Talk of the Town - June 2018
- story by Ellis Anderson
A ground-breaking Gulf-wide movement kicked off in Bay St. Louis at the end of April with a pilot program geared to wean restaurants off their single-use plastics addiction. The Mockingbird Café (110 South Second Street) has partnered with a group called Plastic-Free Gulf Coast (PFGC) and has committed to providing their customers with eco-friendly options instead of conventional plastic products.
The café will also be collecting data and providing feedback to PFGC, hoping to make it possible for other Gulf Coast restaurants to follow more easily in their wake.
Talk of the Town
Englebretson says the effort stems from the fact that plastic pollution is continuing to increase, despite efforts to curb it. Calling it “a pandemic,” she believes the only way to stop the pollution is to cut back use of it to begin with, by using biodegradable options like paper and sugarcane-based “plastic.”
The Mockingbird Café pilot program is being funded by a small grant through the Gulf of Mexico Alliance. Some of the grant money is being used to help pay for biodegradable non-plastics during the weaning away period. Customers are also being asked to pay a quarter extra.
The pilot program grew out of inspiration from the Starfish Café’s successful effort to go plastic-free. The Starfish (211 Main Street) is a project of the non-profit, Pneuma Winds of Hope. Di Fillhart is the organization’s executive director and manager of the Starfish Café. Fillhart says the café started going plastics-free four years ago.
Fillhart believes that the straws by request only is a good way for a business to get its feet wet in the burgeoning new green-market economy. “Our first step was to start with paper straws. Now we’re using a plant-based plastic straw.”
Cutting back usage of the seemingly insignificant drinking straw might seem like a wasted effort. How could that alone make a dent in the enormous amount of waste produced in this country? But Englebretson says that US citizens alone use 500 million plastic straws each day. To put it in perspective, in a single year those straws could fill Yankee Stadium.
Not once, but nine times over.
Bay St. Louis is the hub of the pilot program that is slated to spread across the five Gulf Coast states, and the city is also the birthplace of PFGC itself. The organization began in 2016 as a project called Plastic-Free April. Three local women concerned about plastic pollution - Kerr Grabowski, Carole McKellar and Ann Weaver - led a public challenge asking people to go without using plastic for one month.
“In the Gulf states, we don’t have a green economy where people have access to plastic alternatives,” Englebretson says. “We’d like to create one. And we’re even finding that some of the alternatives to plastic are now less expensive.”
The Mockingbird has already explored sustainable-practice options through the years. The newly launched program, overseen by manager Whitney LaFrance, has is pushing the sustainability-business model envelope. Owner Alicein Schwabacher found herself asking, “Do we even need some of these products? And if if we do, can we replace the plastic with something less harmful to our ecology and customers?”
“All of us at the Mockingbird want to be part of the solution,” said Schwabacher.
Englebretson believes that sort of attitude can lead to big changes.
“We just all need to work together and support each other,” she says. “We can make this happen.”