"During fall, 2016, the Newport Harbor Trash Skimmers (NHTS) removed 1,338 pieces of plastic from Newport Harbor. This plastic has likely been introduced to the environment over the years, and has broken down into smaller pieces of plastic that are now being removed by the NHTS," Clean Ocean Access shared on Facebook back in March.

On Sunday, April 22, we celebrate Earth Day and with that in mind, let’s discuss sustainability. First celebrated in 1970, Earth Day is now present in over 193 countries globally where various events are held to show support for environmental protection.

Over the course of the past few years, a great deal has taken place towards achieving a higher level of sustainability here on Aquidneck Island. The plastic bag bans are the most obvious, with businesses adapting to the legislation and finding alternative ways to help you carry your groceries and other purchases home. For the most part, the transition has not been a huge hassle but changing with the times has proven difficult for some. At the end of the day, is it that overwhelmingly inconvenient to pack a few reusable bags in your trunk for grocery runs or pay an extra dollar to purchase one rather than complain about having to use a less-sturdy paper option? ‘The times they are a-changin,’ and it’s important that we all buy in to this progression towards a cleaner, greener Newport.

There are many different ways that we can contribute to this cause but it is essential that we address and adapt to these policies in order to ensure that our city remains a beacon of sustainability for future generations.

On April 1, 2018, local island favorite and award-winning brand Empire Tea & Coffee announced their “Have it Here” pricing, which encourages patrons to bring their own reusable cup or purchase a reusable option at the store. If you do need a take-out container or cup, you’ll be assessed a small fee for the item. The discounts applied to reusable glassware will offset the material costs that they will not need to purchase for the store and thus, Empire has decided to pass that on to you! Partnering with Clean Ocean Access on this clean environment initiative, Empire Tea & Coffee is one of many local pioneers taking a huge step towards reducing their plastic footprint and inspiring others in the community to make changes.

Last month, local favorite Thames Street Kitchen reopened in the Revolving Door space on Thames Street. Corey Hayes, who left his position at Gurney’s to take the helm of the front of house operations at TSK, wanted to make sure that sustainability was a cornerstone of his beverage program. “I want to make sure that people are aware of sustainable bar programs and to know that food waste is a major issue that’s going on in the restaurant industry,” said Hayes. “I think it’s very important that we all be aware of our surroundings and environment. Every little effort can make an impact in the end.”

Thames Street Kitchen is implementing eco-friendly procedures throughout their restaurant such as only using edible garnishes in their cocktails, finding ways to transform citrus when it is no longer renderable on the bar and reducing the amount of ice that normal cocktail bars blow through in a single service. The whole TSK team is involved in the process and the back of the house works directly with the bar to ensure that waste is minimal. Hayes proudly mentioned that nearly 75% of the wine program comes from eco-friendly, sustainable wineries and he’s not shy in sharing his passion for vino. Along with these approaches, TSK has completely eliminated plastic straws and stirrers from their restaurant, electing instead to offer metal reusable options that essentially act as silverware for cocktails.

The Clarke Cooke House, one of the most notable sailing bars/restaurants in the world, decided to make changes last summer and now only serves paper straws upon request. Their involvement and impact with the local sailing community only make this partnership more important. Another sailing staple in town, IYAC, went strawless last year as well. In collaboration with Sailors for the Sea, the lower Thames Street institution decided that its recognition as a sailing bar warranted a responsibility to move away from single-use plastic straws. A Sailors for the Sea poster is proudly displayed with the phrase “Skip the Straw, Save a Sea Turtle” for visual reinforcement. The Tavern on Broadway was one of the first restaurants in Newport to implement a strawless policy and now serve paper straws only upon request. Other Broadway staples such as Fifth Element, Malt and Caleb&Broad have also adopted some form of alternative straw program to reduce waste in their restaurants.

Another fantastic organization that is forwarding sustainable approaches in our community is Aquidneck Community Table, whos Zero Waste Initiative has provided a call to action across the island. ACT hosted a showing of WASTED! in mid-March at Jane Pickens Theatre. Directed by Nari Kye and Anne Chai and starring the likes of superstar celebrity Chefs Anthony Bourdain, Mario Batali, Danny Bowien and world-renowned Massimo Bottura, this documentary examines the future of food and the importance of identifying and remedying the growing issue of food waste from a global perspective. Roughly 40% of food produced in the United States is wasted, a staggering statistic that can be avoided through education, encouragement, and implementation of programs that divert the opportunity for waste.

Aquidneck Community Table is an organization that combines all aspects of a community in order to provide access to an equitable, affordable, accessible and sustainable food system for all of Aquidneck Island. Their mission statement, which can be found on their website, www.aquidneckcommunitytable.org, is largely based on taking practical steps in the present to provide parity and preservation with food for the future. It is the foundation of their organization and a concept that is easy to follow. is largely based on taking practical steps in the present to provide parity and preservation with food for the future. It is the foundation of their organization and a concept that is easy to follow.

Along with educating the community about waste, ACT also operates farmers markets in Newport and Middletown; three farms, two in Newport and one in Middletown; a food scrap collection and composting program; an annual Food Summit in partnership with Salve Regina University and an annual Food Challenge. Be sure to follow them on Facebook to keep up with their organization and upcoming initiatives!

Newport Vineyards is also taking strides towards sustainability. Through their CULTIVATE program, the Vineyard’s own social responsibility group, employees are spearheading a ‘go-green’ campaign with the goal of eliminating single-use plastics on their campus. One of the biggest and most beautiful venues that Aquidneck Island boasts, the Vineyard’s move away from single-use plastics is a huge promotion for island-wide sustainability and one that their team could not be more proud of introducing. I sat down with Cassandra Earle, director of sales and marketing for Newport Vineyards and Allison Wilke, food and beverage supervisor, to discuss their initiative. “As an agricultural business, farm to table and vine to wine glass, it only makes sense to make changes that support environmental protection and continued sustainability,” said Earle. “Allison has years of experience working with eco-friendly organizations and has been persistent in escalating our efforts here at Newport Vineyards.”

With the impending arrival of the Volvo Ocean Race in May, many groups are gearing up to welcome thousands of unique visitors and make the Newport stopover as eco-friendly as possible. Environmental organizations like community leader Clean Ocean Access have started taking efforts towards achieving this goal. COO and members of their sustainability committee, organized by executive director Dave McLaughlin, are encouraging venues across the island to take the Clean Seas Pledge and Turn the Tide on Plastic;

“The Volvo Ocean Race Sustainability Committee is proud to advance the amazing efforts and accomplishments of the America’s World Cup and 2015 Volvo Ocean Race at Fort Adams State Park, hosted by Sail Newport. The Sustainability committee has aligned the game plan with the guidelines of the Volvo Ocean covering five main areas and fourteen sustainability objectives. A main thrust of the 2018 effort will focus on making the call to action to take the “Clean Seas Pledge” to Turn the Tide on Plastic. As of January 29, 2018, over 7,223 entities have taken the pledge worldwide.

Here on Aquidneck and Conanicut Island we are building momentum and suggesting that businesses, schools, and organization take the pledge to (1) skip the straw, (2) recycle, (3) eliminate foam, (4) celebrate without balloons, (5) source responsible foods, (6) compost, (7) conserve water, and (8) be kind to one another at all times. Efforts are already underway with like-minded non-profits organizations, volunteer community groups, schools, and individuals who are championing efforts to make these things happen, even before the race arrives.”

To volunteer or find out more information on their continued efforts across the island, please visit their website at www.cleanoceanacess.org. To take the Clean Seas Pledge, please visit http://www.volvooceanrace.com/pledge. As of April 13th, approximately 78,462 people have taken the pledge thus far!

The ‘skip the straw’ and ‘stop sucking’ campaigns that are gaining momentum across the country is one that is near to my heart. Each day while working behind the bar, I see how many straws are wasted rather than reusing or simply not using at all. I wonder how many of these plastic tubes end up in Newport Harbor, Narragansett Bay and eventually the Atlantic Ocean.
Across North America, cities are proposing legislation and bars/restaurants are opting to not offer single-use plastic straws to their customers. From Manhattan Beach in California to Asbury Park in New Jersey, establishments have pledged to eliminate straws or withhold them unless asked by a patron. Numerous organizations have popped up throughout the country to educate the general public about the unnecessarily egregious use of these suckers, as over 500 million straws are used and discarded each day in the United States alone. Over 2,000 plastic water bottles are used every second in the United States and close to 90% of discarded plastics are not recycled.

Newport has some wonderful organizations and campaigns that are conscious of this pollution and its effect on our waterways such as local 501(c)(3) Sailors for the Sea, an entity that unites boaters to protect the ocean. Their platform is based on four key programs that allow participants to take action towards change; Clean Regattas, KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans), Ocean Watch (a series of informative articles from around the globe) and a Green Boating Guide, an eco-friendly handbook that helps boaters reduce their environmental impact.
Green Drinks Newport, organized by local environmentalist Kara DiCamillo, is an organic, self-organizing network of eco-conscious individuals that is present in over 567 cities worldwide. Green Drinks Newport began in 2007 and holds events on a monthly basis. Their last event, which was held in early April at Newport Shipyard, generated a lot of attention and continued their efforts towards a greener city. Along with her Green Drinks affiliation, Kara also serves on the board of directors for Clean Ocean Access. To participate with, host an event or have questions as to how you can help, please visit the website at www.greendrinks.org or contact Kara directly at Kara@6square.com.

Along with these organizations, small campaigns such as The Last Straw, which I organized last March in hopes of bringing awareness to bartenders and servers within the local service industry, are available for reference. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram for continuing coverage on their community efforts. (@thelaststrawnewport)

With the popularity of Newport continuing to grow and showing no signs of slowing down, it’s our responsibility as residents of this island to protect our greatest assets; our shorelines and ocean, for years to come. It’s essential to invest in our future and take steps towards preservation, protection and anti-pollution. We all can make a difference, no matter how large or small, to improve our island’s impact on the global footprint.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. You can’t climb a mountain in a single step and pollution isn’t going to be fixed by one individual. Skip the straw or bring your own, remember your reusable bags, compost at home and do what you can to encourage change in your neighborhood.