Recycle Old Cell Phones: Save Species

  • Recycle Cell Phones, Save Species: Have old cell phones sitting around your house? One way to join the Zoo in going green is to recycle those old phones, pagers and PDA’s. Recycling your cell phone reduces the need to mine coltan, an ore found in gorilla habitat, which is used in cell phones. This mining causes habitat destruction, pollution and other harmful effects to the gorillas and other animals living in this habitat. Recycling your cell phone helps to reduce these harmful effects globally, and locally prevents harmful chemicals from entering our own landfill and groundwater systems. It also helps raise money for the Zoo’s Conservation Fund. In 2010, more than 10,000 cell phones were collected and recycled. In 2011, our goal is to collect 25,000. Learn More >
  • Visit the Go Green Garden Exhibit: Next time you’re at the Zoo, be sure to visit the Go Green Garden, presented by Duke Energy, located near Historic Vine Street Village. Just look for the wind turbine, you can’t miss it! See how the Zoo is going green and learn ways to go green in your own home. Green exhibit items include a green roof, a rain garden, solar panels, a wind turbine, pervious pavement, a compost bin and beautiful, native flowers. (Photos: Shasta Bray)
  • Support Local and Eco-Friendly Businesses – Check out this map of Green Cincinnati Businesses to shop sustainably. Each business listed on the map is either a locally-owned business, and/or is a store or restaurant that sells environmentally friendly products and food, and is committed to the sustainability of our planet. By shopping locally, you are reducing your carbon footprint and supporting your local economy!
  • Green Classes are offered throughout Cincinnati. Around town, places like Park+Vine and Hamilton County Recycling Solid Waste offer classes and workshops throughout the year. Some require a small fee, others a small donation, but all are full of valuable information to help you on your journey to being green.

 General Tips –

  • Turn the water off when brushing your teeth, shaving, even washing your hands
  • Take short showers/Only run the dishwasher and washing machine on a full load
  • Plant drought-resistant species to help cut down the amount of water used to water your garden
  • When you do water your lawn or garden, do so early in the morning to minimize evaporation
  • Attach water-saving aerators to your faucet
  • Wash your car at a commercial car wash that recycles its water
  • Use water being replaced from pet bowls and fish tanks to water your plants
  • Use a rain barrel to capture the rain for watering your garden or washing your car

Pervious Pavement –

  • If you renovate or create a patio, path or driveway, use pervious pavers or concrete to reduce rainwater runoff. Consult with a civil engineer to ensure proper residential pervious pavement installation.
  • Local companies include Reading Rock and Two Brothers Brick Paving.

Green Roofs –

  • Since a green roof has certain foundational requirements, it could be difficult to retrofit a green roof on an existing building. However, a green roof could be designed into a new building. Either way, contact a professional contractor with experience in designing green roofs to see what best fits your needs.
  • Encourage schools, churches, and businesses in your city to incorporate a green roof into any new building plans.
  • If you are not able to top your home with a green roof, you can still green up your space by planting flowers in window boxes and placing potted plants on your decks, patios, and walkways. This simulates a green roof in that is absorbs the rainwater rather than allowing it to run off into the sewer system.
  • Visit Green Roofs for Healthy Cities for valuable information on green roofs. Learn about the City of Cincinnati Green Roofs Program to find out about Green Roof Loans.

Rain Gardens –

The basic idea for creating a rain garden is as follows:

  • Choose an appropriate site, which is at least 10 feet away and downhill from your house. Make sure there are no utility lines underneath the area.
  • Dig out a nice sized bowl for your rain garden. The depth of the garden matters much more than the size of it. To soak up water within 24 hours, most rain gardens are 4 to 8 inches deep.
  • Till at least a foot of the soil. If it is clay or hard, remove some soil and mud and mix in compost to make it easier to soak up rainwater.
  • Choose attractive, hardy plants that can tolerate wet conditions and are well suited for the amount of sunlight your garden will receive. Consider a variety of plants to attract wildlife to your garden.
  • Transplant potted plants into the garden, which take root quicker than seeds. Place plants that thrive in moist soil in the bottom of the garden, and plants that like drier conditions at the top.
  • Water the garden regularly until the plants have become established. Mulch, weed, and care for the rain garden as you would any other garden.
  • Consult the Rain Gardens for Southwest Ohio Handbook, co-authored by our Director of Horticulture, Steve Foltz, to find out how you can create your own rain garden. Another great resource is Mill Creek Watershed’s Rain Gardens How-To Guide.
General Tips –

  • Exchange incandescent light bulbs for more energy-efficient ones such as CFLs or LEDs
  • Seal up gaps between windows and doors/Invest in a programmable thermostat
  • Upgrade appliances and electronics to Energy Star qualified models when it comes time to replace these items
  • Utilize power strips to eliminate phantom power being used by electronics
  • Get an energy audit for your home
  • Set your computer to sleep mode when not in use throughout the day, and turn them off completely at night
  • Contact the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance to find out more about how you can save energy in your home.

Solar Energy –

  • As solar power becomes more and more popular around the world, the initial costs of purchasing and installing solar panels for homes is becoming more and more affordable. Tax credits may become available to help out with the costs as well.
  • For more information about investing in solar panels, contact local companies such as Melink Corporation or Dovetail Solar & Wind.

Wind Energy –

Geothermal Energy –

Biomass Energy –

Burning wood, a type of biomass is one of the most eco-friendly ways to heat your home. Biodiesel, which also incorporates biomass, is a renewable fuel for diesel engines made from natural oils from materials such as soybeans or corn.

Check with these sources for more information on biomass.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle –

  • Buy products made of recycled materials and that use minimal packaging
  • Reduce the number of items that you consume. See if that pair of jeans can last a few months longer, or if you can squeeze another year out of that toaster
  • Store leftovers in reusable containers instead of disposable bags
  • Reuse resources as often as possible. Find a new use for old things.
  • Donate unwanted items to a friend or a charity instead of throwing them away.
  • Recycle common curbside bin items such as paper, plastic bottles, and jugs, aluminum and glass. Find a complete list of acceptable items at Rumpke Recycling or Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District.
  • Be rewarded for recycling. In the City of Cincinnati, earn points with Recyclebank based on the amount you recycle. Redeem these points for valuable gift cards and coupons and local and national businesses, including the Zoo.
  • Recycle other items such as sneakers, light bulbs, electronics, cell phones, #5 plastics, batteries, packing peanuts and many more. The Zoo recycles all of their electronic (e-) waste with Cohen, a local company that is dedicated to reducing the number of electronics that end up in our landfills or overseas.
  • Visit your county’s solid waste district website to find out how and where to recycle in your county.

Composting –

  • Composting is an easy process. Just pile your grass clippings, yard trimmings, raw fruit and raw veggies scraps, and let nature recycle it for you.
  • There are various types of compost piles you can use. Choose one that is right for the amount of space and time you have. Choices include an open, static pile or a variety of compost bins.
  • A good compost pile/bin is located in a space with plenty of room, good drainage, shade and a safe distance away from waterways and wooden buildings or trees.
  • A good compost pile needs food (your scraps), water (should be as damp as a wrung-out sponge), oxygen (turn the pile every week or so) and space (at least 3ft. x 3ft. x 3ft.).
  • Do compost: fruit and vegetable scraps, leaves and grass clippings, coffee grounds and tea bags, pine needles, wood chips, straw, and sawdust.
  • Do not compost items such as bones, meat, dairy products, weeds, diseased plants or anything with oil, fat or grease on it.
  • For more information from a regular composter, read the Confessions of a Composter.
  • For other tips on composting, visit the Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District’s website.
For more information on green building visit the websites of the U.S. Green Building Council or Green Source Cincinnati.

  • Taking the time to green up your home not only benefits the environment but can save you time and money in the long run. There are many grants, tax credits, and loans available for green building projects.
  • Great local resources for green building or reuse materials are Building Value and Greener Stock!

Over 500,000,000 plastic straws are used each day in the United States. The Cincinnati Zoo is straw-free!


Are straws banned at the zoo or just limited?

They are not banned, we do offer one item with a straw and they are a part of our souvenir ICEE program. This straw is a hard plastic reusable straw and the way the cup is designed makes it very hard for these straws to be thrown or lost during a visit. All other products come without a straw for a couple of reasons; for the safety our animals, plastic straws (straws in general) can provide a hazard to the animals if they were getting into the exhibit and also to support our message around conservation and the use of single-use plastic.

Jordan Miller, General Manager, Service Systems Associates (the Zoo’s retail and food partner)

Do you have other alternatives (such as paper) for those with disabilities who require straws?

 We do not. We are working to make sure the needs of all of our visitors are met through our Zoo Access for All program and will consider alternatives.

Jordan Miller, General Manager, Service Systems Associates (the Zoo’s retail and food partner)

Why is there a national pushback against plastic straws right now, in your opinion?

As organizations that stand behind the conservation of our planet, like the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, educate and get more of the message out about the harmful effects of all single-use plastic the population becomes more aware. As we become more aware of the effects of single-use plastic, we look for that “low hanging fruit” that can cause an immediate impact. American’s alone use over 500 million straws a day and most straws are not recyclable, which means they end up as litter, in our oceans and waterways, or in a landfill. Can you imagine the impact of cutting down on 175 billion plastic straw use?

– Jordan Miller, General Manager, Service Systems Associates (the Zoo’s retail and food partner)

What inspired the movement at the zoo?

I believe it is important for us here at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden to practice what we preach and lead by example. We have limited the use of plastic straws since 2010.  Since then, we continue to look for other ways to be leaders in conservation in our concessions and retail departments. We will continue to push the bar in and educating our guests by changing the way we operate in such ways as; sourcing local foods and reducing our carbon footprint, reducing single-use plastic with bottled beverages, redesigning retail packing to remove the plastic and many more initiatives that will keep us leaders and innovators in conservation.  We are serious about conservation, which is why our Base Camp Café restaurant has earned the title of “Greenest Restaurant in America” and our Zoo is the “Greenest Zoo in America®.” – Jordan Miller, General Manager, Service Systems Associates (the Zoo’s retail and food partner)

We often hear, “It’s just one straw,” but with 7.4 billion people in the world, everyone using “just one straw” has a huge impact.  Single-use plastics are usually made out of petroleum and this kind of plastic doesn’t biodegrade, so it persists in our homes and habitats for a very long time.  Instead, plastics litter usually makes its way into our waterways, eventually leading to our oceans.  Both terrestrial and aquatic animals often mistake plastic items (straws, plastic bags, bottle caps, etc.) as food, getting caught in their digestive systems, usually leading to death.  Animals also get tangled up in plastic litter, fatally injuring them or preventing them from eating and finding shelter normally. In addition, though these plastics don’t fully biodegrade, they do break down into tiny particles that will either bind to other pollutants or leach toxic chemicals themselves into the water.  Clean water is something all humans, wildlife, and plants depend on so it’s important we act as responsible citizens to address this single-use plastic problem. The best way we can protect people, animals, and habitats from the negative impacts of plastics is to reduce our plastic consumption as a community – and not just to recycle it, but to reduce or remove our use of single-use plastics altogether. – Jerran Orwig, Cincinnati Zoo’s Advanced Inquiry Program Manager

If you could put into your own words, how badly do single-use plastics affect the ocean?

Single-use plastics are a major threat to all aquatic ecosystems, especially our oceans where all rivers eventually lead (bringing all of the garbage that ended up in the rivers with them). Because of this, around 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans every single year, with up to 80% of this plastic pollution starting out on land first.

Plastic pollution is arguably one of the biggest problems that our oceans and marine life face. With so much plastic in our waters, many animals will accidentally ingest or get tangled in this garbage. Every year, hundreds of thousands of seabirds, sea turtles, whales, seals, fish, etc. are killed because of plastic debris.

Probably the trickiest thing about this plastic debris is that it never goes away, meaning that for hundreds of years these trash items will stay in our oceans affecting wildlife. In fact, every single piece of plastic that has ever been created still exists on Earth today. Single-use plastic items (which makes up roughly half of the 300 million tons of plastic produced every year) in particular are especially bad. Disposable plastics are petroleum-based products, which not only makes them incredibly difficult to recycle, but it also means that they are not biodegradable. Over time, disposable plastics that end up in our water systems will only break down into smaller and smaller pieces (known as microplastics), releasing toxic chemicals into the water during this process. Not only does this plastic pollution threaten marine habitats and wildlife, it also harms us. Microplastics can easily work their way up the food chain, first consumed by tiny plankton and accumulating in larger animals, meaning that the fish you buy at a grocery store or restaurant has a good chance of containing small pieces of plastic in it (which is harmful to our health). The toxic chemicals released into the water from the breakdown of single-use plastics are also connected to many ailments and birth defects in both marine wildlife and humans.

Sustaining the health and productivity of Earth’s oceans is essential! Not only for the countless marine species that call the ocean home, but also for ourselves. We depend on Earth’s oceans for countless services that make life possible on this planet. The oceans help to regulate Earth’s temperature, produce the majority of oxygen in the atmosphere, as well as provide protein sources, transportation, and jobs for many people around the world. To put it simply, we cannot survive without our oceans.

Lauren McClure – Cincinnati Zoo’s Americorps Sustainability Specialist

Does the Zoo have any other environmental initiatives?

In 2010, the Cincinnati Zoo was declared to be the Greenest Zoo in America® for our commitment to green practices and our efforts to help reduce their impact on the environment. These initiatives are built into the very foundation of our Zoo!

One of the first things that guests see before they even enter the Zoo is our impressive array of solar panels over the main parking lot. These solar panels help to provide around 25% of the Zoo’s energy needs on any given days. On sunny days where the temperature is around 60F we can go completely off the grid! The Cincinnati Zoo is committed to the use and production of clean, renewable energy, as well as to the conservation of the energy we do use. Recently, our Festival of Lights event has upgraded to using LED bulbs which use around 75% less energy than the traditional incandescent bulb.

Many of the buildings on the Zoo’s property are LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified through the U.S Green Building Council, including some of the animal areas as well.  These “green buildings” are incredibly eco-friendly and help to reduce the use of natural resources like energy and water. Many of the materials that went into creating these structures come from recycled or renewable materials (our carpets are made of plastic water bottles!). Check out some of the green roofs located on our Giraffe, Painted Dog, and Gorilla habitats! Green roofs utilize the natural insulating power of living plants to help keep our buildings cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, therefore decreasing the need for heating and cooling. Some of these green roofs even have trees growing on them!

Underneath the Zoo’s beautiful Africa Savannah habitat area are huge water collection tanks that can hold 300,000 gallons of water. Rainwater is collected in these tanks throughout the year and then used to provide clean water to many of our animal habitat areas (Fiona swims in rainwater!). Not only has this helped the Zoo reduce its water use by over 80% in the last 10 years, but it also helps to mitigate the effects of stormwater runoff. Cincinnati has one of the oldest sewer systems in the entire country. Due to the age and structure of our system, when heavy rains hit Cincinnati raw sewage is sent right into the Ohio River, greatly harming aquatic wildlife and ecosystems. Collecting and reusing rainwater helps to keep millions of gallons of water (and raw sewage) out of the sewer system every year!

The Zoo is committed to reducing the amount of waste produced as much as possible. Many of the plates, cups, napkins, and utensils located in the food areas around the Zoo are made from plant materials, rather than plastic, that will actually biodegrade naturally over time. We are also the number one Zoo in the country that recycles cellphones! To date we have collected and recycled over 100,000 cellphones to help mitigate the mining for minerals like coltan in gorilla habitat.

Through all of these efforts, not only has the Cincinnati Zoo saved millions of dollars to reinvest in more green initiatives, we have more importantly helped to decrease our impact on the environment. Through education efforts, the 1.8 million guests that we see annually can come and learn about steps they can take to become better citizens of the Earth.

Lauren McClure – Cincinnati Zoo’s Americorps Sustainability Specialist

Interested in pursuing more Earth-friendly habits? Confused or overwhelmed about where to find products and services in our Queen City region? Enter, Guide Us Green – a website community with a purpose.

Guide Us Green is a website and online directory that is anything but static. This website will continuously ebb and flow as it showcases businesses and organizations that put in the extra effort and intention to be healthy and sustainable for their customers, the planet, and themselves. Whether you are looking for a restaurant that sources food locally, a park to breathe in the fresh air of the outdoors, a studio to practice yoga, a rain barrel to install in your yard, or a contractor that understands solar panels or rain gardens, this site has it. And more.

From grocery to recreation to building to transportation, Guide Us Green’s directory carefully lists entities that strive to either provide services that promote a sustainable lifestyle, however you define it, and/or businesses that practice sustainability within their own operations. Strawless restaurants, vegan menus, cycle bars, green-versed architects, and so on. Each listing describes the business, along with common FAQs and a highlighted “green profile” that showcases how that specific business aligns with Guide Us Green’s values.

To keep from being a static list, Guide Us Green encourages users to write reviews of the places they frequent, helping to keep the information up to date, real, and accurate. The Guide Us Green Forum provides users with a space to exchange information, resources, and ideas. Users can also recommend businesses to be added to the community.

You don’t have to change every single thing you do but just change at least one. And then change one more. Howard Zinn stated, “We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” Let’s be a part of the change that will transform the world. Visit now to share feedback, write a review, recommend a business, claim your business, or search the directory to find a space that will help you grow towards a healthier, more sustainable way of life. Doing so helps protect the wildlife and wild places we all love so much.