The Product Stewardship Institute (PSI), a nonprofit committed to reducing the impacts of consumer products, is working with local eateries in the North Fork of Long Island, N.Y., to help them cut their use of single-use plastics and, ultimately, divert aquatic trash from eastern Long Island waters.
In addition to reducing plastic pollution and cleaning up local beaches, the Aquatic Trash Prevention (ATP) program aims to improve waste generators’ bottom lines and to demonstrate how other businesses can do the same.
Collaborating with multiple restaurant venues and local tourism boards,
PSI hopes to turn around a big problem: seven of the top 10 contributors to aquatic trash are single-use plastics, according to the Ocean Conservancy. This waste has wreaked havoc on eastern Long Island for decades, killing marine life, wrapping around boat propellers and clogging engine cooling water.
PSI is serving as the eateries’ advisor with a particular emphasis on reaching disadvantaged and minority-owned business enterprises.
“[T]hey struggle the most and stand to gain the most,” says Megan Byers, PSI’s associate for policy and outreach programs. “Sustainable practices can save them money but don’t necessarily require large investments. It could be changes as simple as giving out straws only when customers request them, or switching from one-time use plastic plates to ceramic plates,”
Through its ATP program, PSI will help businesses transition to sustainability practices. The team will provide tips on how to reduce plastic footprint, including identifying reusable, compostable or recyclable alternatives to plastics. It will also analyze the financial and environmental cost benefits of switching to alternatives.
Participating businesses will receive $1,500 to help finance costs associated with transitioning to a source reduction plan—for instance investing in dishwashers or launching campaigns to educate their customers.
On a larger scale, PSI will focus on helping to develop collection infrastructure, creating business procurement policies to minimize or eliminate disposable plastics and developing model municipal and tourism board policies that provide options for plastic reduction.
The goal is to create source reduction plans for participating businesses by May 2017 and to implement them this summer. By the fall PSI will develop procurement policies based on the results of the pilot and will create model municipal and organizational policies in coordination with local governments.
“Ultimately, we plan to complete a toolkit to help other businesses in the region and across the country replicate the successes of this project, through lessons learned,” says Scott Cassel, executive director and founder of PSI.
Some of the focus of the current project has been on getting businesses to buy into change—something many see as risky to their bottom lines.
“We hope to show reduction in plastics can mesh with what they are doing and help them discover ways they may not have thought of to help reduce their operational cost and environmental impact,” says Byers.
Then there is the potential for competitive advantage.
“Both customers and employees like to know that the businesses where they work and frequent care about the community. This is a way to show that they do,” says Cassel.
The project is funded by a grant from US EPA Region 2 in New York and New Jersey as well as money raised by PSI.
It is administered by New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC) who was looking for projects that would work toward achieving the goals of EPA’s big-picture Trash Free Waters program.
“PSI was chosen because we appreciate their upstream approach focused on businesses, their experience with this type of work, and their list of collaborative partners,” says Drew Youngs, environmental analyst, NEIWPCC.
The team is as focused on research as on helping develop best practices. Targeting multiple eatery types, this project will contribute quantitative data (cost savings, pounds of waste avoided, number of disposables avoided, time saved) and testimonial intended to validate that any business can integrate plastics source reduction into their operation.
Another project component is surveys to identify types, quantity and origin of plastic beach debris to better understand who to target to cut waste, and how to best do it—and ultimately to take their work further than Long Island.
“We hope that this project can be replicated throughout the New York region and nationally,” says Cassel.