Don’t Suck: Ocean Friendly Restaurants Save The Ocean One Straw at a Time
Forgo that plastic straw. Skip that plastic cover on your coffee. Mindful consumption of single-use consumer plastics results in a significant positive impact on the environment, and even one person’s effort makes a difference. A walk along one of Wilmington’s beautiful beaches makes the issue glaringly apparent. Straws suck.
Wilmington-area organizations Surfrider Foundation and the UNCW Plastic Ocean Project, reach out to restaurants to help them reduce plastic usage, especially single-use consumer plastics. More than two dozen restaurants have been ocean-friendly certified. Multiplied by hundreds of thousands of diners, the effort of these ocean friendly restaurants is significant.
“In Wilmington – especially because we are along the coast, and so many of us have come here or stayed here, because of the natural beauty of the area – we are working to help protect that by raising awareness of unnecessary use of straws, plastic cups, packaging, plastic bags, and the like,” says Cordelia Norris, Rise Above Plastics coordinator for Surfrider Foundation. “We do regular beach cleanups, and straws are one of the top things that we find. They simply don’t break down. They will be in the environment for the next 1000+ years. We are working to decrease plastics in our environment in a variety of ways, initially by reaching out to local restaurants to reduce their use of plastics and make the whole Cape Fear region a cleaner and healthier environment.”
The outreach program connects with restaurant owners in the Carolina Beach and Wilmington area. Surfrider and UNCW POP are focused on similar environmental outcomes.
“Individual diners need to realize that a plastic item they use provides temporary convenience. It’s going to be in the environment – on the beach or in the ocean – for the next thousand years. If you use it for twenty minutes, that’s a terrible trade-off,” says Cordelia. “People can bring their own re-usable cups – it will save them money over time and significantly reduce plastic waste – and they can reject plastic straws. Bring your own re-useable straws. Buy a re-usable coffee mug. That saves hundred of plastic lids and paper cups. Think about what is unnecessary and make conscious decisions about what you are disposing.”
Restaurant diners produce staggering amounts of plastic waste. Straws and stirrers are the top waste products found in marine environments during coastal cleanups, notes Cordelia. Ninety-percent of seabirds, whales, fish, and turtles are ingesting these plastics. Those plastics make their way up through the food chain, and back onto our food plates.
Don’t expect to find a styrofoam container or plastic straw at Wilmington’s many ocean friendly restaurants. Sealevel City Gourmet, which has earned the “Ocean Friendly Establishment” certificate, offers straws only upon request. Each table and booth prominently displays a “Skip the Straw” sticker. The infrequent diner who insists upon a straw receives a paper version. Sealevel is also committed to non-styrofoam packaging for all leftovers and take-out orders, and uses only paper containers and bags. Offering a global menu, with extensive vegetarian, vegan, and seafood options, Sealevel and the retaurant’s regular patron fan-base readily note the synergy between healthy eating and the commitment to environment-friendly initiatives.
“Be mindful of your single-use plastic consumption,” counsels Traci Lyn Hobson, vegan health coach and environmental advocate. Traci outlines simple steps to reducing your own use of plastics, including buying in bulk and bringing your own to-go containers to restaurants.
Traci carries a beverage mug, stainless steel straws, and a wooden fork and spoon in her purse so that she can always decline plastic products. Sometimes a server can’t fill a diner’s own mug, she notes, but it’s easy enough to pour your drink into your own mug, and to use your own stainless straw. “It doesn’t take a lot of effort to carry your own re-usables, and just one person can make a significant difference,” she says. “And, of course, let the owners of ocean friendly restaurants know that you appreciate their commitment to the environment. Be sure to thank them for stepping up.”
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