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Houston Zoo bans plastic bags in campaign to protect wildlife; hopes others will follow

Houston Zoo bans plastic bags in campaign to protect wildlife

Houston Zoo bags
The Houston Zoo now has an expanding collection of canvas bags featuring images of the animals that benefit from a reduction of plastic bags in the ocean. Photo courtesy of Houston Zoo/Stephanie Adams

Get ready to go green as the Houston Zoo ends the era of plastic bags at its gift shops in support of wildlife conservation, instead offering customers the option to go bag-free, purchase a reusable bag or use a tote brought from home.

The institution's decision will keep an estimated 80,000 plastic bags from entering landfills and the environment each year. According to the Zoo, there are roughly 3.15 billion pounds of plastic in our oceans right now and the average American will add to this epidemic by throwing away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year. Wildlife such as endangered sea turtles and other marine creatures often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, one of their favorite foods. 

"This is a significant step for our organization, one we hope will serve as an example for other companies," Peter Riger, vice president of wildlife conservation for Houston Zoo, said in a statement. "As a zoo-based conservation organization it’s important for us to walk the walk, and talk the talk. We are using this action specifically to highlight the need protect marine animals from debris. It also allows our guests to play a direct part in making a difference on our planet."

The Houston Zoo started this transition as part of a test in July, and when guests supported the initiative, the institution decided to make the switch permanent. Since then, approximately 200 plastic bags have been saved per day.

The Zoo also has an expanding collection of canvas bags artistically designed with images depicting the animals that benefit from a reduction of plastic bags in the ocean. The series includes sea lions and sea turtles and will soon include pelicans, too.