Toothbrush Recycling at the Houston Zoo

Did you brush your teeth this morning? Use floss?  I did!  What do you do with that toothbrush when you get a new one?

We all need toothbrushes but, they cannot be recycled with general recyclables. Over 1 BILLION toothbrushes are thrown away in the US every year!     Here is the good news, the Houston Zoo is offering you an alternative to just throwing it away.  You can now recycle toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes, floss containers and toothbrush packaging at the zoo.

Colgate has partnered with Terrracycle to offer a program to turn these objects into school supplies for the Kids in Need Foundation! The items they collect are used to make bags, folders and other supplies.

The Children’s Zoo recently collected items like these from staff for a “Plastic Free July Challenge”. They collected 31 toothpaste tubes, 6 empty toothbrush packages, 4 floss containers and 50 toothbrushes.  That came to 2.5 pounds of plastic that didn’t go to the landfill!  If the Zoo Staff can collect that much in just one month, just think about the impact we could have if we ALL recycle our toothbrushes and dental hygiene items.

Even better news, there is an added bonus. If you bring your items to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop, you will get points to spend in the shop!  It is suggested that you replace your toothbrush every 3 months, so if you are due for a new one this month the timing is perfect!  You can drop off your items in the designated recycle bin in the Swap Shop.  Please cut toothpaste tubes down the side with scissors and rinse out any toothpaste residue prior to bringing them in.  (please note that electric toothbrushes and battery toothbrushes are not recyclable with this program)

Another way to help keep this extra plastic out of the trash is to buy an eco-friendly toothbrush, such as the “Humble Brush” or another bamboo toothbrush which can be found online at or

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here for more information.

Save Amphibians by Recycling Your Batteries!

Houston Toad 2

Batteries, Wildlife, and How You Can Take Action

The Houston Zoo cares about animals in the wild, and is taking steps to ensure that everything we do on Zoo grounds is done with the environment and wildlife in mind. If you have a surplus of used batteries, be them alkaline or rechargeable, you can take them to your local recycling center to ensure that the remaining chemicals and substances don’t harshly affect the wildlife that’s directly outside your doors!

Any battery that is disposed of in a landfill (like if you toss them in your normal trash), or that finds its way into the environment, has the potential to leak its old chemicals into the soils and waters that wildlife like amphibians call home.

Because amphibians like frogs, toads, even salamanders, have skin that can easily absorb liquids found in damp soils or the waters and streams they frequent, they can get sick from things like leaking batteries. Often, harsh or foreign chemical interactions can affect populations long-term by changing the behavior of animals, affecting female or male reproductive abilities or even influencing the development of eggs.

The Zoo works to help our local amphibians by recycling our alkaline and rechargeable batteries with a company that specializes in battery disposal. You can do the same by finding your local recycling center; if you’re in Houston you can go to the Westpark Consumer Recycling Center and they will take most options besides alkaline. You can also recycle more than the typical AA, AAA, C, and D batteries – items like power tools, cars, small electronics like tablets or smart phones, hearing aids, watches, and all manner of things take a variety of batteries.

By using rechargeable batteries you can also ensure that the materials that were mined to make your batteries last for a much longer time period than with single-use alkaline batteries. Rechargeable batteries will go dull over time, but you can get multiple uses out of them and lessen the stress on the environment by finding products and items that you can use over and over before recycling!

How Our Staff Recycles Batteries at the Zoo


Battery Sign Zoo Events

On Zoo grounds we will often offer recycling information that you can see when you visit. We recommend you take your batteries to a local recycling center to ensure they don’t end up in landfills that can encroach on the space of wildlife as well as affect the soils and waters amphibians and other animals call home.

Houston Toad Battery 1.0

Behind the scenes, our staff utilize a special battery drop-off for spent batteries. By encouraging staff to recycle these items the Zoo is able to see how many batteries we use as an organization, and how many we use that are rechargeable! Alkaline batteries are not rechargeable, so taking a look at our staff battery needs shows us where we could potentially get more rechargeable batteries rather than single-use alkaline batteries. We can also weigh our battery recycling over time and see how much space we have saved in landfills and how many batteries have been prevented from harshly affecting our wildlife habitats.Houston Toad Battery 1.3

Be Safe When Collecting Batteries for Recycling


Houston Toad Battery 1.1

Alkaline: these are more often the common batteries like AA, AAA, C, or D as well as 9-Volt. Do not store any of these batteries together without packaging. Once they have been used there is still potential for them to ‘pop’ open as there are residual chemicals that can be discharged and react with other batteries they are near. This could cause injury if someone is nearby. The 9-Volt batteries are commonly used in your fire alarms and are properly prepared for the recycling center by putting duct-tape over the positive and negative transistors (basically, the top two prongs need to be covered so they don’t come into contact with other batteries). Note that some centers do not accept alkaline batteries for recycling.

Rechargeable: these batteries are widely used in items like power-tools, phone batteries, laptop batteries, or even your more common AA, AAA, C, D, and 9-Volt options. There are no alkaline battery options that cannot be replaced with rechargeable options. You will find rechargeable batteries in forms of Nickel Cadmium (NiCd), Lithium-ion (Li-ion), and Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH). All of these batteries have the potential to get hot and should be packaged separately from each other in preparation for recycling; Li-ion should be particularly tended to in ensuring there is no other metal or battery contact once discharged.

This is a sustainability reference document. 

Helping Wildlife…With Paint!


Paint and Wildlife

The Houston Zoo cares about animals in the wild, and is taking steps to ensure that everything we do on Zoo grounds is done with wild animals in mind. A simple effort like being aware of what types of paints we use has a surprisingly large impact on wildlife because it impacts their natural environment.

Paints can have harsh chemicals that affect the air we all breathe, or if you dispose of leftover paint improperly, it can get into the streams and waters wildlife like sea turtles call home.

Help our local sea turtles by being aware of what’s going into their water.

Paint and the Houston Zoo

Recently the Zoo used environmentally friendly paint to label the storm drains behind the scenes as a reminder that the cleaner we keep our waters, the healthier our wildlife. Storm water drains are a part of all cities, helping alleviate flood waters that build up during storms and are meant only to have rainwater since Houston storm drains lead right back out to our bayous, and eventually flow to the Gulf of Mexico.

Storm Drain Action Shot
Storm water drains being painted at the Houston Zoo!

For our storm drain project we were able to visit New Living to source paint that is water-based and contains no volatile organic compounds in both the paint and paint pigments. These compounds, called VOCs, are immediately noticed as the intense “paint smell” that can give you a fast headache. This smell is from chemicals that people should not breathe, and animals should not have in their water supply. The paint that New Living offers allows us to be sure that when we‘re using paint for projects, we have the option to choose a product that is made in a more environmentally friendly way, contains less harsh chemicals, and if ever exposed to the environment would not impact it harshly like with traditional paints.

As a Zoo-Based Conservation organization, we have chosen to include no-VOC paint whenever possible to ensure all operations of the Zoo are done in a way that is friendly for wildlife. The Houston Zoo aims to be a leader in being a part of these new and innovative practices that are conscious of our wildlife and our interactions with the natural world we all live in.



You can help save wildlife too!

  • If you are using paint that contains VOCs, be sure to wear safety masks and take any remainder paint to a hazardous waste facility. In Houston, you can take this kind of paint (like oil-based paint) to the West Park Consumer Recycling Center located in Houston. If you have-water based paint, you can let the paint dry (often people will mix it with cat litter for a faster drying process) and toss the dry paint in the trash for regular pick-up. 
  • Next time you buy paint, ask for no-VOC paint to ensure the products you are using are safe for wildlife. Visit stores like New Living to ensure you are purchasing wildlife-friendly products.

This is a sustainability reference document. 

Saving Wildlife with Robotics!

The Houston Zoo cares about animals in the wild and is working within our global community to help wildlife. There are many ways to affect wildlife, and we work with all types of groups that are using innovative and effective ways to keep our world healthy for all of its inhabitants.seaturtle_DK

Something that all of our friends, groups, partners, and even visitors have in common is trash, plastics in particular…but what does that have to do with saving wildlife? Our wild animals come into contact with a lot of our trash; our friends in Africa have seen giant elephants grab plastic bags that are tangled in grasses thinking that it’s food, and our local friends in Galveston have seen our Texas sea turtles eat plastic bags floating in the ocean because they look like a tasty jellyfish.

This league is connecting two areas that don’t seem like they’d work together, robotics and waste, to make a beautiful solution to help save wildlife! There are some innovative ways that robots can help us to protect wildlife, from using drones to gauge poaching areas to creating robotic fish that measure ocean health, and this league is a group of students that is putting their brains together to come up with more ways that robotics can help our animals and our Earth. This is the first installation of a blog series that will track what the league is doing, why they are doing it, and how you can help out too!

Please welcome our guest bloggers for this series, the Jersey Voltage Purple FIRST Lego League Robotics Team:


JV Lego Team 1

Hi there! We are the Jersey Voltage Purple FIRST Lego League (FLL) robotics team. We are a team of 10 students who live in Jersey Village, Texas and we are here to not only talk about trash (plastics in particular); but we are here to clean it up or at the least create excitement and awareness of the world’s plastics. We’re working on a project now, so photos are to come, but below you can check out why we chose to focus on plastics and see some great pictures of us while in the brainstorming stage!

Did you know that the very first plastic was developed in Britain way back in 1862, and plastics were exhibited at the Great Exhibition in London?! Plastics are used in many important ways that help humans and animals stay healthy, like in the medical field, and use of plastics exploded in the first decade after World War II. Just in the past 30 years, the plastic industry has gotten huge and includes many plastic products that could potentially be replaced by reusable items, like reusable water bottles or plastic bags.


This explosion of the use of plastics greatly impacts our eco-system and affects our wildlife. All of us have used many water bottles in our lifetime, but how many of those bottles have been made of plastic? Last year, the average American used 167 disposable plastic water bottles, but only recycled 38. Do you know how many get into our eco-system? Of the millions of water bottles used every day, most of them will eventually end up in an animal’s environment. So we’re here to help. Many people are trying to limit the amount of plastic they use, and some have come up with some pretty creative solutions to this somewhat overwhelming problem!


Take Action Now: You can save wildlife today by using a reusable tote for your groceries instead of single-use plastic bags. You can also exchange your single-use plastic bottles for a long-term refillable bottle. Visit the Houston Zoo’s Take Action page and find out what else you can do!


In our next blog we will tell you about a few ideas that we uncovered in our research and what we’ve been working on with our robotics to help save wildlife! So stay tuned, more to come and plenty to do!


Founded in 1989 and based in Manchester, NH, FIRST is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit public charity designed to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology, and to motivate them to pursue education and career opportunities in STEM fields.


This is a sustainability reference document. 

Houston Zoo is Ditching Plastic Bags

Take-Action-Logo-300pxOn July 1, we will begin asking shoppers to find alternate ways to take their merchandise home from the Zoo’s Gift Shop. Why you ask? Plastic pollution is harmful to wildlife such as sea turtles and pelicans. Known to many as “the world’s most preventable problem,” plastic pollution has grown exponentially over the last 50 years suffocating our oceans. While that sentence is full of disheartening truth the reality is that all hope is not lost!

Plastic most definitely enters oceans via activity on land. The miracle polymer that has provided humans with engineering and medical advances certainly has a place in the world. Can you imagine a hospital without a sterile IV? However, the single-use, throw away items could be used less. Drink lids, straws, and single-use plastic bags are some of the most prevalent items found floating in the open ocean. The good news is they all have reusable options! So what happens to the plastic when its time on land is done and it makes its way out to sea?t It will eventually, though it may take years, make its way to one of the five gyres. These gyres are located in the North and South Pacific Oceans, the North and South Atlantic Oceans, and the Indian Ocean. Think of a gyre as a huge tornado of currents that pulls in the plastic aimlessly floating around. Plastics in our oceans harm wildlife and are susceptible to removal by animal consumption. Laysan albatross are attracted to colorful plastic pieces that look like small fish and sea turtles may confuse a plastic bag with a tasty jellyfish. Not only do marine animals have to watch out for plastics they can see, but an even more substantial issue is the plastic they can’t see. Plastic never REALLY goes away. It’s so efficient in its construction that it only breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, but never actually biodegrades. Instead, it becomes microplastic. Small enough to integrate into schools of phytoplankton and krill, microplastics then become a part of one of the largest part of the ocean’s food chain and are ingested by whales and other marine wildlife.

Buy this reusable canvas bag in the Houston Zoo Gift Shop on your next visit!

Such a huge problem seems like it can never be solved, but that is not the case. By taking action and making small choices in your everyday life YOU can be a part of the solution! Use a reusable shopping bag and water bottle, politely decline straws and drink lids, and buying products that don’t contain microbeads are easy, everyday choices all of us can make that add up to big solution.

The Houston Zoo wants to be a part of the solution. Next time you visit the Zoo gift shop bring your own resuable bag, buy one of the reusable options if you don’t already have one, or decline the use of a bag completely. Thank you for taking action and helping save wildlife.

Science Made Simple: Is Using Recycled Paper Really That Important?

My name is Ryan and I love science. Join me as I try to make tough science a little less confusing.

Follow along as I research the issues, untangle the mess, and figure out what you really need to know to help animals and the environment.


Today’s Topic: Is Using Recycled Paper Really That Important?

Short Version: Trees are being cut down at an alarming rate in order to make all the different types of paper we use every day. From printer paper to toilet paper, you can help protect forests and the animals that live in them by recycling your paper and buying paper made from recycled content!
Confusing Science: “One of the most produced sanitary papers is toilet paper. The most important raw material is pulp, originates either from primary (virgin) cellulosic fibers or recovered fibers” (Vlase, 2013).


What That Really Means: It shouldn’t surprise you that people want/need toilet paper. For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, it’s pretty much recession proof and grocery stores usually devote an entire aisle to it. Wood pulp is needed to make toilet paper, and lots of trees have to be cut down as part of the production process. As we’ve talked about in previous Science Made Simple posts, anytime trees are cut down, we reduce the habitat available to animals that rely on these forests for survival.

Confusing Science: “Between 2010 and 2030, the global demand for timber products is expected to rise by 70 % (FAO 2009). In this time period, the global demand for wood-based panels will increase from 280 to 500 million tons per annum, while the production of paper and paperboard will grow from 400 to 700 million tons annually” (Obidzinksi, 2012).

What That Really Means: The amount of paper we use for writing, printing, toilet paper, etc. is astronomical. I tried really hard to find a way to put the numbers above into perspective. The picture below is a United States Navy Ford-Class aircraft carrier. The Navy specifications on this type of aircraft carrier list a weight of approximately 100,000 tons.

Ford-Class Aircraft Carrier [Media]. U.S. Navy. Retrieved from
Ford-Class Aircraft Carrier [Media]. U.S. Navy. Retrieved from
So if that ship weighs 100,000 tons, you would need FOUR THOUSAND of those ships to equal the weight of the paper currently made each year! It’s nearly impossible to think about that amount of paper.

Confusing Science: “The logging that goes toward disposable paper products is especially frustrating given how much paper continues to be wasted. Each year, US consumers dump about 35 to 40 percent of all the paper they use into dumps and landfills. According to University of Colorado’s Environmental Center, “in this decade Americans will throw away over 4.5 million tons of office paper and nearly 10 million tons of newspaper … almost all of which could be recycled” (Robbins, 2010).

wipeWhat That Really Means: In short, we are throwing away far too much paper that could be made into other products. Recycling used office paper or newspapers can reduce the number of trees needed to meet our paper demands and preserve valuable wildlife habitat.

What YOU Can Do?: Fortunately, there are lots of companies that use recycled paper in their products. You can protect forests and the animals that live in them by recycling your paper and buying paper products that are made from recycled content. Here at the  Houston Zoo, we only use toilet paper made from recycled paper, and you can help animals by doing the same!

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more as I try to make science easier to understand. Never stop learning,

 Have a topic you’d like me to explore? Post it in the comments!

Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) (2009) State of the world’s forests 2009. FAO, Rome

Obidzinski, K., & Dermawan, A. (2012). Pulp industry and environment in Indonesia: is there sustainable future?. Regional Environmental Change, 12(4), 961-966.

Robbins, N. (2010). NOT A SQUARE TO SPARE. Earth Island Journal, 25(3), 57-60.

Vlase, R., Viorel, I., & Gavrilescu, D. (2013). RESOURCE CONSERVATION IN SANITARY PAPER MANUFACTURING. Environmental Engineering & Management Journal (EEMJ), 12(4), 757-762.

Plastic Recycling and the Naturally Wild Swap Shop

As a leader in conservation, the Houston Zoo has decided to focus our efforts on 6 new initiatives.  They are as follows:

  • Cell Phone Recycling
  • Paper Recycling
  • Plastic Recycling
  • Seafood Watch
  • Palm Oil
  • Pollinators

You will be seeing information on all of these topics, but today we will focus on plastics.

According to the EPA, in 2012, 32 million tons of plastic were generated, but only 9% of that was recovered for recycling.

These floating bags look like edible jellyfish to wildlife.
These floating bags look like edible jellyfish to wildlife.

Every year, billions of pounds of plastic end up in the world’s ocean sas pollution.   Plastics that are not recycled end up in our  landfills and may take up to 1,000 years to decompose.  Thousands of fish, birds, marine mammals and turtles ingest or become entangled in plastic items resulting in injury or even death.

How can you help?

Recycle!  Most community recycling programs accept at least some types of plastics.  The number on the bottom of the plastic container will help you determine if it is accepted by your local

Reusable bags are a great way to reduce plastic waste.
Reusable bags are a great way to reduce plastic waste.

program.  Cut or break the rings from beverage cans.  That way animals will not become entangled.

How is the Swap Shop involved?  We will be giving points to anyone 18 and under who brings in a

single use plastic shopping bag or beverage ring along with a report on recycling those items.  And we have two special days coming up where traders

Wildlife can become entrapped in 6 pack rings.
Wildlife can become entrapped in 6 pack rings.

can earn double points.  On April 19th we will be celebrating Earth Day with Party for the Planet.  And, on June 7th, we will celebrate World Ocean Day.  On both of those days, any trader bringing in a plastic bag or ring with a report will receive double points!

Don’t know about The Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here for more information.


Help Us Clean Up the Galveston Beach – Saturday, Aug. 23

We’re organizing a beach clean-up day and need your help! Come volunteer with us as we work to make Galveston beaches a little cleaner.


When: Saturday, August, 23, 2014   8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Where: We will be meeting across the street from “The Spot” restaurant near the Pleasure Pier (3204 Seawall Blvd, Galveston, TX 77550)
Clean up location: Galveston seawall between 29th st. & 39th st.
How to sign up: E-mail to sign up and get more information


Volunteers will be required to complete a release of liability form before participating in Beach Cleanup Day. Please print, complete, and bring the form with you on Saturday, August 23. BeachCleanupRelease.pdf


It’s very important to keep our beaches free of trash and debris, namely plastic. Take a look at how damaging plastic pollution can be.

Challenges of Plastic Pollution:

  • There is roughly 315,000,000,000 pounds of plastic in our oceans right now.
  • The average American will throw away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year.
  • Plastic bags are petroleum-based and do not biodegrade.
  • 100,000 marine animals die each year from eating plastic pollution in our oceans.
  • Sea turtles and other marine creatures mistake plastics and other garbage as food (such as jellyfish) and ingest it. This causes blockages within their digestive system and lead to severe medical issues.

How You Can Help:

  • Come to our beach clean-up day!
  • Be a hero-use biodegradable garbage bags and pet waste bags! They break down naturally, and don’t leave harmful chemicals behind.
  • Visit the Houston Zoo-a portion of every ticket purchased goes towards saving animals in the wild!
  • Be a hero-avoid using plastic! Buy a reusable water bottle and reusable canvas grocery bags instead of the plastic alternatives. By Using a canvas bag you can eliminate the use of 1,000 plastic bags!

Dickinson High School Takes Home 1st Place in 2014 Action for Apes Challenge!

10365925_708674479195725_7798650179364826206_nWe have just concluded our 2014 Action for Apes Cell Phone Recycling Challenge and it was incredibly successful with 49 local Houston schools and organizations participating! Over 25,000 participants were involved in this challenge-recycling cell phones as quickly as they could by APE-ril 30th, 2014 to join the Houston Zoo’s efforts to save gorillas and chimpanzees in the wild! A material found in almost every cell phone (tantalum) is taken from the ground in Central Africa where these amazing apes live, and by recycling phones we can reuse these materials and reduce the need to mine in animal habitats to get more tantalum.

At the end of APE-ril, the participants began shipping their recycled phones to Eco-Cell who counted every single phone from the challenge and reported the totals to the Houston Zoo. We are very excited to announce that Dickinson High School  won 1st place in the challenge, recycling a total of 384 phones! Dickinson High School will win a huge painting to be hung in their school, specially painted by the Houston Zoo’s chimpanzee troop in the colors of their choosing.

action for apes

Coming in at 2nd place was Birkes Elementary, recycling 242 phones, and 3rd place went to Parkwood Elementary School, who recycled 155 phones. Overall, all participating groups brought in a total of 2,032 cell phones which means 2,032 actions to save animals in the wild!

We are so thankful for the collaborative effort of our community in recycling cell phones to save gorillas and chimpanzees in the wild, and we could not do this important work without the Houston community. Thank you to everyone who participated and we’re already looking forward to 2015!

How Your Next Seafood Dinner Can Help the Ocean

Sometimes, I get a minute at my desk to read over the  highly informative and educational journals/magazines/publications that relate to protecting animals and their habitats. Today, I had the opportunity to read the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s 2nd Edition of Turning the Tide (The State of Seafood) publication. Many of you may not have access to this, so let me give you the gist:

Our oceans are in trouble. Why? Many species of fish have been over fished, and done so without considering how long it will take for these animals to get back to healthy populations.

Spotted eagle rays-Photo courtesy of Nat Geo
Spotted eagle rays-Photo courtesy of Nat Geo

Why else? Marine debris, plastic pollution…trash in our oceans! You have probably seen pictures of this on our Houston Zoo Facebook pages:

A green sea turtle in Surfside, Texas entangled in fishing line.
A green sea turtle in Surfside, Texas entangled in fishing line.

So what can we do? Well…a lot, actually. Making smart choices about what we eat and where we buy it is a huge step. We can also limit our use of plastics, and when we do use plastics-make sure they end up in recycling, not on our beaches or on the land in any way.

If you are wondering how to make smart seafood decisions (I don’t blame you…we live on the Gulf Coast and have easy access to seafood!), check out this list of top North American Sustainable Seafood Companies (go to them first to buy your seafood). This list is from the Turning the Tide, The State of Seafood publication:

Grocery Stores:


Kroger Company




Publix Super Markers

Ahold USA (Stop & Shop, Giant, Martin’s Food Market)

BJ’s Wholesale Club

Whole Foods Market (who also just helped us raise money for elephant conservation! Thanks Whole Foods!)

Giant Eagle

Trader Joe’s

A & P

Winn-Dixie Stores

Thank you to these stores for keeping our oceans healthy, and the animals who live in our oceans healthy!

Our Texas sea turtles are appreciative of your sustainable seafood choices!
Our Texas sea turtles are appreciative of your sustainable seafood choices!

These stores have public sustainable seafood sourcing policies and work in partnership with members of the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions.

If you’re interested in finding out more about specific types of seafood to eat, or avoid, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch recommendations.

OR, check out this page for a list of seafood to eat and to avoid that is specific to those of us in Texas!

Thanks for doing your part to save wildlife. And remember, every time you visit the Houston Zoo, you help save animals in the wild!

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Over the past few days, our veterinary team has helped three sea turtles in need of special care. We are happy to partner with our friends at NOAA to help the sea turtles and give them a second chance in the wild. ... See MoreSee Less


Over the past few days, our veterinary team has helped three sea turtles in need of special care. We are happy to partner with our friends at NOAA to help the sea turtles and give them a second chance in the wild.


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Thank you for always being there to help these amazing creatures!

Thank you for helping these amazing, wonderful animals!

This makes my heart smile.. <3

Sarah maybe they will have some to see again!!

You do great work, thank you!

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