National Zoo and Aquarium volunteer Sue Fallon and the recycling plan that has raised $17,000 for wildlife charities

Sue Fallon, pictured with Moo the Emu, has raised $17,000 for wildlife charities by initiating a recycling program at the zoo. Picture: Karleen Minney
Sue Fallon, pictured with Moo the Emu, has raised $17,000 for wildlife charities by initiating a recycling program at the zoo. Picture: Karleen Minney

National Zoo and Aquarium visitors may recognise Sue Fallon. Or perhaps, it is her blue and gold cart with a sign that reads "Bin Raider" that comes to mind first.

Either way, what you might not know is the length that the zoo volunteer goes to help the environment, while at the same time raising $17,000 for wildlife charities.

Since first viewing War on Waste, the documentary series that focuses on the impact of material waste, Fallon has looked at ways to improve the zoo's - and her own - environmental footprint. It all started with baby steps, encouraging the different departments at the zoo to set aside soft plastics for Fallon to take to the REDcycle recycling bins. Last year alone, the zoo recycled a tonne-and-a-half of soft plastic.

"We weaselled our way into each of the departments," she says.

"The food prep department is fantastic, maintenance is getting on board, Jamala is fantastic - I can go and there will be a whole tub of plastic one week.

"People are starting to get the idea that rather than throwing it into a landfill bucket, they're throwing it into the soft plastic bucket so that we've got soft plastic bins around the workplace area. We don't have them around the zoo, but that may come down the track."

What the zoo does have around the grounds, however, are six purple wheelie bins that are intended for zoogoers to dispose of their plastic bottles and cans. Fallon takes these bottles - as well as ones collected from staffing areas and what she can fish out of the normal yellow-top recycling bins - to the ACT Container Deposit Scheme.

"It's not just me. I'm the driver - I go out to the bins and I take it out to Return-It and I do that, but the keepers, the volunteers, the maintenance staff ... it's a real community effort," Fallon says.

"It's getting people to think, and start changing their practice. It's saying things like, why did you throw it into the landfill bucket?"

For each bottle or can she receives 10c, and so far has collected $17,000 worth (170,000). All of the funds get donated to wildlife charities, with a new charity receiving donations every month.

January saw $1350 raised for the Native Animal Rescue Group, a group based around the Braidwood area that has had their hands full with taking care of animals affected by the bushfires. February will see bottles collected and funds raised for rehabilitation and rescue of penguins.

"We try and work it in with a national day or world day - like World Otter Day," Fallon says.

"It can be local or it can be national or it can be an international charity. We've done a variety of animals and it's always voted on what animals that we support.

"It also gives a chance for the keeper, who looks after the animals, to spend more time on education and let people know. The pressure is off them to spend more time on fundraising."

This story The zoo volunteer's recycling plan that raised $17,000 first appeared on The Canberra Times.