At the Zoo: Sustainability

At the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, we try to help the planet in every way we can. Through recycling programs, composting, and sustainable building and cleaning practices, we help the environment and provide opportunities for the community to pitch in as well. You can learn more about the conservation efforts of the Zoo on the At The Zoo: Animal Conservation page, Beyond Our Own Backyard page, Research page, or return to the main Conservation page.

  • On-Grounds Recycling
    • 1paper Paper
      The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium works with Abitibi Consolidated, the largest recycler of newspaper and magazines in North America. Thanks to your help, the Zoo recycles approximately 15 tons of paper per year – that’s the size of two elephants, and is equal to taking 33 cars off the road for one day. These efforts annually save over 200 trees and 7,000 gallons of water.

      Almost any type of paper is acceptable except for phone books and cardboard. You can contribute to our efforts by dropping off your unwanted paper in the colorful green and yellow dumpsters conveniently located in the Zoo’s main parking lot near the main gate.

      Bottles and Aluminum Cans
      To make recycling cans and bottles more convenient, the Zoo continually adds recycling bins throughout the park through a partnership with Pepsi. Recycled cans and bottles go to the City of Pittsburgh to be sorted, baled, and sold. Recycled cans become new cans and other aluminum products; recycled bottles become other lower grade plastic items. We recycle approximately eight tons of bottles and cans per year – that’s enough cans to power a television for 1,532,184 hours (more than you’ll ever watch in your lifetime).

      Pepsi can recycle
      The Zoo recycles approximately 30 tons of cardboard annually. We bale the cardboard and send it to Pittsburgh Recycling in Hazelwood. From there it is sold worldwide and used to make different kinds of paper products.

      Other Recycling Programs
      In addition to these recycling programs, we also
      Encourage visitors to recycle their Zoo maps in the collection box at our security booth;
      Our employees recycle aluminum cans to raise money for the CANS4CATS program which benefits Big Cat Conservation in Belize; and
      Recycle batteries.

      Water Recycling & Reclamation

      One of our largest recycling efforts is water. Using backwash, backwash recovery, and new water reservoir tanks, we reuse 46,000 gallons per week. Water that would otherwise drain into the sewers is recycled and fills the habitats at Water’s Edge alone nearly six times each year. 

  • Cell Phones
    • Wild_Earth_Day_002We encourage you to drop off old and unused cell phones at the Zoo. Through a partnership with Eco-cell, we recycle unusable cell phones and strip them for their components. Recycling just one cell phone eliminates 94 pounds of CO2 from the environment. We currently accept a wide variety of new and used cell phones and handheld electronics, including:
      • Cell phones
      • Cell phone accessories
      • Digital cameras
      • iPods and MP3 players
      • Handheld game systems
      • GPS handheld units
      • Laptops
      • E-readers
      • Portable hard drives

      When you recycle your phone, we strip these materials from it and keep them out of landfills:
      • plastic
      • iron
      • copper
      • zinc
      • lead
      • arsenic
      • brominated compounds
      • Coltan (this metallic ore is mined in the Congo and its production is damaging gorilla populations through habitat loss)
  • Sustainable Cleaning Program
    • Sustainable_CleaningCommon household cleaning products often contain chemicals that can be harmful to the environment. Cleaners that contain alkylphenol ethoxylate, for example, damage the reproductive systems of animals that mate in polluted waters. 

      The Zoo's sustainable cleaning program strives to improve cleaning quality while protecting the health and safety of the animals, employees, and visitors. As a result of this initiative, the Zoo has made the following changes: 
      • Eliminate chemicals of concern and replace them with safer, Green Seal certified alternatives;
      • Establish high performance cleaning standards;
      • Encourage cleaning product consolidation; and
      • Reduce waste and conserve energy through recycling and increased reuse of containers.
  • Green Building Design
    • resizedplantedroofAll of our newer buildings are designed with the Earth in mind. We installed low water flow toilets and waterless urinals to conserve water, and when we built the second floor of the Education Complex, we reused the roof and other components of the structure. We also built a biomass burner that reuses organic waste to heat buildings, and we are converting all Zoo lighting to compact fluorescents and CDL LED bulbs.
      The best example of green building design here at the Zoo is Water’s Edge. The habitats were designed to be ideal for the polar bears, sea otters, and sand tiger sharks, while educating visitors about conserving the animals. 
      The building itself is also a model “green” building by design and allows for low-impact energy use. Components such as below-grade walls, a green roof, seawater reclamation, air-to-air heat recovery on the air-handling units, variable speed pumping, low-flow flush toilets, and waterless urinals all contribute to the energy efficiency of the building.

      Together the three pools at Water’s Edge use over 400,000 gallons of seawater. Using backwash, backwash recovery, and new water reservoir tanks, we reuse 46,000 gallons per week. Water that would otherwise drain into the sewers is recycled and refills the habitats nearly six times each year.

      To maintain clear, high-quality water for the animals, we use an innovative approach to marine mammal filtration. We provide a location for beneficial bacteria to colonize and break down organic waste products into much less harmful products. This greatly reduces the need for oxidizing agents to maintain the quality of the water and is healthier for the animals. 

      Water’s Edge boasts a green roof, which conserves water runoff and insulates the building, allowing us to moderate the thermostats by one-half a degree in the winter and summer months. For an urban setting, the roof hosts a diverse selection of flora. The variety in the plants allows for a broader choice of nutrition and a longer growing season for pollinating insects. 

      Horticulturalists are researching viable plants that will flourish on these roofs. Commercial nurseries are reluctant to invest in these experiments, but the Zoo contributes to the research with a trial garden that uses minimal soil and a native plant garden with deeper soil.
  • Composting
    • compost imageOrganic waste such as food and animal waste generates carbon dioxide when it goes to landfills. At the Zoo, we recycle much of our organic waste into compost, and use it in landscaping throughout the park. This keeps the waste out of landfills so that it does not generate climate-warming gases, and it also helps us to plant and maintain a beautiful landscape. The compost-enriched soil reduces erosion, alleviates soil compaction, provides nutrients that help plants grow, and controls disease and pest infestation in plants.
  • Green Team
    • 1greenteamThe Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium’s Green Team committee takes conservation and environmentally friendly practices to a new level. The Green Team’s mission is to research and recommend how to use resources and manage waste efficiently and sustainably while operating the Zoo. The team strives to create a culture of conservation for Zoo staff and for the visiting public.

      There are currently 20 members from departments across the Zoo. They meet monthly from September to May. Each year the Team reviews its accomplishments and develops strategies for both short and long-term goals. To learn more about the recycling efforts at the Zoo, please click the recycling tab on this page.
      Highlights of the Team’s success include:
      Zoo participation
      • Participated in the Adopt-A-Highway clean-up project;
      • Participated in the education department’s Wild Earth Day, the marketing department’s Party for the Planet, and Green Marketplace events;
      • Switched to compact fluorescents and LED bulbs and received a rebate check for $2,000 that will be used to make further replacements through the Zoo;
      • Worked with Service Systems Associates (SSA) and Terra Cycle to recycle overnighters’ potato chip bags and juice boxes into other products such as backpacks and plastic recycling cans; and
      • Added three kiosks to the Tropical Forest Complex in 2013 that allow visitors to play and learn about gorilla vocalizations, habitat, and mineral mining dangers such as minerals used in cell phones and batteries. The program also teaches the importance of cell phone recycling.

      National recognition
      • Ranked 13th in the United States with Eco-cell;
      • Raised $2,699.85 for conservation efforts;
      • Received a grant to install an EV car charging station in 2013 from Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities (PRCC); and
      • Received a grant from the Heinz Endowment Foundation funding the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium Admissions Area Sustainability Project for 2013-2014. The Zoo partnered with Sustainable Pittsburgh to explore energies including wind turbines and solar power, which have been installed at the Zoo's admission gates.  Click here to learn more about the green renewable energy that has been implemented thus far.

      Partnerships established
      • Established partnerships locally through our “Share Ideas and Learn” campaign with the following facilities:
      o The David L. Lawrence Convention Center
      o Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
      o The National Aviary
      o GreenStar Recycling Company
      o Consol Energy Center
      o Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
  • Adopt a Highway
    • 1adopthighwaySince 1995, volunteers from the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium have adopted two miles of Butler Street from the RD Fleming Bridge to slightly beyond the Highland Park Bridge. As a result of every scheduled cleaning, Zoo employees fill approximately 50 trash bags with garbage such as cigarette butts, soda bottles, and food wrappers. Cleaning this roadway just twice each year, we remove approximately 1.25 tons of trash.