By Miles King, The Watershed Project Intern and Albany High School EDSET student
This spring, students at Albany High School (AHS) have helped The Watershed Project (TWP) in an outreach effort to encourage Albany restaurants to adopt more environmentally friendly practices and reduce litter. The “Sustainable Lunches Earth Day Campaign” is a multi-pronged initiative, created by Paula White at TWP, in preparation for Earth Day shoreline cleanup at the Albany Bulb on April 22nd.TWP will host an Earth Day shoreline clean-up at the Albany Bulb to reduce trash going into the Bay, as part of its work to promote and educate our community about cleaning up our waterways. The students seek to influence local businesses to reduce food packaging, such as plastic straws and bags, and to increase student awareness about their lunchtime food habits that adds to more trash and litter. The goals of the project are to support green restaurant practices in Albany and to inform consumers, specifically high school students, on the impacts they can have in being green and influencing green business practices.
Environmental Science students visited Albany restaurants of their choosing and completed an observational checklist at each restaurant. From this checklist, students identified specific changes that the restaurant could adopt to improve their sustainability. Some of the common improvements that were identified included asking customers if they needed bags, utensils, straws, or napkins and using less plastic for packaging take-out orders. It was also apparent that certain restaurants were already exemplary, notably Kirin and Cafe Raj, both on Solano Ave.
In late March, students attempted to contact the restaurants they visited to suggest the changes to the restaurant owners or managers. Of the restaurants contacted, only the student who contacted Oori Rice Triangles, a Japanese restaurant on Solano Ave, was able to set up a meeting. Oori’s manager, Chris, was very receptive to suggestions, and agreed to ask customers if they need a bag, and further research paper bag options to replace plastic.
However, not all Albany restaurants, were as receptive to student outreach, and AHS students were unable to set up meetings or even get responses from most restaurants they contacted. During this project, we found that restaurants were unwilling to change their successful business plans unless completely necessary. As the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Without regulations from the city or significant pressure from customers, businesses are reluctant to adopt more complicated and more sustainable practices.
And that’s where we, as consumers, come in. We have the power to alter business practices and the amount of waste that restaurants produce. We can put pressure on our local restaurants to be more sustainable by eating and spending money at restaurants that use minimal packaging, that recycle and compost waste, and use organic, locally sourced ingredients. We can also make personal choices to reduce the individual amount of waste that we create. Some suggested actions include:
- Asking cashiers to not give you a bag, utensils, or napkins
- Avoiding plastic straws
- Recycling or composting waste from your take-out orders
- Bringing a reusable mug for coffee or tea
These things, when done repeatedly over a year, or lifetime, can make a significant impact on the amount of waste produced in our neighborhood and will reduce litter that ends up in our urban creeks and the Bay. And it will put pressure on businesses to improve their sustainability!
As consumers, we have an incredible amount of power. Let’s use that power to make our cities green! In addition, you and your family and friends are invited to join The Watershed Project on Earth Day, Saturday, April 22nd, at the Albany Bulb for our shoreline cleanup from 9:00am to 12:00pm. For more information, sign up on EventBrite.