The Milwaukee County Zoo is making waves – and they’re not just coming from the Oceans of Fun Seal and Sea Lion Show.

Since 2008, the zoo and its Green Committee have been incorporating a number of recycling programs and launching conservation-minded projects.

The mission?

To identify, advance and promote policies and practices that minimize negative impact and maximize environmental benefits. Zoo director Chuck Wikenhauser said they have always wanted to present a conservation method, either when they develop an exhibit or have some initiatives that they want to make sure the public sees.

They promote sustainability in many ways, too.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

The zoo initially started with stormwater, creating rain gardens and collection areas to reduce the risk of contamination. In fact, one of the zoo’s larger facilities, the Karen Peck Katz Conservation Education Center, features a green roof to help reduce stormwater runoff.


Image Source: Milwaukee County Zoo

From there, the zoo turned to recycling to help reduce the amount of waste created by the 1.3 million people who visit the zoo each year.


Image Source: Milwaukee County Zoo

Wikenhauser said the zoo has always looked at recycling as something that’s important, as demonstrated by the addition of 150 recycling bins located throughout the park. As a result, the zoo was able to recycle over 54,000 pounds of plastic and aluminum over the past year.

In addition to recycling, the zoo is also involved in composting.

In collaboration with Blue Ribbon Organics, a family-owned composting facility in nearby Caledonia, the zoo is able to turn 550 tons of manure per year into high quality, nutrient-rich organic soil that is used for general landscaping.

The zoo doesn’t make any money by composting the animal waste, and it’s just fine with that.

“We don’t want to put all of that in a landfill if we can help it,” Wikenhauser said. “We’re paying to have it collected and trucked over to the composting site, and we’re willing to pay that in order to keep that out of landfills. That’s the kind of attitude we have.

“It doesn’t have to necessarily break even or make money for us. There’s a moral part of keeping things out of landfills and keeping things out of the streams and rivers around here that are important to us.”


Image Source: Milwaukee County Zoo

All-in-all, incorporating conservation and sustainability solutions into the zoo was a no-brainer for everyone involved.

Even the animals are reaping the benefits.

The zoo repurposes as many objects as possible to use as enrichment items for the animals, including barrels, cardboard boxes, PVC pipes and tubes. Even old fire hoses from the Wauwatosa Fire Department are transformed into hammocks for the bears, orangutans and other animals.


Image Source: Milwaukee County Zoo

Looking Ahead

The zoo has a clean energy plan in place with goals to reduce its use of electricity, water, gas and even the gasoline used in its vehicles by 2020.

“It’s a good thing as far as the environment,” Wikenhauser said. “It’s really part of our mission to show people how to be good stewards of the resources that we have, and in turn encourage them to be conscientious on initial use of resources and how you can reuse those resources as well.”

Budget Dumpster is your community-focused source for a dumpster rental in Milwaukee. This article is part of a series spotlighting organizations that are making a difference in the communities we serve. If you know of another great organization, let us know in the comments!