Chester Zoo Waste Analysis Project

Team ACM

 With our new client, Chester Zoo, we are undertaking a complete review of their current waste operation, as part of our Greener Path Programme to help the zoo to deliver its 2030 Zero Waste goal.

Chester Zoo is not only a leading wildlife charity, working to prevent the extinction of threatened species globally, it’s the one of the most popular visitor attractions in the UK and essentially operates like a small town – with employees, visitors, animals, facilities management, retail outlets and catering services all producing different wastes 7-days-a-week.  While Chester Zoo already had a good idea of how many tonnes of each broad waste category was being reported each year (general, recycling, wood, metal, manure, electricals, construction, nappies, batteries etc,) it had limited information about what the waste was composed of, or where exactly it came from within its huge operation.  Some of the categorisation being deployed needed drilling into in much greater detail.

ACM has taken over the waste contract on a like-for-like basis initially, whilst we perform a deep dive into the entire waste operation, performing a waste analysis to get a complete understanding of the exact waste make-up – what we term the ‘waste DNA’.

We are also helping to expose and bust some of the myths of the waste industry – for example, just because waste is categorised and sent for recycling, how much is actually being recycled? We term this ‘wish-cycling’; where waste producers describe material as recycling in the hope it gets recycled, but in fact, it either isn’t or can’t be.

ACM is helping the zoo make the transition to Zero Waste by 2030 through the ACM Greener Path Programme. Our aim is to identify and tackle the cause of each component of the waste streams at source, managing each one in an optimal way and moving them as high up the Waste Hierarchy as possible. For each individual waste stream, we consider outcomes in terms of cost, compliance, service performance, environmental outcomes, and reporting systems. Overriding this, we must also ensure that proposed solutions are practical in terms of the zoo’s challenging operation.

We are currently focusing in on key operational areas of the zoo – back of house, food and beverage, animal waste, customer areas and facilities management. The accompanying photos show Katt Hampson BSc (Hons) – ACM Account Manager, based at Chester Zoo – and Russ Sampson BSc (Hons) MCIWM – ACM Principal Environmental Consultant – undertaking a waste analysis as part of a series of investigations, where we get to find out exactly what is in the waste and where it has come from.

We ‘plant’ uniquely labelled bin bags at strategic locations around the site over various days and, with the help of the zoo’s Operations Team, have the special bags brought back to one central location for the in-depth investigation. On this day, we were examining the contents of approximately 12-bags collected from the food and beverage outlets, some from kitchen side and from customer side. We empty out the contents of each bag individually, split it down to its constituent components, then weigh and photograph the contents of each component individually.

This provides us with the granular detail required to find the way forward for each component of the waste stream. Although there looks to be a lot of packaging at present, the zoo is having to operate its catering facilities in ‘Covid take-away mode’ at present and will be returning to traditional zero-waste crockery and cutlery as soon as public health conditions allow.

As the Greener Path Programme works on a continuous improvement basis, the solutions we propose on day-one will not necessarily be the same solutions we will have in place in 2-, 5- or 10-years’ time. It’s all about taking a logical, step-by-step approach along a clearly mapped out sustainability journey.


Yes, plenty! Although the zoo does not sell drinks in single-use plastic drinks containers, we identified large amounts of these amongst the waste, which visitors are bringing with them on their daytrips from home, and so these must be collected and managed effectively.

We also identified that some of the materials being reported to the zoo as being recycled were not actually being recycled, simply because the materials themselves are not commercially recyclable. Instead, they were unknowingly included in depot reports, which relate to the total percentage recycled by a depot and could be masked by the huge volumes of construction/demolition waste that the depot recycles.

Some of the other waste being collected by local contractors in a recycling bin is not recycled due to the economics (wish-cycling: where you put it in a recycling bin in the hope it gets recycled, but it doesn’t) whilst other recycling material is travelling extremely long distances for processing when there are plenty of other suitable facilities nearby.

Waste outcomes will be a key focus in our report to the zoo and proposals in the Greener Path Programme. We also get an insight into human behaviours – there was astonishing significant amount of unopened sauce sachets, where visitors request a sauce and then never actually use it!


Russ: “I’m a waste doctor really, diagnosing each patient and their ailments. In this case, the patient had been attempting to make themselves better but their condition hadn’t really been improving. For example, at one stage they had moved across to ‘compostable’ plates and cups. These cannot go in with food waste which goes off to anaerobic digestion facilities for re-use as they won’t break down, they are designed only to be composted in industrial composting plants. However, since the plates and cups aren’t collected separately for composting, they were all destined for the incinerator! As a specialist I know exactly how to diagnose the problem, and how to distinguish the correct remedies and therapies from the placebos and snake oil. Ultimately, the cure is to treat the cause rather than the symptoms.”

Katt: “Although it’s dirty, smelly and downright unpleasant work, it’s the only way we can accurately get to the root of the problem. I’m absolutely delighted to be working here with Chester Zoo as everyone is so extremely enthusiastic about sustainability and fully committed to it. We are all working together on the same page which is so very exciting every single day I’m here.”