Animal Instincts Aid Waste Diversion

The Los Angles Zoo, visited by 1.5 million people each year who want to connect with the 1,100 mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles that represent 371 species, has achieved a different type of link between man and nature. Through grants, the zoo has established a recycling and waste management program that shows visitors how their actions affect animals in the wild.

The zoo received a $167,000 grant in 2000-2001 from the California Department of Conservation, Sacramento, to design the recycling and waste management program. Grant money was used to purchase 150 recycling bins plus collection and educational materials.

"There's a lot of opportunity to divert materials, but more importantly, there's more opportunity to educate the general public about recycling," says Leslie Lukacs, the zoo's contract recycling coordinator who also works for Long Beach, Calif.-based SCS Engineers. "We created a costume character called Rascal the Recycling Raccoon, who has been the main theme of our recycling program. He comes out during the weekends and helps educate kids about recycling." These efforts are supplemented by promotional materials such as an interactive Rascal Recycling Book.

Lukacs, who is contracted to provide recycling coordination at eight other public venues, suggests places that are considering recycling programs first identify their waste generation sources. Then, she says, they can plan educational programs for staff members. "Another element is to make [your message] visible and consistent to the general public so that it makes it easy to participate," she says.

In 2000, the zoo recycled 4,230 tons of materials and only disposed of 1,310 tons, achieving a 76 percent diversion rate. Diverted materials included paper products, beverage containers, food waste and the famous "Zoo Doo," which consists of animal waste, hay, green waste and leftover food. Zoo Doo is composted at the nearby Griffith Park Compost facility for use in city parks or is donated to nonprofit organizations.

Since its recycling program introduction, the L.A. Zoo has received a second $100,000 grant to establish a multimedia traveling presentation that brings the conservation message home to students in the L.A. Unified School District.