FATE OF THE EARTH
Editor’s Note: This report was issued Monday, April 22, after the League of Women Voters of the Cooperstown Area surveyed the use of plastics in downtown Cooperstown.
By MELINDA HARDIN & MAUREEN MURRAY
Special to The Freeman’s Journal & Hometown Oneonta
COOPERTOWN – Our Planet Earth cannot digest plastic. With that fact in mind the League of Women Voters of the Cooperstown Area has partnered with other local environmentally conscious organizations, to encourage local retail merchants and restaurants to reduce or eliminate the use of plastics. “We also want to educate consumers about eco-friendly shopping and eating out behaviors”, said League member, Melinda Hardin, who initiated this project.
Over the past two weeks, League members visited 48 local merchants and restaurants and completed a brief face-to-face survey on the use of, and interest in, reducing or eliminating the use of plastics and non-recyclable or non-compostable materials, as well as barriers to eco-friendly practices.
League surveyors were Rosemary Brodersen, Charlie Egan, Vicki Gates, Melinda Hardin, Dot Hudson, Rich McCaffery, Maureen Murray, Susan Newman, Eulene Smith, Ellen Spencer, and project member Natalie Wrubleski. Of the 48 businesses visited, League members were able to speak with owners or managers in 36. Establishments included apparel, dry cleaning, memorabilia, gifts, books, hardware, spirits, bakery, flowers, art, baseball, and a variety of cafes and restaurants.
The Cooperstown League of Women Voters has a long history of paying attention to recycling and related issues. An early (1990) project saw the League partnering with the Otsego County Conservation Association (OCCA) to promote recycling to the public. The collection of tons of recycled items proved that individuals would modify their behavior in order to help the environment. Almost thirty years later, the League, along with OCCA, Otsego 2000, The Otsego Land Trust, and local business woman Natalie Wrubleski of The Champagne Hippie, are adding a fourth R to “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: “Refuse.”
“I love the idea of the fourth “R”, said Dot Hudson, a longtime member of the League of Women Voters. I’m not only using my re-useable bags at grocery stores, but also at hardware and drug stores in town. When we hosted visitors from out of town, we carried reusable bags for the items and souvenirs my guests purchased. We declined plastic and other take away bags all over town.” Unfortunately, the ability to refuse is limited when businesses have no control over the plastic packaging that comes to them from their distributors.
Educating consumers is vital for promoting waste reduction. Although the focus has been on changes in products and packaging, consumers and store and restaurant owners can decide not to create the waste in the first place. Danny’s Deli Manager, Marguerite Loiacano, reports that the store offers a discount to customers who bring their own coffee containers. Lori Fink, owner of Tin Bin Alley, offers a “Take Back the Tap” program allowing customers to fill a water bottle from her tap at no charge. The survey conducted by League members learned these good “eco-friendly” practices and many more.
The Farmers’ Market is promoting the replacement of plastic bags with alternatives, such as cotton mesh bags made by students, and a “leave one, take one” collection of reusable bags. Alex Gunther, manager at Mel’s, has researched a reusable, branded fold-up bag for takeout orders. They are considering offering takeout customers the opportunity to purchase the bag at cost and receive a discount when they bring the bag back for their next order.
All but one business provided a take-away bag or container. All but three businesses were familiar with environmentally friendly products, with 100% being willing to use them. The survey found that many businesses are already using eco-friendly products, but that cost is an issue. Availability, quality, ability to protect the merchandise and corporate/distributor decisions were other barriers.
Most of our retail merchants use paper (21), rather than plastic bags (12) as their main take-away item. Five merchants have reusable bags. Our survey found that many food service businesses had already made eco-friendly choices in takeout containers. Two reported using Styrofoam, and eight use disposable plastic, but all others reported using metal/aluminum, waxed paper/cardboard, and compostable items. Gordon Clarkson, director of Event Management at the Otesaga Hotel, demonstrated all the plant-based, compostable items used at the hotel’s food services. Cost was found to be the most important factor for both retail and food businesses in deciding what type of take-away product to select, but environmental impact was also important to most retailers. Other issues include safety of the merchandise, storage, appearance, sturdiness, and in some cases, “what corporate provides”. One business reported customer complaints with the use of eco-friendly products.
Virtually all the businesses surveyed were willing to share sources of information about products and/or to consider group purchasing of eco-friendly products to gain cost savings.
We found that most food businesses ask customers if they want a straw before providing one, but most are still using plastic straws. Two restaurants use plant-based paper straws. Restaurants were asked whether they would allow customers to bring their own takeaway containers. There was a solid “yes” from ten respondents, though they report that few customers have done that yet.
In addition to learning about current eco-friendly practices and barriers, the League and its partner organizations wanted to compliment businesses when they do the right thing and encourage readers to ask businesses to practice good environmental behaviors as well as to support them. In addition to what is described above, we learned that:
- Metro cleaners uses ecofriendly soap and recycles the dry-cleaning plastic
- The Baseball Hall of Fame will give customers a free cloth bag if they spend more than $50.
- Bruce Hall uses only paper bags and offers cardboard boxes, which they receive in abundance from their distributors.
- Ellsworth and Sill carries “Repair the World” clothing line, made from recycled materials
Are you a good eco-consumer? Bring your own container for takeout. Use reusable bags beyond the grocery store. Refuse a plastic bag. Make a point of letting all merchants know that eco-friendly is your preference.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refuse. “It’s the future,” says Phil Andrews, owner of Nicoletta’s.