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Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference


New year, new you … right? As the calendar changes from one year to the next, lots of Americans decide to make some changes of their own, adjusting their daily routines for a variety of reasons. A lot of those changes are connected to food and drink – eat more vegetables, drink plenty of water, count calories, add more protein … the list goes on and on. So as long as you’re thinking about food-related changes that can affect you in a positive way in the new year, why not do a few things to change the world while you’re at it? Making some very small adjustments to your daily habits as they relate to food purchase and preparation and dining out can have a huge impact on the environment. The National Aquarium is conservation-minded every day of the year, but in honor of all those New Year’s resolutions we’re trying to live up to right now, the Aquarium offers up this list of 10 little actions that can help us work together to change the big picture.

1. Take only the napkins you need. The average American uses 2,200 napkins each year, which boils down to about six per day. Many of us simply grab a stack of paper napkins and don’t even use all of them, then throw them away. Several brands of napkins and paper towels can’t be recycled because their fibers are too short. 

2. Skip the straw. On average Americans use (and dispose of) 500 million plastic straws each day, and many of those end up in our oceans, where they pose great danger to animals like sea turtles.

3. Choose a reusable cup. In a single year, Americans throw away nearly 25 billion Styrofoam cups … and when you add in the statistics for plastic and paper cup usage, the numbers are just staggering. If you use one disposable cup each day, you’ll create 23 pounds of non-recyclable waste by the end of the year. To lessen your impact, get an environmentally friendly cup or bottle for your office, one for your commute and one for your trips to the gym.

4. Ditch the gum. Modern chewing gum is not biodegradable because it’s made with – it sounds scary, but it’s true – synthetic rubber. So when you spit it out (hopefully not out your car window or on the sidewalk), you’re just putting plastic into the environment. Opt for the mints instead!

5. Hooray for “Meatless Monday”! It takes about 1,850 gallons of water to produce a pound of ground beef, whereas it only takes about 39 gallons of water to produce the same weight in vegetables. Going meat-free just once a week helps conserve water and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If you’re concerned about protein, remember that nuts, seeds, beans and tofu are great sources. 

6. Download a sustainable seafood app. About a third of all seafood purchased in the United States has been mislabeled, and only about 2 percent of the seafood imported into this country is inspected. To help stay educated about your seafood choices, download the Seafood Watch app so you have a mobile “cheat sheet” when you’re at a restaurant or in the grocery store.

7. Make some easy kitchen fixes. It’s not always necessary to preheat your oven, though it’s very important when making breads or pastries. If you’re cooking a casserole or baking potatoes, it’s an unnecessary step. You should also unplug kitchen appliances – coffee makers, microwaves and blenders – when they’re not in use. 

8. Unplug at dinnertime. It’s annoying for you or your dining companion to be checking emails or Facebook, texting, or playing a game while you’re trying to enjoy a meal together. So actually be together during the meal, and just power down the electronics. Even better, get out and enjoy nature with an after-dinner walk-and-talk session.

9. Find a farmers market. On average in the United States, food travels 1,500 miles from where it’s farmed to where it’s consumed. Visiting a farmers market is the perfect way to support local agriculture and feel more closely connected to your community. As an added bonus, these markets are great places to find new types of food and get tips on how to prepare them.

10. Eat local. Grocery stores have figured it out, and many now label local foods so you know you’re keeping things close to home. To go super-local, try your hand at a small garden this year. Just imagine the bragging rights you’ll have with those big, juicy tomatoes!

Conservation, Education