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06 • 14 • 2021

Bringing Back Reusables

By Rachael Coccia

June 16th was World Refill Day and this year the call to use reusables is more important than ever.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a tremendous amount of challenges. Among them was the misconception that reusables were somehow no longer safe. This was a strategic ploy by the plastic industry in order to boost sales of single-use plastic – something they even lobbied for at federal agencies and directly to members of Congress. They took advantage of fear in a time of uncertainty to give false hope in products that would ultimately create an even larger mess. Scientists quickly debunked these claims, ensuring us that reusables are still safe and the virus is not primarily spread through surface contact. Yet the damage had been done and for much of 2020 reusables seemed to vanish. Plastic pollution, however, became worse than ever with the introduction of new items like single-use masks and gloves as well as a spike in takeout orders. It is not uncommon for a single order to come with as many as 14 single-use items!

With the vaccine becoming widely available in the US and many restaurants shifting back to onsite dining, we are at a pivotal moment to reopen with reusables. Many of Surfrider’s Ocean Friendly Restaurants are once again serving reusables for onsite dining; avoiding plastic bags, bottles, and straws; never packaging food in polystyrene (aka Styrofoam); and only offering takeout accessories like utensils upon request. You can view our interactive map of over 670 restaurants across the country and a full list of criteria at surfrider.org/ofr.

In fact, a number of Ocean Friendly Restaurants have taken the program one step further by once again accepting customer-owned reusables for refill. These restaurants have listened to customer concerns and are proudly leading the way back to inclusive sustainability practices. Refill leaders include Cosmonaut Coffee Co. and Devil's Reef in Tacoma, WA; Ocean Alley Restaurant & Beach Bar in Hollywood, FL; Farm-To-Barn Cafe in Haleiwa, HI; Olena Cafe in Honolulu, HI; and Pineapple in Paradise in Kauai, HI.

For restaurants that are still feeling uneasy about refilling a customer’s cup or container, Surfrider has recognized two streamlined, sanitized, and contactless protocols. Ocean Friendly To Go is a project designed by Surfrider’s own San Diego chapter as a way to address the enormous amount of plastic waste generated by takeout. The premise is simple: dedicate a table or section of counter space as a transfer station, serve the meal on shop-owned reusables, allow the customer to transfer the food into their own containers, bus the area as if the customer had dined in. Watch the process unfold in this concise video featuring the volunteers who designed it. #ContactlessCoffee is a campaign from City to Sea in the UK which outlines an equally straightforward protocol for coffee shops. Simply provide a sanitized tray for the customer to place their cup on, make the beverage in shop-owned reusables, pour it into the customer’s cup, and allow the customer to grab and go! See is demonstrated in less than a minute with this catchy video.

The solutions are here and ready to be implemented! You can help by dusting off your reusable bottle, giving it a good cleaning, and filling it up before you leave the house. If you’re in need of a bottle, visit Surfrider’s shop to show you support healthy ocean, waves, and beaches. Keep a cup with you and ask your favorite coffee shop to fill it up, even if they say no you can feel good knowing you are part of the conversation. Once restaurants see there’s enough demand, they will need to address it. That’s where Ocean Friendly To Go and #ContactlessCoffee can help. Offer them as solutions and ask about any progress the next time you stop in.

The pandemic may have set us back, but we don’t need to stay there. Together we can come back stronger, more resilient, and with a higher priority for just and equitable solutions for all.