by Megan Byers
Greenport, NY is a charming seaside village on the North Fork of Long Island.
A few weeks ago, my colleague Vivian Fuhrman and I traveled to the North Fork of Long Island to kick off the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI)’s Trash Free Waters project, a voluntary plastics source reduction initiative funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2 and administered by the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission. Through this initiative, PSI is partnering with four local eateries in Greenport, New York – Alices’ Fish Market, Bruce & Son, Lucharitos, and Tikal.1 – to help them voluntarily decrease the disposable plastic items (cups, straws, take-out containers, etc.) that end up on Long Island’s beaches.
When we arrived in the North Fork, gratitude and support for the project appeared from some unexpected sources.
Vivian and I first presented the project to the Southold Town Board – an opportunity made possible thanks to Southold’s Solid Waste Coordinator, Jim Bunchuck. Our goal was to lay the groundwork for developing a model municipal plan to reduce marine debris on a community level. During the discussion, the Board offered a creative idea: they suggested we create a “Trash Free Waters” emblem that the businesses can display in their windows or on their menus to market their marine debris reduction efforts.
Later that day, we met the participating businesses in the Greenport School for our kickoff meeting. Thanks to the meeting location, teachers Stephanie Pawlik and Brady Wilkins were able to join us and eagerly volunteered to have their students design the “Trash Free Waters” emblem as part of an environmental unit in class. A local artist, Cindy Roe, later contacted PSI and offered to advise the students and judge the submissions. We are now finalizing a plan for the emblem and connecting these volunteers.
Within the following week , at least three local news sources (SoutholdLOCAL, Suffolk Times, and North Fork Patch) published articles about the project. Thanks to this press, the project received many positive comments on social media – in fact, several individuals even suggested their own ideas for reducing plastic pollution!
This sort of community collaboration is a key aspect of protecting our planet. The support we are finding in Greenport is a reminder that, no matter who you are, everyone has their own unique ability to stand up to protect our waterways.
Regardless of the product focus, multi-stakeholder collaboration is a key tenet of PSI’s approach to product stewardship and has been critical to our success. For instance, to address economic and environmental problems caused by leftover paint, PSI facilitated a national group of state and local governments, paint industry representatives, retailers, recyclers, non-profits, and others. After years of research and discussion, that national group created a model paint stewardship bill that now serves as the basis for nine paint stewardship laws passed in the U.S., resulting in 16 million gallons of paint being diverted from disposal, saving governments and taxpayers over $69 million, and creating over 200 jobs.
Marine debris is a visible problem in coastal communities like Greenport, and now a wide variety of stakeholders are ready to address it. PSI knows that this fortuitous synergy from multiple stakeholder groups will boost the participating eateries’ visibility, value, and connection to the community, and that their voluntary plastics reduction effort may serve as a starting point for community-wide action to reduce marine debris.
As a complement to PSI’s Marine Debris Reduction Toolkit for Colleges & Universities, PSI’s work with the Greenport eateries will culminate in a Marine Debris Reduction Toolkit for Eateries that will help businesses and municipalities across the country reduce their contribution to marine debris.
Megan Byers is the newest addition to the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) team. She focuses on packaging, tracking legislation, and communications work at PSI, and coordinates several state product stewardship councils. She’s one of the key staff leading PSI’s Trash Free Waters project.