On Earth Day 2019, aquariums across the United States are leading by example in the fight against one of the threats facing ocean and freshwater animals—plastic pollution. The 20 aquariums that make up the Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP) are committing to three business practices that bring their facilities closer to eliminating all single-use plastic materials. Collectively more than 600 businesses and 160,000 individuals nationwide joined the aquariums by making business and lifestyle changes that reduce consumption of single-use plastic.
The ACP aquariums commit to:
- Significantly reduce or eliminate single-use plastic packaging in retail products by 2021.
- Reduce single-use plastic in back-of-house operations by 2021.
- Ensure all dining area tableware—including plates, cups, lids, dishes and utensils—is single-use plastic free by 2021.
"It's exciting to see aquariums across the country leading a shift away from single-use plastic and toward more sustainable options," said Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard. "The additional commitments aquariums are making will help drive the market for alternatives. It's clear that people are ready to move in a new direction to conserve resources and protect the health of our planet."
"Eight million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year. More than ever, we need to dramatically scale back our consumption of single-use plastic and stop plastic pollution at its source," said National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli. "These business commitments by the members of the Aquarium Conservation Partnership will require creativity, innovation and ongoing support from our retail and food service partners. We are creating a nationwide network of facilities that are single-use plastic-free for one simple reason: it's the right thing to do."
To date, ACP aquariums have eliminated plastic straws—preventing the use of 5 million straws per year—and single-use plastic shopping bags in their facilities, in partnership with each aquarium's food service provider and retailer. ACP aquariums have also committed to significantly reduce or eliminate plastic beverage bottles by 2020.
"The movement to shift away from single-use plastic is growing rapidly. There are many encouraging signs of success and yet we still have much more work to do," said Jon Forrest Dohlin, Wildlife Conservation Society Vice President and Director of the WCS New York Aquarium. "Let's keep up the momentum and make these changes nationwide."
For many ACP aquariums, Sodexo, Event Network, Inc., Service Systems Associates (SSA) and Wildlife Trading were instrumental in taking these steps towards reducing in-house plastic usage.
The ACP members' three new business commitments will build on what their service partners have already accomplished. For Event Network, this means selling 191,000 units of reusable bags in 2018, which is equivalent of replacing 50 million plastic grocery bags over the course of a year.
"ACP is a wonderful organization—a consortium of the foremost sustainability-focused aquariums united to educate and combat the unnecessary use of single use plastic. It is essential for aquariums to spread this message and inspire their guests, partners and other stakeholders to do the same, and to spread the message beyond their walls. As partners with many outstanding aquariums and ACP members, Event Network is helping lead the sustainability effort as it relates to retail enterprises. While serving our partners and their missions, we are absolutely committed to leaving the planet in a better condition than how we found it," said Jerry Gilbert, Principal of Event Network.
"Sharing this great blue planet with aquatic animals comes with great responsibility," said Bridget Coughlin, Ph.D., president and CEO of Shedd Aquarium. "For the ACP aquariums, conservation is the backbone of effective business operations. As we link arms with partners, local governments and individuals across the United States, we can drive a positive change."
Last fall, the conservation-focused aquarium coalition launched the second phase of a campaign to bring individuals, businesses and local governments on-board with reducing plastic pollution. Called First Step, the campaign encouraged people to take the "first step" to plastic-free waters by skipping single-use plastic straws if they don't need them.
Several municipalities in select ACP aquariums' communities, and California on a statewide basis, have enacted laws either banning single-use plastic from many food service operations or requiring businesses to offer plastic straws only when customers request them.
As the aquarium partners reduce more single-use plastic items in their own facilities, they will continue to encourage individuals and businesses to join them. For more information about the First Step campaign or to take the pledge, visit pledge.ourhands.org.