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Auckland Zoo jumping on the plastic free band wagon

Must See 30/07/2018

If there's one place that needs a hand getting rid of waste, it's Auckland Zoo. The zoo is home to 126 species and over 1000 animals, which means a lot - like, a lot - of waste.

And after eliminating all single-use plastic bags seven years ago, they've turned to a local company to do the job, plastic-free. 

The veterinary team say they're pleading with the public to "replace, reuse, and safely recycle" after seeing the impact of plastic, especially on marine life.

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Rare sea turtles, shore birds and even takahē are among species they've treated at their vet hospital from plastic-related injuries, including fishing tackle with hooks, bottle tops, drink wrappers, balloons and plastic bags. Staff have also come across gulls on zoo grounds with fishing tackle and hooks wrapped around their beaks, heads and feet.

"We're seeing first-hand how plastic kills wildlife. Just in early June we treated a rare green sea turtle that, among other issues, had 2.5m of plastic fishing twine in its intestines," the zoo's veterinary services manager, Dr James Chatterton, told Newshub.

"Among the 15 sea turtles we treated last year, we had a heartbreaking case of an endangered Hawksbill that starved to death due to having 106 different pieces of plastic blocking its intestines." 

One major problem is that plastic never fully breaks down, Dr Chatterton said. Because of that, it keeps accumulating.

Dr Chatterton urges that we reduce, reuse and safely recycle, to help these guys. Photo credit: Supplied/Auckland Zoo.

"The best thing we can all do to prevent more plastic going into our environment  into our oceans, lakes, rivers, waterways, coastlines and also on land  is to replace, reduce, re-use and really importantly, safely recycle," he urged.

The key then, is to find a plastic that does break down. And that's where a local company comes in.

After trying and failing to find durable options for the level of waste produced at a zoo, the park turned to local company Ecobags NZ.  Their core mission was to reduce plastic waste by supplying ethically produced reusable, compostable and biodegradable bags.

The Ecobag Compostable bin liners are used to collect food waste from across sections of Auckland Zoo, including the onsite public cafes, staff lunch rooms and animal kitchens. Green waste from around the zoo grounds is collected in compostable bags by the Horticulture team. The primate section, housing such cute additions as the Squirrel and Spider Monkeys, use the EcobagsNZ Compostable bags to collect the primate poo.

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For the larger animals called 'hoof stock' (your giraffes, zebras, elephants and the like), the keepers collect the poo into wheel barrels. This is then processed onsite by Zoo Doo - yes, that's a thing.

Ecobags was founded by Jas and Simren Kohli 11 years ago, from their own living room. When travelling by train around India to see family on return trips, they said they were shocked by the vast amount of excess rubbish building up. 

In some instances the rubbish looked like mountains, the Kohlis observed.

Simren was inspired by her own reusable bag company bag in India, where she was exposed to suitability practices during travels to Scandavaia.

Jas and Simren Kohli started Ecobags after seeing the 'mountains of rubbish' in India. 

Fast forward and knowing there were alternatives to mountains ofwaste, Simren became inspired to start another reusable bag company in New Zealand.  Both Jas and Simren were passionate and determined to solve environmental concern with reusable, sustainable bags.

Which is good news for us, and great news for these guys.