The Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo will participate in a nationwide Plastic Free Ecochallenge for the fifth year this July.
The challenge involves community members in an educational challenge intended to improve their awareness and help form habits of reduced plastic consumption.
“At our zoo, we’ve been working really hard to reduce our single use plastic impact on the environment,” Jade Salamone, the zoo’s conservation education curator, said. “And we wanted to have the community start to join us in those efforts. So this helps us do that and really rally our community members around it.”
Participants in the challenge can join the SF Teaching Zoo Zero Wasters group online on a website set up for the national challenge. There, group members post their pledges and set goals for the month-long challenge.
Activities range from watching videos about fast fashion, to switching to a bamboo toothbrush, to bringing reusable bags to the grocery store, to picking up a few pieces of trash. Salamone said there are activities for people at every stage of their “plastic free journey.”
Salamone, who participates with the team each year, said she enjoys trying new and challenging activities like making a fully plastic free meal—including grocery store packaging on the ingredients. While activities like this may not become daily routine for the participants, Salamone said some smaller habits, like buying reusable towels instead of paper, stick around.
“When you pick an action, you check in on it daily,” Salamone said. “So if you’re doing something for 31 days in a row, you’re really likely to create that as a habit.”
The Plastic-Free Ecochallenge was created by the North American Coalition of Zoos and Aquariums, and the SF Zoo joined as a connection point for the Alachua County area, according to Salamone. She said the SF Zoo is not just for training zookeepers, but considers itself a community resource.
This year, the SF Zoo has partnered with Life Unplastic and Days for Girls. Top ranking achievers on the team can earn a gift card to Life Unplastic, and Days for Girls will be giving away free reusable, washable feminine hygiene products at the zoo on July 8.
Salamone said joining an ecochallenge can be intimidating, because participants are worried about the guilt that comes if they do not meet the goals they set. The platform used for this challenge is focused on positivity and gives users a report on their impact at the end of the month. For a commitment of refusing a straw every day, the report will congratulate users on keeping 31 straws out of the ocean.
“It’s very congratulatory, which I really like about it,” Salamone said. “If people want to try to make a habit, this is a really good, rewarding way to do it. It doesn’t have a lot of pressure”
Even with a low-pressure platform, the SF Zoo’s team has reached the top 10 in the nation every year it participates. Salamone said this is not an official goal, but it is a standard of achievement the team has inadvertently set for itself.