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Shedd Aquarium Makes New Commitments to Cut Back on Plastic

On Earth Day 2019, Shedd and partners further commitment to reduce plastic pollution

April 22, 2019

Plastic and foam debris floats in the waters of Lake Michigan, visible from the edge of a pedestrian path bordering the lake along Chicago's skyline.

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. Shedd Aquarium, along with 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.

Shedd Aquarium commits 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.

“Sharing this great blue planet with aquatic animals comes with great responsibility,” said Bridget Coughlin, Ph.D., president and CEO of Shedd Aquarium. “For Shedd and our ACP aquariums partners, 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.”

To date, Shedd has joined ACP aquariums to eliminate plastic straws and single-use plastic take-away bags, in partnership with the aquarium’s food service provider and retailer. Estimates dictate that this will reduce up to 5 million straws per year. Shedd along with the ACP aquariums have also committed to significantly reduce or eliminate plastic beverage bottles by 2020. Nearly 600 businesses—including United Airlines, the Chicago White Sox, Loews Chicago Hotels and Lettuce Entertain You —have made plastic-reduction commitments in collaboration with Shedd and ACP aquariums.

“Sharing this great blue planet with aquatic animals comes with great responsibility,”

President and CEO Bridget Coughlin, Ph.D.

For Shedd Aquarium, Sodexo and Event Networkwere instrumental in taking these steps toward reducing in-house plastic usage.

“Sodexo remains committed to making decisions for the benefit of our world’s natural resources and aquatic animals,” said Kira McDonough, Sodexo General Manager at Shedd Aquarium. “We already adhere to our own internal North American Single-Use Plastics Reduction Plan that seeks to eliminate single-use plastic, fosters innovative recycling practices/products and offers single-use compostable flatware. We look forward to continuing our plastic-free journey with Shedd Aquarium to do our part for the planet.

The 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,” said Jerry Gilbert, Principal of Event Network. “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.”

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.

Further, several municipalities in select ACP aquariums’ communities, and California on a statewide basis, have enacted laws either banning single-use plastic from many foodservice 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.