MDI Businesses Tackle Climate Change & Plastic Pollution

by Jill Higgins

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Millions of people come to Mount Desert Island year after year to be rejuvenated by the nearly pristine beauty of the nature that surrounds and inspires us.  And some of us are lucky enough to live here year round.  We know that sustaining our quality of life and our local economy depends on how well we can protect our environment from the growing threats of climate change and ocean pollution.  Fortunately, we have some local businesses that have been significantly lessening their environmental impacts for years and are a great inspiration and resource on sustainable practices. 

A number of MDI businesses have gone solar.  Peekytoe Provisions and Ocean House Boat Storage have helped ACTT to create Community Solar Farms, and Galyn’s Restaurant, Classic Boat Shop, and Old Dog Baking Company are getting solar panels through Solarize MDI.  Steve Anastasia of Old Dog uses some of the electricity from his new solar panels to charge his hybrid electric car for deliveries - when he’s not delivering by bike!  Skip’s Automotive Services, Ferment, Thurston’s, Ann’s Point Inn, The Mira Monte, and the Thirsty Whale were solar pioneers before ACTT formed.

Kevin and Jessica DesVeaux at West Street Cafe made a huge commitment to energy conservation when they rebuilt their restaurant this year.  They insulated the restaurant and the apartment above it to above code, invested in all LED lighting and heat pumps for heating and cooling, and made the building so airtight that they have to bring in make-up air for their kitchen vent fans.  They invested in a highly efficient beer cooler and walk-ins and whenever they need to buy new appliances, they buy Energy Star certified ones.  They have reduced their electricity usage alone by about 20%, while expanding the building and appliances, and they have plans to get that electricity from the sun in the future. 

Peeky-toe, Thrive Juice Bar, and Galyn’s are others who told me they’ve invested in things like replacement windows, insulation, air-sealing, LED lighting, heat pumps, and heat pump hot water heaters to reduce their fossil fuel use, an investment that they expect will pay off financially over time while protecting our climate and future.

Many of the environmental leaders I talked with buy as much local and regional, sustainably grown or harvested food as they can - and some, like Burning Tree, Havana, Ferment, and Town Hill Take-Out even grow some of their own!  Choosing local, sustainably grown food not only protects our soil, water, fisheries and local economy, but reduces the carbon pollution of transportation and packaging as well.  Peekytoe’s and Town Hill Take-Out’s Maine grown corn tortillas from Tortilleria Pachanga and Northspore Mushrooms actually “carpool” together from Portland for delivery to MDI! 

One of the big challenges for restaurants is reducing waste, especially plastic and foam waste, which last virtually forever and cause huge and growing pollution problems.  Waste is a big contributor to climate change because of all the fossil fuels that go into both manufacturing disposable products (and growing and preparing food) and hauling the waste to recycling facilities and landfills, where even more fossil fuels are used. 

Fortunately, we have some business owners here who are passionate about reducing waste and are leading the way.  All the business owners I talked with use biodegradable or recyclable take-out containers and recycle all their waste that can be recycled, even though they have to take their recyclables to the transfer station themselves or pay employees to do it.  Peekytoe Provisions, Sassafras Catering/Town Hill Take-Out, Ferment, Thrive Juice Bar & Kitchen, Acacia House, and Acadia Cottages have all found ways to compost their compostable waste as well.  I was amazed to learn that Peekytoe even composts their lobster, crab, oyster, clam and mussel shells!  They put the harder shells through a dedicated wood chipper first at their family composting operation in Tremont. 

Megan Williams of Thrive Juice Bar, the winner of the Bar Harbor Chamber’s 2017 Environmental Leader Award, told me that their creative waste reduction ideas have been a big success with customers.  “We sell branded glass jars as retail/souvenir items and offer them at half-off with a purchase of a juice or smoothie. We encourage customers to bring back their jars for reuse by offering 10% off juices or smoothies if they remember to bring back their jar and opt to skip a disposable plant-based plastic cup. So far, our current jar program is a hit. We sell a ton of them and very often see them brought back for refilling!”  She says that a lot of customers  also bring their own reusable containers to be filled with juices and smoothies, and sometimes even for salads to-go.  For people who don’t bring containers, they provide compostable food and drink packaging and collect it there for composting with their kitchen waste.  Their compost is picked up twice a week by Agri-cycle Energy and taken to Portland to an anaerobic digester.

Amanda Kendall of Sassafras Catering & Town Hill Take-Out is similarly committed and creative about reducing waste.  She freezes all their meat trimmings to make stock for ramen in the winter and sells the ramen in reusable glass Mason jars.  Sheila Eddison of Ferment sells her fermented vegetables in glass jars as well, and takes the jars back to re-use. 

Gail Leiser at Galyn’s says they stopped using plastic straws a while ago after she saw a paper straw at Cafe This Way. (XYZ Restaurant uses them too.)  Galyn’s switched to paper and only provide straws when customers request them.  The paper straws cost a bit more, but they use far fewer, so it’s a net savings for them as well as for the environment.  They also ask take-out customers if they need plastic utensils, a simple practice that prevents a lot of plastic waste.  Now Gail’s on the look-out for paper lobster bibs, a good alternative to plastic garbage bags, and practical ways to compost lobster shells and get food waste to local farms in their super busy restaurant kitchen.

What motivates these business owners to take the measures they’re taking to protect the environment?  Love of nature, conscience, concern for our collective children’s and grandchildren’s futures, and as Drew Smith of Peekytoe Provisions said matter-of-factly, “It’s the only way we’re going to be able to run our business for the next 30 years”. 

 

November 10, 2017