Maui Launches Ocean Friendly Restaurants Program
In celebration of “Earth Month,” local environmental organizations are launching the Ocean Friendly Restaurants Hawaii initiative, a voluntary, grassroots program aimed at reducing the amount of single-use plastics.
“Plastics are one of the most insidious environmental polluters,” explains Lauren Blickley, Surfrider Foundation Maui Chapter’s Rise Above Plastics Coordinator. “Disposable food service items like straws, cutlery, and Styrofoam containers rank as some of the top culprits. By engaging our local restaurants, we are hoping to significantly curb the amount of plastics that reach Maui’s landfill, beaches, and ocean.”
To become certified as an Ocean Friendly Restaurant, participating establishments must meet the following three requirements:
1. No polystyrene (“Styrofoam”) takeout containers
2. Only reusable cutlery offered for onsite dining
3. Proper recycling practices are followed
In addition to the mandatory requirements, restaurants must comply with a minimum of three out of 5 additional requirements, ranging from straws only offered upon request to no beverages being sold in plastic bottles. Restaurants who meet all 8 of the criteria are certified “Platinum.”
On Maui, local policy has already played a big role in significantly reducing plastic bag and cigarette butt litter. Nevertheless, food service items make up a large percentage of the debris that is commonly found on the island’s beaches. Program partners point out that one of the biggest issues is that most of these items are used only once and then tossed.
“Our goal with Ocean Friendly Restaurants is to reward and support those businesses who are taking action to reduce disposable, plastic waste,” says Blickley. “Ultimately, adopting ocean-friendly practices should become the business norm for all restaurants on Maui.”
Plastics are a serious concern, particularly in the ocean where fish, seabirds, turtles, whales, and even plankton ingest plastic pieces. Ingestion of plastics can not only result in starvation, but can also transmit toxins and pollutants between organisms and across food chains. Recent studies also suggest that plastics in the ocean will outnumber fish by 2050. Scientists estimate that more than five trillion plastic pieces are currently floating in the ocean.
“Our students see plastics and marine debris as a major issue. This has inspired them to want to educate others in our community via projects like #sporkitup and Ocean Friendly Restaurants,” says Malia Cahill, Executive Director of Maui Huliau Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides unique environmental education programs to Maui’s youth. Maui Huliau Foundation has partnered with Surfrider to expand the Ocean Friendly Restaurants Program throughout Maui County. Cahill works with the program’s student-based environmental film program to use film projects as a way to educate the public about the impacts of plastic pollution.
“Over a year ago our students had been working on a similar project called Foam Free Future about alternatives to EPS or ‘styrofoam’ take-out containers. When we heard about the Ocean Friendly Restaurants program started by Surfrider San Diego chapter, they were eager to join forces with a local coalition of non-profit groups to launch the program state wide in Hawaiʻi,” Cahill says.
In addition to short film projects that tackle the plastics issue, Maui Huliau Foundation’s “Spork It Up” project also promotes the use of reusable, bamboo “sporks” over single-use plastic forks and spoons for takeout or on-the-go dining.
On Friday, April 21, six Huliau students who have attended an international youth summit about plastic pollution will give presentations at four high schools about marine plastic pollution and pass out up to 1,000 reusable sporks for students to use in place of plastic forks. They will encourage them to spread this awareness and share photos on Instagram for Earth Day on April 22 using their sporks with the hashtags #sporkitup and #earthday.
“I was a member of the original Foam Free Future Team almost two years ago and it has been very exciting for me now that we have started seeing the results and all of the community involvement in supporting our Ocean Friendly movement,” says Tierra Bartolotti, a Huliau student now in her first year at Maui College. “I also attended the POPS [Plastic Ocean Pollution Solutions] youth summit in California in 2015 where I learned more about the devastating consequences that single-use plastics have on our ocean ecosystems. I think that is what really drove me to continue working on this program for a second year, even after I graduated.”
A key part of Ocean Friendly Restaurants Hawaii is not only recognizing ocean friendly restaurants, but also educating non-compliant business about how they can reduce their plastic footprint. The program provides suggestions for eco-friendly product alternatives and connects restaurant owners with suppliers of alternative products.
During the first month, students and volunteers have certified more than 15 restaurants on Maui, including Farmacy in Wailuku, Choice Health Bar in Lahaina, and Seascape in Mā‘alaea. Certified restaurants are listed on the Ocean Friendly Restaurants Hawaii website, promoted via social media, and also have a sticker placed in their front window. See the full list here.
Restaurants can go online if they’re interested in becoming certified as an Ocean Friendly Restaurant. You can also send an email to learn about certification, or if you’d like to volunteer as part of the certification team.
Ocean Friendly Restaurants Hawaii is a statewide initiative that is being run by partner organizations on each island. Partners include Surfrider Foundation, Maui Huliau Foundation, Kōkua Hawaii Foundation, and the Rise Above Plastics Coalition.