Shedd Aquarium Champions New Collaboration Among National Colleagues to Tackle Growing Plastic Pollution Threat Facing Great Lakes, Rivers, Oceans

Aquariums from coast to coast shift away from single-use plastic products and packaging, rally consumers to build market demand for innovative alternatives

Shedd Aquarium is one of 19 accredited aquariums across the United States announcing the joint creation of a new Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP) focused on addressing one of the gravest threats facing ocean and freshwater animals – plastic pollution. A founding member of the collaborative, Shedd is now a plastic bag and plastic straw-free facility and is asking the public to join them in the shift away from single-use plastics as part of a nationwide consumer campaign launching today.

"Approximately 22 million pounds of plastic flows into the Great Lakes each year - in Lake Michigan alone, it is equivalent to 100 Olympic-sized swimming pools filled with bottles," said Shedd Aquarium President and CEO Dr. Bridget Coughlin. "Small actions can turn into big solutions, and we believe the 24 million people in the United States who rely on this beautiful, massive resource for their drinking water, jobs and livelihoods want to be part of that wave of change. We look forward to working together in these commitments.”

The Great Lakes are the largest surface freshwater system on the Earth, making up approximately 21 percent of the world’s supply of surface freshwater. Additionally, more than 3,500 species of plants and animals live in the Great Lakes basin.

Through the national “In Our Hands” campaign, the ACP hopes to empower their 20 million visitors and millions more in their communities to drive a national shift away from single-use plastic and toward innovative alternatives. The campaign includes a website that inspires visitors to make positive everyday behavior changes and raise awareness of the issue.

All 19 aquariums are also supporting this shift away from single-use plastic within their own businesses. As of today, all ACP members have eliminated plastic straws and single-use plastic take-away bags in their institutions. In hopes of additional plastic reduction, the aquariums have also committed to:

  • Significantly reduce or eliminate plastic beverage bottles by December 2020
  • Showcase innovative alternatives to single-use plastic in their facilities

The ACP was first championed by Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, and National Aquarium in Baltimore, in collaboration with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

“The public trusts aquariums to do what’s right for the health of the ocean and for ocean wildlife,” said Julie Packard, executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “We’re just beginning to understand the full impacts of ocean plastic pollution on ecosystems, marine life and human health. But we already know enough to say that now is the time to act.”

According to experts, about 8.8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year worldwide – roughly a dump truck full of plastic every minute of every day. In the United States alone, plastic waste averages more than 200 pounds per person each year.  If nothing changes, by 2025 the flow of plastic into the ocean is expected to double. But, it’s not just the ocean that’s affected.  Plastic pollution in lakes and rivers has been found at levels as high, or higher, than in oceanic gyres that concentrate plastic trash. Today, there are an estimated one billion plastic particles floating on the surface of Lake Michigan alone.

“As leaders in aquatic conservation, aquariums are expected to walk their talk, and that’s exactly what this partnership is meant to do,” said National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli. “We are uniquely qualified to set an example for others—in reducing our plastic footprint, encouraging sustainable operating practices, and inspiring hope in a public that is hungry to be part of the solution. We’re right where we should be.”  

Coalition partners are located in 16 states and include:

This summer, the aquariums will focus on raising awareness and sparking consumer action, and sharing their own success stories to highlight the many ways they’ve cut back on single-use plastic in their operations.

They are working with business partners to showcase innovative alternatives to single-use plastic products, and will collaborate with vendors to accelerate design of new products and materials. They are also finding ways to use less plastic packaging in gift store items, and scaling back on single-use plastic in their cafes and restaurants.

The aquariums are also using their collective voice – at the local, state and national level – to support policies that reduce the flow of plastic pollution into the ocean, rivers and lakes. Beyond sponsoring clean-up events and education programs, many have backed successful efforts to stem the use of plastic shopping bags and plastic microbeads found in personal care products.

“Small actions by individuals can make a difference as the health of wildlife in our waterways is in our hands,” said Coughlin.  “It’s up to all of us to be the solution.”

More about Shedd Aquarium’s efforts to decrease the plastic footprint of Chicago and Illinois, as well as individual ways you can #ActWithShedd can be found here:

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