MAPLEWOOD / MILLBURN / SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — During the weekend, from Jan. 11 to 13, the Green Teams of Maplewood, Millburn and South Orange joined together for Greener To-Go, a joint initiative made possible through a grant from Sustainable Jersey and funded by the PSEG Foundation. Through Greener To-Go, three participating restaurants made a commitment to saving the environment.
Each time they received a food order to go this weekend, Cactus Charly in Maplewood, La Strada Nuova in Millburn and Ariyoshi Japanese Restaurant in South Orange reduced plastic and Styrofoam consumption by using sustainable take-out packaging and delivering the food in a reusable shopping bag.
“The idea for Greener To-Go was developed by members of all three towns’ Green Teams and essentially came from trying to find ways to address the problems associated with our society’s consumption of disposable plastics and Styrofoam and the associated toll they take on the environment after they are used,” South Orange Trustee Walter Clarke, a leading member of South Orange’s Green Team, told the News-Record. “No material is perfect, all will impact the environment in different ways, but some are better than others! We could all supply our own reusable containers for take-out, but the next best solution is for restaurants to switch to more eco-friendly packaging.”
According to Clarke, each restaurant was given 600 reusable bags and 600 each of three different sizes of recyclable containers.
“The brown Bio-Plus Earth containers are competitive in price, made in the U.S.A. from 100-percent recycled paper — minimum of 35-percent post-consumer content, 100-percent processed chlorine free,” Clarke said. “Bio-Plus and Southern Champion food trays can be recycled when cleaned of food. The Eco Products soup containers included in some orders are not recyclable, but are made with 24-percent post-consumer recycled content, which helps save natural resources. Their lids are not recyclable but are made from PLA, a plant-based plastic from 100-percent renewable resources rather than oil.”
In addition to this weekendlong initiative, the Green Teams also created a two-minute survey, which can still be taken by visiting www.greenertogo.org, to gather public opinion data to help move more restaurants in a more eco-friendly direction. Survey respondents do not need to have participated in the Greener To-Go restaurant weekend.
“We have not yet surveyed the restaurants to get that data, but our anecdotal conversations revealed that business was increased but they did not expect to run out of bags during the weekend,” Clarke said. “Additionally, of the 60 people who responded to the survey — as of your deadline — 81 percent said getting more sustainable take-out packaging was ‘Very Important’ and 18-percent said it was ‘Important.’ Furthermore, 44 percent said they would be ‘Extremely Willing’ to pay more for food packaging that is environmentally friendly and 35 percent said they would be ‘Willing.’”
While Greener To-Go only worked with three restaurants last weekend, the Green Teams have said this is just the start.
“Awareness of an issue is the start of how to address it. In this case there is a market for the convenience of take-out food but there are unseen costs to the products used,” Clarke said. “If consumers demand more sustainable alternatives, then the industry will respond. Tapping into our desire for take-out food provided a good test case and opportunity to reduce our local ecological footprint and effect change.”
Sustainable Jersey, a partner on this initiative, agreed.
“Nothing beats seeing a great idea turned into a reality. The Greener To-Go campaign is a creative approach to raising awareness about the need to eliminate Styrofoam and plastic pollution. Sustainable Jersey grants support green teams and municipalities working at the local level to create vibrant and sustainable communities,” Sustainable Jersey Executive Director Randall Solomon told the News-Record. “Millburn, Maplewood and South Orange are leaders in the Sustainable Jersey program; all three towns are Sustainable Jersey-certified and serve as examples of the power of collaboration as they work toward the goal of a more sustainable New Jersey.”
Photos Courtesy of Kristi Ranieri