Vicki Conlon, of the Surfrider Foundation, spoke to a group of volunteers Jan. 14 at OB Surf Lodge.
Conlon briefed the “recruits” on the particulars of Ocean Friendly Restaurants, a program offering eateries an easy way to show their commitment to making sustainable choices, including abandoning use of plastic products, which cut down on ocean pollution.
“This program started in 2015 in response to the rise in plastic pollution along our coastlines and in the ocean,” Conlon said noting the movement is gaining momentum.
“Even just three years ago, you weren’t hearing about it – straws and styrofoam – so much,” she said.
The mission of the ocean-friendly program, said Conlon, is to “increase environmental awareness, drive change and behavior and decrease plastic waste, one customer at a time.”
Why focus on restaurants?
“We found that 70 percent of restaurant’s trash volume was food and beverage packaging: straws, to-go containers and to-go utensils, all those types of things,” said Conlon, adding there are now 144 certified Ocean Friendly Restaurants in San Diego, 411 nationwide.
“The goal for this coming year is to get 600 Ocean Friendly Restaurants,” Conlon added.
Noting Ocean Friendly Restaurants is now a national program, Conlon pointed out, in order to make the program more sustainable, that restaurants participating are now required to be Surfrider members at a nominal cost of $125 to $175 a year, depending on their size.
Conlon said polystrene (styrofoam) is now banned in all restaurants, for meat trays, and in cartons and coolers tourists buy, for fishing equipment, etc.
“Those are going to be outlawed, which is great news,” said Conlon. “It’s a really big deal this passed in a city as big as San Diego.”
How does a restaurant sign up to qualify for the program, and be acknowledged as eco-friendly?
Through education and by recruitment efforts, like the Ocean Friendly Restaurants program, answered Conlon.
With new laws in place this year, there are now five eco-conscious practices businesses, large or small, are being required to adopt. Those are: no use of styrofoam, following proper recycling practices, having only reusable tableware in-house, straws now being provided only by request and no plastic bags offered for take-out or to-go orders.
There are also a number of optional criteria, two of which must be selected in addition to the five required criteria, for a restaurant to qualify as being “ocean friendly.” Those include: No beverages in plastic bottles; discounts for customers bringing reusable cups, bags, etc.; vegetarian/vegan food options; offering sustainable seafoods; using low-flow faucets and toilets and utilizing energy-efficient LED lighting and Energy Star appliances.
Following the debriefing, Conlon and volunteers split up into groups about 8 p.m. to conduct a “blitz” of businesses in OB, spreading the gospel of eco consciousness, promoting Ocean Friendly Restaurants and leaving their contact information for those interested in joining the cause.