This month, Grassroots Environmental Education is hosting the “Skip the Stuff” campaign to encourage local restaurants to go plastic-free. More than 20 food establishments in Port are participating in Platic-Free July as part of an international effort to reduce using single-use plastic.
Grassroots Environmental Education is a New York-based non-profit organization founded in 2000 by Doug and Patti Wood. Its programs are based on science, and its network of environmental experts includes leaders in environmental toxicology and medicine. Grassroots educates the public about environmental health issues by developing programs and professional materials to help the public understand scientific research. Grassroots also sponsors the Port Washington Farmers’ Market, where no plastic bags or plastic cups are permitted.
When Grassroots started in 2000, they tackled the issues of pesticides, educating the public on the link between environmental exposure and human health. Pesticides are used for lawns and landscapes, but they are poisons that can move through the environment, contaminating our air, water, and food supply.
Grassroots was able to get groundbreaking legislation passed. They started with small steps by getting pesticides banned at all schools in Port Washington; eventually, they were able to take it to New York State and have a law passed prohibiting pesticides in all schools.
The organization has evolved and shifted primary focuses as other environmental issues have become more problematic. While plastics have been around for a long time, it is now emerging as a major environmental and health problem.
“[Plastics has] gone from being a litter problem to a major public health problem,” said Patti Wood, founder and executive director of Grassroots Environmental Education.
“Everybody hated seeing plastic bags stuck in trees, along the roadside or stuck in fences. Now from an international standpoint, it’s become a planet boundary because plastics have become so ubiquitous.”
A planet boundary means it’s impacting the planet’s ability to be sustainable. Patti Wood shared that “nanoplastics and microplastics are now so ubiquitous in our environment that all of us are breathing them in, drinking them in our water and eating them in our food. Everyone on the planet now has microplastics in their bloodstream and in their lung tissue.”
Plastic packaging is one of the main problems with the plastics issue. Plastic manufacturers make plastic packaging, including plastic bags, candy wrappers, juice bottles, toy boxes and almost anything else you buy from a store.
To take small steps toward minimizing the use of single-use plastic, Grassroots is participating in Plastic-Free July with the “Skip the Stuff” campaign in Port.
“There’s no better place to do it than on Long Island, where we have an incredibly dense population and an incredibly dense number of restaurants and take-out food establishments,” said Patti Wood.
The restaurants participating in the campaign will only include plastic utensils, condiment packets or straws on request and will deliver food orders in biodegradable “Bio Bags” instead of plastic.
The Grassroots team has been working hard to go to local restaurants, pass out flyers and explain the “Skip the Stuff” campaign. Among the restaurants that have signed up to be part of the Plastic-Free July program are Amalfi, Andys’ Pizzeria, Ayhan’s Restaurants, Bosphorus Cafe, Carlo’s Pizza, DiMaggio’s, Finn MacCool’s, Gino’s, Haven Diner, Hinck’s Deli, La Petite Framboise, Louie’s, Naranatto, Nino’s Beach, Pepe Rosso, Schmear’s, Toscanini, Waterzooi and Yummy Gyro.
“Port has been fantastic. We’re still adding new restaurants to our list of participating establishments, and they’re enthusiastic,” said Patti Wood.
Not only are these restaurants reducing their single-use plastic consumption, but they are also saving money since they aren’t automatically putting the straws, utensils and condiment packages in their take-out bags.
“Majority of people ordering take-out are residential take-out orders,” said Patti Wood. “And everybody has a drawer of silverware, and they’ve got ketchup and mayonnaise in their refrigerator. So they don’t need these packets.”
Grassroots is supplying the “Bio Bags” for restaurants with funding from the Peter and Jeri Dejana Foundation. When July ends, Grassroots hopes the participating restaurants look into purchasing “Bio Bags” and continue using them for take-out needs.
“We already have two restaurant owners ask where we get the bags from so they can keep using them,” said Patti Wood. “That’s exactly what we wanted to hear. That was the best news I got last week.”
While supplying the “Bio Bags” and educating the public on how to reduce the use of single-use plastic is a priority of this campaign, Grassroots hopes to inform the people about the recycling plastic misconception.
“Recycling plastic is a myth,” said Patti Wood. “Plastic is a mixture of fossil fuels and chemicals, many of them toxic to humans. When you burn plastic, it releases highly toxic gases into the air. When you dump plastic into landfills, it degrades with exposure to the elements and eventually migrates into the air and water sources. The idea that the plastic you place into a big blue bucket will be recycled into a useful item is just false. Less than 6 percent of all plastic actually ever gets recycled.”
In addition to the “Skip the Stuff” campaign, Grassroots is working on the next step, which is having written legislation to reduce the use of single-use plastic for Nassau County. Grassroots hopes that with the campaign’s exposure and success in Nassau, they can get Suffolk County on board as well.
Local government officials have been speaking out in support of Grassroots and the “Skip the Suff” campaign to encourage more local restaurants and residents to educate themselves of the plastics problem.
Town of North Hempstead Councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte said, “I really admire the Grassroots Environmental Education organization for spearheading the implementation of the Plastic-Free July initiative here in Port Washington. I proudly support this program, and will be working hard throughout the month of July and beyond to not only limit my consumption of single-use plastics, but also prioritize purchasing other recyclables like glass and paper. Every little bit helps, and I highly encourage residents of Port Washington to visit Grassroots Environmental Education’s website to gather invaluable tips on how to avoid plastics throughout the month.”
New York State Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti said, “I want to thank Patti Wood and Grassroots Environmental Education for spearheading the Plastic-Free July in Port Campaign. Initiatives like this are instrumental in educating our neighbors on the environmental harms caused by plastic, and how small changes in our everyday habits can have a big impact.”
To learn more about Grassroots Environmental Education and how to be more plastic-free in your life, visit www.grassrootsinfo.org