Sustainable Solutions

In keeping with its Mission Statement, the Milwaukee County Zoo is “walking the walk” when it comes to sustainability. The Zoo aims to inspire public understanding, support and participation in global conservation of animal species and their environment by creating a unifying bond between our visitors and the living earth. This includes putting sustainability front and center in our daily operations.

Protecting animal biodiversity is dependent on preserving a healthy environment in which animals can thrive. In order to contribute to worldwide animal management and conservation efforts, the Zoo is constantly adjusting its practices and updating its facilities in order to be more efficient and environmentally-friendly. Read on to discover some of the steps we have taken so far toward creating a healthier planet.

  • Travel Green Wisconsin

    The MCZ is a Travel Green Certified Member. Travel Green organizations commit to sustainability in the following areas: education, community, energy efficiency, transportation, waste reduction, and water conservation.

  • Reduce

    The Zoo has reduced its energy consumption each year since 2016. Steps we’ve taken toward making that goal a reality include energy-efficient lighting, in which our current lights use 80% less electricity and last six times longer than the previous lights, and installing eight solar panels that generate over 16 MWh annually. 

    To see real-time data for the Zoo’s energy tracker, check out the Solar Energy Output display in Nourish 414.

  • Reuse

    Our motto is “what’s old is new!” The Zoo reuses countless items throughout its grounds each year. Hammocks for the bears, orangutans and others are weaved from old fire hoses from the Wauwatosa Fire Department. Employee clothing that has reached the end of its life is reused as towels and rags for the maintenance, custodial and grounds departments.

    Each autumn since 2012, the Zoo collects, shreds and turns fallen leaves into mulch for the spring. The Zoo also reuses downed wood from the forest trees, known as the Urban Wood program. Urban Wood has been used on projects throughout the Zoo, including the train trestle, the Bug’s special exhibit, the nature play area, the stroller booth, the Aviary and the Jaguar habitat.

  • Recycle

    The Zoo employs numerous recycling efforts throughout the grounds. Through EcoCell, we collect and recycle phones and tablets that contribute to the destruction of gorilla habitats. In the summer, Electronics Recycling Day is an annual staff event that has recycled nearly a ton of electronics since it started. We collect holiday lights from the public as part of our Wild Lights special events.

    Alongside electronics, the Zoo has enabled its visitors to participate through measures such as Zoo Map collection bins at the exit and Pepsi recycling bins for bottles and aluminum cans. We’re all in this together.

  • Green Space

    Green is the New Gold. The Zoo makes an effort to include native plants around its park-like grounds to reduce stormwater runoff and create ample beautiful green spaces for both animals and visitors. Rain gardens throughout the grounds catch runoff and work in conjunction with permeable pavers to replenish groundwater supplies rather than wasting it into storm drains. These efforts help prevent flooding, soil erosion and pollution. 

    Off the ground, atop our Karen Peck Katz Conservation Education Center lies a green roof. Plants on a green roof absorb rainwater, provide habitat for wildlife and naturally cool and insulate the building below them. On top of all of this, green roofs can increase the life of a conventional roof by 20 years, reducing waste on that front as well.

  • Composting

    Currently, we use leaf mulch from leaves collected on grounds to amend Zoo planted beds.

    Stay tuned for future composting programs!

  • Local Food

    The Zoo not only sources food locally, but we grow our own too. We utilize our green spaces to grow herbs and spices for many in-house dining locations. But our biggest achievements are our Animal Enrichment Gardens. 

    These Animal Enrichment Gardens, located by the apes, hippos, and small mammals, grow fresh produce for our animals on site. Enrichment is about enhancing as many aspects of our animals’ lives as possible, including giving them opportunities to interact with nutritious and stimulating foods that keep their minds active and healthy. We grow many different types of plants for our animals to shred and interact with, rub in the scented plants, and experience the different textures, smells and tastes of various fruits, vegetables, herbs, grasses and flowers.

  • Concessions and Merchandise

    The Zoo’s Concessions and Merchandising partner, SSA Group, is focusing on the reduction of plastic waste and responsible purchasing by:

    • Eliminating single-use plastic bags in our Gift Shop 
    • Replacing single-use plastic straws with paper straws in our concession stands
    • Working with toy manufacturers at a national level to eliminate plastic packaging from toys wherever possible
    • Offering unique items made from repurposed and upcycled materials in Zoo gift shops and kiosks
    • Switching our most popular plush animals to be filled with PET plastics, made from recycled bottles
    • Installing bulk oil filtration systems at some cafés to reduce the number of plastic jugs put in landfills
    • Eliminating all Styrofoam products and bleached napkins in concession stands and dining areas
    • Using plant-based, biodegradable products for all beer cups, coffee cups, bowls and plates
    • Reducing sales of products containing palm oil, as the harvesting of palm oil leads to deforestation and destruction of wildlife habitats


    With these initiatives, the Zoo will save the following from landfills and habitats each year: 

    • Over 60,000 plastic bags
    • Over 80,000 plastic straws
    • Over 1,000 plastic jugs
    • Over 7,000 pieces of plastic packaging from toys in Gift Shop
    • Over 400,000 aluminum beverage cans
    • Over 500,000 plastic beverage bottles
  • Enrichment Program

    The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) defines animal enrichment as “a dynamic process for enhancing animal environments within the context of the animals’ behavioral biology and natural history. Environmental changes are made with the goal of increasing the animal’s behavioral choices and drawing out their species-appropriate behaviors, thus enhancing animal welfare.”

    We are committed to providing an Enrichment Program that addresses both the physical and psychological needs of each animal in our population. Our program also aims to reduce stereotypical behaviors, improve success of captive breeding programs and provide an educational experience for Zoo visitors. We have an internal enrichment committee that works hard to ensure a successful program.

    Our Enrichment Program is comprised of 5 different focus areas:

    • Environmental: This includes the enhancement of, or alteration to, an animal’s habitat with the goal of adding complexity to its environment. Examples of this might include novel substrates, swings, climbing structures or new exhibit propping.
    • Foods/Feeding: This includes extending feeding time, making feeding time challenging and promoting natural feeding strategies. Examples of this can include food in puzzle feeders, scattered food and hidden food. 
    • Manipulative: This includes providing the animal with items that can be manipulated in some way using its hands, paws, head, feet, horns or mouth for investigation and exploratory play. Examples of this might include balls, boxes, barrels and other “toys.”
    • Sensory: This includes stimulating all of an animal’s senses (visual, smell,  hearing, taste and touch.) Examples of this might include bubbles, bells, spices, perfumes, audio recordings and scratching posts.
    • Social/Behavioral: Zookeepers use the natural history of the animals to create social groupings observed in the wild, which facilitates feeding, grooming, and courtship behaviors. This includes creating mixed species exhibits. Animals’ daily routine also includes training with both zookeepers and other animals, which helps build trust and rapport.


    You can be a part of our Enrichment Program by supporting our often-updated Amazon Wish Lists. We have needs for almost every animal, so you can even support your favorites.