It’s a question everyone asks: What am I eating for dinner? But after a long day of working and a fridge full of ingredients that need to be prepared for a meal, the answer to the question is often to order takeout.
But along with the food delivered to the house are a plethora of condiment packets that are already in the fridge and plastic cutlery that’s simply thrown out to be replaced by silverware waiting in the drawers.
Rather than having these disposable items go to waste, Grassroots Environmental Education has launched the Plastic-Free July campaign, which Port Washington restaurants are participating in by omitting single-use plastics in their take-out orders.
Grassroots Environmental Education is an environmental health nonprofit established in 2000. Executive Director Patti Wood said its mission is to educate the public about the link between common environmental exposures and human health impacts.
The Plastic-Free July campaign is an initiative working solely with Port Washington restaurants and food establishments to drop the use of plastics in take-out orders throughout the month of July.
Participating restaurants include 21 Port Washington eateries, such as DiMaggio’s, La P’tite Framboise, Gino’s and Toscanini Ristorante.
Wood said many participating restaurants have enjoyed the program and are considering implementing the plastic-free practices beyond the month of July by asking where they can purchase the BioBags for continued use. A BioBag is a compostable, non-plastic bag for take-out orders.
“Which is exactly what we want them to do,” Wood said. “Which is to continue this past July because A: their customers want it, B: they’re saving money not putting all the plastic things in every single bag, and C: they’re responsible people too. They know that climate change is upon us. They know that plastics are part of the problem, that plastic production creates a lot of greenhouse gases.”
This includes participating restaurant Amalfi at 49 Old Shore Rd. in Port Washington.
Owner Raffaele Semia said they think the campaign is a great idea and he was willing to participate in it. He said it has been going well, with customers loving the program and the restaurant is looking towards continuing the initiative past the month of July.
Wood said this campaign and the organization’s plastic-free initiative are for the purpose of advocating for human health.
As a science-based organization, Wood said Grassroots Environmental Education is constantly conducting research.
Leading up to the campaign, Wood said the nonprofit’s research found most takeout orders are being delivered to residences. This means that for many people, they already have cutlery and condiments in their homes.
“These are non-essential things that are going into every take-out food order,” Wood said.
Plastics omitted from the takeout orders include straws, cutlery and condiment packets.
Environmentally conscious replacements are also being used, including restaurant packaging supplies and carry-out bags. Grassroots Environmental Education is providing all participating restaurants with a BioBag.
Wood said that plastics are toxic at varying levels, including during plastic production and in use, with research showing that humans and other living beings now have levels of nanoplastics, or minuscule plastic fragments, in their bodies. These plastics are not only found in humans but also in plants and water supplies.
“And do we know what the long-term impact of this is? No, we just haven’t done enough medical research to actually understand,” Wood said.
She said many of the chemicals used to make plastics are known carcinogens and toxins for humans.
“We’re in a really, really existential problem right now and we are really at a turning point,” Wood said.
She said that none of the methods of disposing of plastics are viable as they contribute to the plastics pollution in our environment. Plastic-Free July is instead showing people the best solution, which is simply finding alternatives to plastics and ultimately ending the production of them.
This is the first Plastic-Free July campaign hosted by the nonprofit, which is kicking off in Port Washington. It is inspired by legislative actions, some taken in New York City and in Westchester County, called Skip the Stuff laws that prohibit food establishments from providing single-use plastics unless requested by the customer.
Nassau County does not have any Skip the Stuff laws enacted. So while the Plastic-Free July campaign is focused at a hyperlocal level, Wood said their intent is to propel the issue to a higher level such as the county Legislature.
Wood said the organization has already provided sample legislation to diminish the use of plastics to a Nassau County legislator and is planning to meet with a Suffolk County legislator to provide the same legislation for both counties to consider.
“We could actually do this like Westchester did and like New York City did,” Wood said. “Why not do this island-wide?”