers in your lunch bag? Try bento-style boxes! These containers have sections, so you can keep everything separated until you’re ready to eat. It’s a great all-in-one option.

3. Pack a reusable water bottle. These bottles can be filled with water, juice, or anything else and significantly reduce the amount of plastic entering our landfills. This one is a big money-saver, too, because 24-packs of water can cost about $10. For that amount or less, you can have unlimited refills on water!

4. Ditch the disposable plastic utensils. Pack lunches with reusable utensils made from bamboo, metal, or BPA-free plastic. Reusable utensils are more durable in the long run.

5. Try using cloth napkins. They are small enough to fit in with any load of laundry when they need cleaning, and save a lot of paper! You can find different designs and smaller sizes to fit your lunchbox.

These aren’t the only ways to have a trash-free lunch, but it’s a great start! Do more research and find ways for you and your family to reduce your waste. Are you already doing these things? Do you have any other tricks of the trade? Comment below and let us know!

Learn more about how you can be a part of Dallas Zoo’s Green Team.

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Green tip #3: Upcycling makes old products new again

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Our keepers are always looking for ways to repurpose things. When it comes to old Christmas trees, our tigers go nuts for this easy enrichment item.

You’ve all heard the phrase Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, but did you know there’s a fourth way to help the environment and it’s the newest trend in town? Repurposing or “upcycling” old items into new ones is a great way to save money, showcase your creativity and an even better way to be environmentally sustainable!

As you come up with new ways to save your pocket and the environment, look no further than the unused items in your home:

Old jeans are easily one of the most upcycled materials because of their durability and distinctive look. Try making blankets, pillows, backpacks, purses, wall storage and coasters with this great textile.

Rain boots or cowboy boots will look festive even after the insides have been worn down and damaged. You can use these as doorstops, planters, and even birdhouses.

Glass Jars and bottles are made to serve as a container when you buy them, so why not upcycle them to contain something else? Use beverage and jam jars as fun decorations, flower vases, toothbrush holders, jewelry holders, kitchen organizers and just about anything else you can think of!

If you run out of ideas on what to upcycle, recycling is the next best thing!

Learn more about how you can be a part of Dallas Zoo’s Green Team.

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Green tip #2: Five ways to help the earth (and your pocketbook!) this summer

Giant anteater Tullah takes a dip to cool off in the summer heat.

Giant anteater Tullah prefers a dip in her pool over air conditioning any day of the week.

Dallas Zoo’s Green Team tip for July is a double whammy! Caring for the environment can also mean caring for your bank account. Here’s our advice for living green while saving green this sizzling hot summer.

  1. Water your lawn during the most efficient times: To waste less water AND get the most bang for your buck, water your lawn early in the morning or late in the evening. Water evaporates quicker during the warmest hours of the day (around 3:00 p.m. is the peak temperature), so avoid turning the sprinklers on mid-afternoon! Waste when it’s darker out and the temperature is lower!
  1. Cut down on the AC: Say what?! Use less AC in the summer in Texas? It may seem crazy with such high heat and humidity, but being conscientious about AC usage can reduce energy usage and lower your monthly bill. Try using a fan instead of air conditioning, especially when you’re doing sedentary activities like watching TV. Close doors to rooms without vents that don’t need to be cooled, like closets and bathrooms. Also, make sure you keep your air filter clean! When your air filter is dirty, your AC has to work much harder, wasting energy and your money.
  1. Garden Photo6 AAGrow your own food: Seeds are inexpensive and yield plenty of fruits and vegetables, saving lots of money in the long run! Growing your own produce also reduces your carbon footprint because the food travels a significantly smaller distance to get to your plate. Produce at the grocery store can travel thousands of miles before reaching its final destination – that’s a lot of gas! Growing your own produce can also mean preventing harmful pesticides from entering the environment. You can also make your yard more attractive and functional by turning any wasted space into a garden or planting a tall fruit tree for shade. And if you read our last Green Tip blog on composting, you know that when you finish with those banana peels or apple cores, they can go straight to your compost, which goes into your garden!
  1. Use less gas: To save on gas and time, try to combine your errands so you aren’t doing more driving than necessary. Also, use regular gas unless your car requires premium. And if at all possible, walk or bike to your destination! It gets hot here in Texas, but if you can take the heat, walking or biking is a great way to save money and produce fewer emissions.
  1. Refillable water bottles: It’s important to stay hydrated, especially in warm climates or during summer activities. Something as simple as using a refillable water bottle is a great way to save you money and use less plastic. Disposable plastic bottles often end up in the landfills or littering our environment, but by purchasing a refillable bottle for every member of your family, you can save a ton of money! Additionally, disposable plastic bottle production releases toxins and burns fossil fuels. Staying hydrated, keeping the environment clean, and saving money is a no-brainer with refillable water bottles.

Learn more about Dallas Zoo’s Green Team and how you can help!

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Green tip #1: From scraps to super soil

Youth Volunteer Coordinator Courtney Jonescu dumps some lunch scraps into a tumbling composting bin.

Youth Volunteer Coordinator Courtney Jonescu dumps some lunch scraps into a tumbling composting bin.

Your lunch break is ending, and you’re feeling full. You just can’t finish the last few bites of that banana, and the rest of those fries have gone cold. Or maybe, those week-old leftovers don’t taste as fresh as you hoped.

Whatever the reason, many of us end up with extra food at the end of a meal. We clean up our mess, toss what’s left in the trash, and go on with our day.

While it doesn’t seem like much to throw out a little extra or spoiled food, it may surprise you to find out that about a third of our food is wasted each year. And not just at the consumption level, but also during production and distribution. That’s a lot of waste!

Victor Peck takes his job seriously as the Zoo's garden guru.

Victor Peck takes his job seriously as the Children Zoo’s garden guru.

So what’s the big deal? When food is thrown out, it gets mixed in with the rest of our trash, making its way to landfills. Once in the landfill, food waste and other garbage produce methane gas. Methane gas emissions are extremely potent (more potent than CO2) and contribute to global warming.

Our Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo staff members eat lunch together in the break room each day. We noticed that a lot of food was being thrown away, so we decided to make a difference for our environment and began composting our lunch scraps. Did you know that 20-30% of what we throw away can actually be used for composting?

The Children’s Zoo already had existing compost tumblers, so it was an easy transition to begin collecting our leftovers. Compost is basically decomposed organic matter that breaks down into a soil amendment. This compost is then used in our garden beds right here in the Children’s Zoo farmyard.

“Thanks to compost, we have never bought fertilizer for the Children’s Zoo farmyard gardens in 16 years of use,” said Victor Peck, Children’s Zoo specialist and master of our farmyard garden. Victor’s been integral in making our compost dreams happen. He’s taken the responsibility of garden guru seriously, and he’s always happy to help others get involved. “People often ask me, ‘What can go in the compost from your meals?’ ” he says. “And the answer is… if it can’t go in the compost, then what was it doing on your plate?!”

Anyone can compost, even without a large tumbler or a big back yard. A range of indoor compost bins are on the market, or you can make your own. If you do have a yard, outdoor composting can be done in a bin or a contained pile. “Put the pile near your garden for ease of use,” advises Victor.

This guide from the Environmental Protection Agency can be a good starting point.

Still wondering how composting leftover food can help the environment? Remember, food that enters the landfill creates methane gas while breaking down very slowly. Landfill environments lack oxygen and moisture, necessary elements of proper composting. This methane gas produced by the waste is a greenhouse gas, which contributes to global warming.

On the flip side, food waste which enters the composting process is only mixed with organic material, and also has plenty of moisture and oxygen, both key components of this process. By composting food waste, we can eliminate some of the methane emissions that enter the atmosphere.

Composting is safe and easy to do. You can even use worms! Red wigglers are great for composting. The EPA also lists these benefits of composting:

  • Enriches soil, helping retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests.
  • Reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.
  • Encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material.
  • Reduces methane emissions from landfills and lowers your carbon footprint.

Start your compost now and turn your scraps into something good. Stay tuned for more tips from your Dallas Zoo Green Team!

Interested in assisting in a Zoo conservation project? CLICK HERE to learn more about our Green Team.

Composters come in all sizes.

Composting bins come in sizes big and small for all types of homes or workplaces.

Composting turns lunch scraps into lush, green gardens.

Composting turns lunch scraps into lush, green gardens in the Children’s Zoo.

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