SSA Group, an award-winning provider of visitor amenities, has helped a key North American zoo eliminate single-use plastic packaging in all its gift shops, becoming the first zoo in the US to do so.
Since 2015, Houston Zoo, with SSA Group as its retail and culinary partner, has been taking active steps to remove single-use plastics from the Zoo. The collaboration began by tackling plastic shopping bags that year, followed by drinks bottles and straws. In this pivotal new phase, the focus is on plastic packaging.
The power to influence
The SSA Group partnered with the zoo to audit its retail store, searching for products that contained single-use plastic and working with vendors to find alternatives. In some cases, the project has encouraged manufacturers to change packaging materials, with some making packaging completely redundant.
Houston Zoo’s sustainability manager Colley Hodges says: “Eliminating single-use plastic packaging in our gift shops is just one more way we are helping save animals in the wild.
“By partnering with SSA Group, we were able to look closely at our purchasing practices to make the best choices for animals, as well as use our buying power to influence manufacturers. We hope others who share our commitment to animals will follow suit.”
Single-use plastic items are often not disposed of correctly by consumers, and as a result end up in waterways such as bayous, lakes, and oceans. Their inhabitants, like sea turtles, for instance, have been known to get entangled in plastic items or mistake them for food, ingesting them and causing the creatures to get sick. Houston Zoo currently treats over 100 wild sea turtles annually, some of which enter the site with plastic-related damage.
Ecology Project International (EPI) is a Gallapos conservation partner for Houston Zoo. The group’s Lady Márquez comments: “Our conservation teams continue to clean up plastic ocean trash that washes ashore to protect sea turtles and other wildlife on the Galapagos islands. We are so grateful for the Zoo’s partnership and commitment to saving wildlife and reducing threats to animals in Texas and Galapagos.”
Service as usual, but sustainably
The transition has been developed to help ensure guests will not be inconvenienced by the change. Guests can still purchase their favourite snacks, try on apparel and purchase plush toys, but without unnecessary single-use plastic packaging. Pricing information will now be largely displayed on eco-friendly compostable hangtags, stickers or signs, with snacks being protected by compostable plastic similar to that already found in the Zoo’s cafes.
The gift shop has also transitioned to using 100% recyclable and renewable BPA-free receipt paper, with new trees being planted for each case used.
Vice president of sustainability and conservation at SSA Group, Andrew Fischer, adds: “We pride ourselves on providing quality, sustainable products and outstanding service to our Zoo guests, all while making a positive impact on the planet. We are working to extend this practice into other facilities across the United States and know that together we can take action for wildlife.”
SSA Group recently announced a partnership designed to support the mental health of its employees, following the implementation of several well-being initiatives.
Images: Jackelin Reyna/Houston Zoo. Video: Kevin Kendrick