Plastic is everywhere—in the containers we eat from, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear and more. Each year, up to 13 million tons of plastic waste ends up in our rivers, lakes, coastlines and oceans. Most of it starts out on land as litter on our beaches and sidewalks and is eventually swept into storm drains, creeks, streams and rivers that lead to the ocean. There, marine animals ranging from fish to seabirds to dolphins ingest small bits of plastic that may cause severe damage and even death.
The restaurant industry is a big consumer of single-use plastic straws, bags, bottles and other containers that end up as plastic waste. Initiatives such as the Surfrider Foundation’s Ocean Friendly Restaurants program support a new wave of sustainably-minded businesses that want to reduce plastic waste while also raising awareness about the problem.
How it works
Ocean Friendly Restaurants is a voluntary, membership-based program in which restaurants agree to meet five criteria:
- No expanded polystyrene use (aka Styrofoam).
- Proper recycling practices are followed.
- Only reusable tableware is used for onsite dining, and disposable utensils for takeout food are provided only upon request.
- No plastic bags offered for takeout or to-go orders.
- Straws are provided only upon request.
They also agree to choose two additional sustainable practices such as implementing energy and water efficiency measures, recycling, composting, and choosing to offer only sustainable seafood as defined by Seafood Watch or certified as sustainable. Restaurants who meet all of the criteria are recognized as a Platinum-level Ocean Friendly Restaurant.
The membership fee is based on a sliding scale ranging from $125 to $175 annually for local businesses based on the number of employees at the restaurant. The fees go toward administration of the program and the production of educational materials, such as table tents, posters and social media graphics that restaurants can use to educate their customers. An army of Surfrider volunteers works with member businesses to assist in sustainability efforts and help market those efforts.
Ocean Friendly Restaurants was launched as a pilot program in Huntington Beach, Calif., in 2013 and has been slowly spreading to other parts of the country. Nationwide, more than 160,000 plastic-free meals are served by Surfrider Ocean Friendly Restaurants every single day, according to the organization.
Strength in numbers
“Ocean Friendly Restaurants are proving that businesses can be part of the solution to cleaning up our oceans,” says Bri Goodwin, Oregon field manager for the Surfrider Foundation. At a recent Oregon Coast Visitors Association (OCVA) Strategic Advisory Group town hall meeting, Goodwin gave an overview of the program and invited attendees to share her contact info with businesses seeking help with meeting any of the program’s criteria.
“For some businesses, a seemingly simple activity such as offering paper straws only upon request is a huge effort. It requires buy-in from everyone, from the owner to the manager to the servers,” Goodwin says. “Once restaurants get one thing down, though, they can move onto other things.”
Goodwin says that two of the biggest challenges facing businesses on the Coast are access to supplies and cost. Many local suppliers don’t carry paper straws, for example. And if they do, the cost is prohibitive. “We are fairly small as a new business, so we don’t have much buying power with vendors,” says Ed Cortes, co-owner of Bosque Café & Espresso Bar in Newport. Even so, the restaurant—the only platinum-level Ocean Friendly Restaurant in the state of Oregon—has made a commitment to become a “zero-waste” restaurant.
“When we decided to open the café, we wanted to do more than ‘ditch the straw,’” he says. “It sends a message, but if you look at what we consume as restaurants, straws are such a small piece.” The restaurant does not offer any to-go containers, including coffee cups, which often takes people by surprise. Cortes says their policy encourages people to bring their own mugs or slow down and enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee. And, the portion sizes at the café are “right-sized” so that there are rarely leftovers that need to be taken home.
Goodwin says she recognizes that widespread adoption of ocean-friendly business practices will take time and consumer buy-in. Many people seek out restaurants like Bosque Café & Espresso Bar and the Salmonberry Saloon in Wheeler because of their commitment to sustainability.
“One restaurant, one customer, one supplier at a time, the program is leading to behavioral change,” Goodwin says.
Salmonberry Saloon photo by Robbie McClaran