Green Twist on 10 Healthy Eating New Year’s Resolutions

A healthy lifestyle requires a healthy Earth.

If you are contemplating a 2018 New Year’s resolution to eat healthier, consider doing it in an environmentally friendly way that helps Earth be healthier, too.

The top New Year’s resolutions usually fall into three categories: health, money, or time. In the health category, popular resolutions include losing weight, exercising more, and living a healthier lifestyle. I believe healthy eating is the foundation for those three goals. First, no matter what advertisers tell you, you will not lose weight unless you eat healthy, too. Second, eating healthy will give you the energy you need to exercise and lastly, a healthy lifestyle includes healthy eating.

In this post, you can explore ten potential healthy eating New Year’s resolutions that are also good for the planet.

10 Planet Friendly Healthy Eating New Year’s Resolutions

These New Year’s resolution suggestions are about actions not specific food and beverage recommendations. Some may seem weird to you, but I hope you will find a least one that makes you think, “Yes, I can and want to do that.”

Abstain from Aluminum

No substance that you need for healthy eating comes in an aluminum can.

Aluminum is a valuable material that has an enormous environmental footprint. You can read about the process of making aluminum and the environmental issues associated with it in the post, Aluminum Beverage Cans – Environmental Impact. It is incredibly wasteful to use aluminum to make a can that you open, drink the contents, and then get rid of, even if you recycle the can, which most people do not do.

New Year’s Resolution: Stop buying anything that comes in aluminum cans, forever.

Composting Can Change Your Choices

You can make good use of the peels and rinds from all the fresh fruits and vegetables you will be consuming as part of your quest to eat healthier.

Instead of tossing produce scraps in your trash or grinding them up in your garbage disposal, consider composting them to create a nutritious treat for the soil in your yard or your neighbor’s.

The act of putting a spoiled potato or banana in your compost pail could change the way you shop for produce and reduce food waste in your household.

If you think composting is something other people should do, read the post, Composting Made Easy – Tips from an Unlikely Composter (that is I) and then see if you are willing to try it.

New Year’s Resolution: Set up a composting bin in your yard or on your patio and put all your fruit and vegetable scraps in it.

Do-it-Yourself Dining

Preparing and Cooking a Meal to Eat at HomeTake control of what goes into and stays out of your food by preparing your own meals.

You select the recipes, choose the ingredients, read the package/jar labels, season to your taste, and decide on your own portion sizes. Plus, chances are you do not have unpronounceable additives in your pantry that may improve the shelf life of processed foods but do nothing for your health.

When you dine at home or take your lunch to school or work, you can choose foods with less packaging, eat on reusable tableware, and reduce food waste.

New Year’s Resolution: Make at least one meal a week yourself. If one meal a week is too easy, then up the difficulty of your resolution. For instance, if you usually eat lunch out during the workweek; bring your own lunch at least three days a week.

Find it at the Farmer’s Market

Imagine buying a head of lettuce or a peach picked at the peak of ripeness and deliciousness the day before you buy it. Fresh fruits and vegetables are the star attractions at the over 8,600 farmers markets in the United States, which makes it easy for you to choose healthy food.

When you buy food directly from the people who grow and produce it, you are saving energy, water, fuel, waste, and supporting farmers in your own community. If you are worried that shopping at the farmers market might be too expensive or time-consuming, read the post 5 Reasons to Shop at the Farmers Market and then decide if you want to give it a whirl.

New Year’s Resolution: At least once a month, shop at a farmers market near where you live or work. Depending on the climate, farmers markets may operate year round or only in warmer months.

Healthy Hydration Habit

You probably already know that drinking water is important to your health. Keeping water within your reach at all times, in a glass or reusable bottle, makes staying hydrated easier and almost automatic.

In most areas in the United States, tap water is inexpensive and safe to drink. If you do not like the “taste” of your tap water, use a filtering pitcher or install an osmosis system. Before you dash out to the store to stock up on cases of bottled water, please consider its environmental and social implications.

New Year’s Resolution: Stay hydrated without buying water in a disposable container (a recyclable container is still disposable).

Look for Local

The next time you are shopping for groceries, make a point of looking for and buying produce grown locally.

Grocery Market Locally Grown Produce SectionThis makes it easy for you to select fruits and vegetables that are in season, freshly picked and did not travel on an airplane in route to your market. Local meat, eggs, dairy, bread, and processed foods (like spaghetti sauce) are also good choices.

If you cannot find locally sourced produce at your regular grocery store, try shopping at a co-op, natural food store, or family-owned market.

New Year’s Resolution: Once a month, buy only fruits and vegetables that were grown locally or switch from a national brand of a packaged food to a locally or regionally made product.

Make Some Meals Meatless

I think most people know that eating vegetables, beans, fruits, nuts, and whole grains are part of a healthy eating plan, yet Americans do not seem to eat enough of these foods. One simple (but not necessarily easy) way to eat more plants is to devote less space on your plate to meat or to push it completely off the plate. This does not mean you have to start eating tofu or kale, unless you want to, which I do not.

Nowadays, most Americans are far removed from where our food comes from so you may not realize that eating meat has a ginormous and far-reaching environmental impact. Out of the ten suggested resolutions in this post, eating less meat is probably the best thing you can do for your own health and Earth’s.

New Year’s Resolution: At least once a week, for one meal, fill your plate with plants and no meat.

Opt for Organic

For most of human history, farmers grew food organically meaning without pesticides, genetically modified organisms, or sewage sludge and they did not need to wear hazmat suits at work.

Nowadays, thanks to organic food fans demanding and buying organic food for several decades, it is now widely available and reasonably affordable. Farmers markets, co-ops, and CSA shares are good sources of organic food and even national grocery market chains and big box stores are stocking at least some organic food, especially produce.

New Year’s Resolution: Switch to buying the organic version of one type of fruit, vegetable or other food product each month of the year.

Sign Up for a CSA Share

Envision yourself picking up or having delivered to you a box of freshly picked seasonal produce each week during the growing season where you live.

Fresh winter produce from weekly CSA share.If this appeals to you, then consider signing up for a CSA (community supported agriculture) share from a local farm in your area. Some CSAs will include fish, dairy, meat, or other local food products.

New Year’s Resolution: Locate a local farm that has a CSA program and then sign up for one year.

Ugly is Undervalued

American farmers do not even harvest over 10 million tons of food a year because it does not meet USDA voluntary standards for size, shape, and color, which wastes all the energy, water, and people power that went into growing it.

The fledgling ugly food movement is trying to change our perception of what constitutes edible food. This could lead to more food being harvested and made available to feed more people.

New Year’s Resolution: Join the ugly food movement. At least once a month, make a point of seeking out and buying weird and ugly looking produce like three-legged carrots or weirdly shaped apples.

I hope this post gave you some ideas about how you can put a green twist on your healthy eating New Year’s resolution for 2018. You can learn how to make a specific and measurable resolution and get tips on healthy eating by reading the posts New Year’s Resolution – Make it SMARTER and The Secret to Making Healthy Eating Easy.

What is my New Year’s resolution for this year? I am pondering a resolution involving sugar, something along the lines of learning about the environmental impact of the sugar industry or trying to figure out what constitutes a reasonable daily amount of sugar and then eating only that amount. Clearly, this is too broad and undefined for a New Year’s resolution so perhaps I need to reread the SMARTER post myself.

Happy New Year!

Featured Image at Top: Healthy Eating Vegetable Stir-Fry Dish – Photo Credit iStock/Mizina

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Aluminum Beverage Cans – Environmental Impact

In 2012, approximately 38.2 billion aluminum beverage cans ended up in U.S. landfills, the equivalent of 121 cans for every American man, woman, and child. 1

Cases of Soda Cans Stacked to Resemble American Flag - Photo: Daniel Oines
Cases of Soda Cans Stacked to Resemble American Flag – Photo: Daniel Oines

Seeing giant stacks of soda cans at the grocery market got me thinking about aluminum beverage cans and wondering about their environmental impact. I decided to look into it and share what I found out.

Aluminum

After oxygen and silicon, aluminum is the third most abundant element in the earth’s crust and the most abundant metal. Aluminum is an active metal, meaning it likes to react or combine with other elements so rarely occurs by itself in nature, instead it is found in numerous ores combined with lots of different minerals. Bauxite ore is the most common source of aluminum.

Aluminum is a valuable material.

Aluminum is lightweight, strong, easy to form, corrosion resistive, and infinitely recyclable. It has good reflective and conductivity qualities, is impermeable, and non-combustible.

We may not think about it, but aluminum makes our daily lives possible. A few of the products made with aluminum include cars, airplanes, trains, electronics, lighting, window frames, door frames, siding, bicycles, packaging, and beverage cans.

Aluminum Beverage Can Manufacturing

Let’s begin at the end of the process. This 5-minute video from the Discovery Channel shows aluminum beverage cans being made at dizzying speed.

As you can see, making a seemingly simple aluminum can is not simple. Next, let’s get a glimpse of what’s involved in making aluminum and learn about some of the associated environmental issues.

Bauxite Mining

Bauxite deposits (red from iron oxide) usually occur in horizontal layers close to the surface and are primarily located in tropical and subtropical regions. Much of the world’s bauxite mining is in Australia, China, Brazil, Jamaica, Guinea, and India. The U.S. has small amounts of bauxite in Arkansas, Alabama, and Georgia, however almost all of the bauxite used by U.S. aluminum manufacturers is imported.

Mining ores is a dirty destructive process and bauxite mining is no different.

The majority of bauxite is surface mined. This requires stripping everything off the surface of the land: trees, shrubs, plants, flowers, animals, top soil, and even rocks to expose the bauxite. Giant excavators dig up the bauxite and huge trucks, rail cars, or conveyor systems transport it to a refining plant.

Bauxite Mine in Kabanga, Zambia - Photo: Dharni Sampda
Bauxite Mine in Kabanga, Zambia – Photo: Dharni Sampda

Since bauxite mainly occurs in tropical areas, clearing the land contributes to rainforest deforestation and loss of biodiversity. Bare land does not retain rainfall and causes erosion, sedimentation build up in rivers and streams, drinking water pollution, and farmland degradation.

An ecosystem develops over hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of years. Post-mining attempts at remediation can never replicate or replace what was destroyed.

Bauxite Refining – Bayer Process

The Bayer process invented in 1887 by Carl Josef Bayer is used to extract aluminum-bearing materials from bauxite.

Rock crushing machines grind the bauxite into smaller pieces, which feed into pressurized vessels filled with a hot solution of caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) and lime (calcium oxide). The bauxite dissolves. Insoluble materials are filtered out and pumped into holding reservoirs. The remaining solution is cooled, seeded with crystals to help it solidify, and heated at extremely high temperatures (in excess of 960°C) to remove the remaining water, which is released as steam. The resulting fine white powder, alumina (aluminum oxide), is shipped to aluminum smelters to be made into aluminum.

The filtering process leaves behind a toxic sludge, commonly called red mud or red sludge. Red mud is highly caustic and may contain radioactive materials and heavy metals. The high pH of red mud is strong enough to kill plants, animals, and burn airways if breathed in. Eventually, the red mud dries out, is buried under a layer of soil, and becomes a toxic landfill.

Toxic Red Sludge from Broken Bauxite Red Mud Reservoir Floods Kolontar, Hungary – Photo: Gyoergy Varga MTI / AP
Toxic Red Sludge from Broken Bauxite Red Mud Reservoir Floods Kolontar, Hungary – Photo: Gyoergy Varga MTI / AP

Aluminum Production – Smelting

Smelting is the process of extracting metal by heat and melting. Aluminum is produced using electric current to separate the oxygen from the aluminum in alumina. The Hall-Héroult smelting process invented in 1886 is still in use today.

The alumina is dissolved in a molten (950°C) electrolytic bath within huge rectangular steel containers lined with carbon or graphite called pots. An electric current is passed through the electrolyte and flows between a carbon anode (positive), made of petroleum coke and pitch, and a cathode (negative), formed by the lining of the pot. The carbon anode is consumed during the process and must be replaced.

Molten aluminum is siphoned off and moved to holding furnaces. Sometimes alloys are added but not always, and then it is cast into ingots or made into rolls and shipped off to aluminum product manufacturers.

Workers Moving Molten Aluminum at Alcoa Aluminum Smelter in Wenatchee, WA - Photo: Alcoa via IEC
Workers Moving Molten Aluminum at Alcoa Aluminum Smelter in Wenatchee, WA – Photo: Alcoa via IEC

Aluminum production requires such massive amounts of electricity it’s has been called congealed electricity. It takes 15 kWh of electricity to produce just 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of aluminum. That’s enough electricity to power the average American home for half a day or more. Depending on the smelter location, electricity is produced by coal, natural gas, or hydroelectric power plants.

Smelting aluminum emits greenhouse gases and toxins including carbon dioxide, fluoride, sulphur dioxide, dust, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, and toxic effluents.

The Bottom Line

Mining and refining bauxite and smelting aluminum is immensely energy intensive, uses large amounts of water, and generates air, water, and soil pollution. Making aluminum is harmful to the environment and the people who live near mining, refining, or smelting operations. Some companies involved in the aluminum industry are working to increase energy efficiency, decrease pollution, remediate mining areas, and reduce impacts to local communities, but making aluminum is not a benign process.

Aluminum is clearly a valuable material with a gigantic environmental footprint and social costs most people don’t see or perhaps even know about. So what can we do?

Let’s go back to the aluminum beverage can. Makers of aluminum drink cans and companies that sell soda, beer, and energy drinks in them tout aluminum’s recyclability, but that deflects attention from the real issue.

Bales of Crushed Aluminum Cans Awaiting Recycling – Photo: Town of West Boylston, MA
Bales of Crushed Aluminum Cans Awaiting Recycling – Photo: Town of West Boylston, MA

The real issue is that it’s wasteful to use a valuable material like aluminum to make a can we open, drink its contents, and then get rid of. Even if we recycle the cans, which Americans only do 54% of the time, recycling still entails transporting, sorting, and smelting the cans, which all use additional energy, water, and resources.

So the next time you’re about to grab a six-pack of beer cans from the store cooler or load a couple of cases of soda cans into your shopping cart, stop, think about it, and then walk on by.

If you do buy that six-pack or case, make sure you recycle the cans!

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References

  1. These figures were calculated using an estimated average can weight of 0.5 ounces, data from the U.S. EPA Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal Tables and Figures for 2012 report, and U.S. Census Bureau 2012 U.S. population statistics.

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