Growing up in Gig Harbor, I’ve always loved the ocean. Walking on the beach and skipping
rocks, seeing pods of orca whales swim through the Sound and soaking up sun on the paddleboard are only a few moments that have made growing up in the South Sound area so special to me. I have also been privileged to explore the ocean through SCUBA diving. Swimming with turtles and tiger sharks off Maui and with whale sharks off the coast of Mexico, I have realized how diverse the ocean really is.
My first dive was off of Sunrise Beach on a cold November morning through thick green water under the Narrows Bridge where the Giant Pacific Octopus lives. Like many people in Gig Harbor, I feel connected to the ocean. I think about ocean health, so when I read in “National Geographic’s” June 2018 issue that it is estimated that “between 5.3 million and 14 million tons [of plastic end up in the ocean] each year just from coastal regions,” I wondered what we could do locally to lessen our impact on the ocean and the creatures living in it.
Hearing about Seattle’s recent legislation to ban plastic straws from the city, I was curious about Gig Harbor’s efforts. I approached Mayor Kit Kuhn, who is “hoping restaurants will volunteer on their own to not use straws (...) instead of [having to] create rules and regulations.” Mayor Kuhn’s confidence in local restaurants is well placed.
After speaking with the mayor, I interviewed owners of local restaurants working toward sustainability. Blue Agave, Jersey Mike’s and Menchies spoke with me about their plans to become more sustainable. Gary Parker, owner of BBQ2U, taught me that the definition of sustainability isn’t set in stone. We spoke about sustaining the tradition of barbecue and later about choices he makes revolving environmental sustainability. “We do not use plates, only butcher paper, and the reason we do that is we don’t have to wash dishes or put soap into the Sound.” Also, BBQ2U’s leftover fats and oils are made into biodiesel.
Speaking to another company, Fish Girl Seafood, I learned their version of sustainability is using locally sourced products and selling to local consumers. Owner Frank Ralph urges customers to “get back to basics and cook from scratch.” Sustainability is multi-faceted, focusing on not only plastics but also byproducts of kitchens themselves.
After this, I expanded my search to coffeehouses and taprooms. Gig Harbor Brewing eagerly shared the fact that they recycle as much as possible and use no harsh chemicals to prevent runoff into the Sound. When asked about what GHB hopes to do in the future, owner John Fosberg wrote, “This fall, we will be installing a new canning line. Aluminum cans, when made from recycled aluminum, can cost less to produce than glass bottles. They store beer more efficiently and for a longer period of time—that saves energy and waste. Aluminum cans are much more likely to be recycled by our customers.”
When asked what challenges restaurants may face when taking a sustainable path, many owners mention the cost of compostable plastics. However, Mr. Fosberg has shown that sustainability can not only be cost-efficient but also save time and money!
Another concern companies face is the response they will get if they refuse to offer straws. Lunchbox Laboratory was surprised to find that since they’ve given up straws with water. “No one even asks for them!” Sustainability is not as daunting as it may seem, and there are many alternatives to plastic. Lunchbox has switched to compostable straws, and their to-go silverware is made of compostable cornstarch. Additionally, Occasions Coffee and Crepes “uses compostable and recyclable plastics in packaging cups and containers.” Many restaurants are following in these footsteps. Edible Arrangements is looking into “getting rid of [plastic straws, cups and silverware] and switching to a compostable.”
At Millville Pizza Co., I met with owner Alyssa Ross, who explained that the restaurant has taken steps to be more environmentally conscious. They don’t offer straws, plastic utensils or to-go cups. All pizza and salad boxes are recyclable, and the restaurant recycles glass every week.
Millville is affiliated with the SurfRider Foundation and is a Certified Ocean Friendly restaurant. For Millville, the owner explained, “Implementing sustainable business practice is an obvious choice. We have an obligation to future generations to take care of the environment and want to do our part, however small it may be.” Employee Riley Haizilpis, a member of the SurfRider Foundation, guides Millville Pizza Co. to become more ocean friendly.
Another restaurant protecting the ocean is Table 47. Tomoko Senechal explained they “recycle like crazy” and “never provide plastic utensils, bags or straws.” Senechal excitingly shared, “We compost our own craft paper towels from restrooms on site in our worm farm in the basement!” Table 47 also saves raw vegetable food-prep scraps to donate to a local pig farm for their feed, diverting food waste from local landfills.
I continue to be impressed by the depth of care local business owners are taking to ensure that less plastic ends up in the ocean.
If you would like to contact the owners of the restaurants I interviewed to commend them on the positive steps they are taking, a great public forum are the Facebook pages “Gig Harbor Town Talk” and “Gig Harbor Positive Town Talk,” where you can give helpful feedback to encourage businesses to continue promoting sustainability in their establishments. Together we can create a long-lasting environment in which future generations can continue to enjoy a clean ocean.