BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The National Aquarium in Baltimore is leading a nationwide effort among aquariums to reduce the amount of plastic waste being dumped into oceans and rivers every year.

Aquarium officials have said goodbye to plastic cups, utensils and more from the dining areas, and they say that’s just the beginning.

“We realized that those single-use plastics were really hurting the environment and we figured we needed to walk the talk,” says Dale Schmidt, the aquarium’s chief operating officer.

The aquarium is teaming up with 18 others across the country to reduce some of the nearly 9 million tons of plastic waste making its way into our oceans annually.

“There are over 5 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean, and people estimate that by 2050 there could be more weight of plastic in the ocean than fish,” says Kris Hoellen, the aquarium’s chief conservation officer.

Since January, the aquarium has been hard at work removing plastic from the aquarium’s cafe, replacing plastic water bottles with glass and aluminum containers.

Now, nearly everything there can be recycled.

“Anything that’s in the restaurant right now is compostable with only one exception,” Schmidt says.

Officials say they hope to reach as many as 20 million Americans with their message, like Deanna Stratiff, visiting from Buffalo, who says she’s a fan of the idea.

“It’s way better than than polluting and it really brings joy into my heart,” she says.

Schmidt says the participating aquariums will also team up with vendors to create new packaging designs that don’t include plastic.

“We can prove that we don’t need plastic to do everything we do on a daily basis,” he says. “We can use other products.”

Aquarium officials say water filters installed a few years ago have prevented some 650,000 plastic water bottles from entering the water.

They’re also working to reduce plastic in other parts of the building, like the gift shop.

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