‘Skip the Straw’ Effort in Sea Bright

June 6, 2018
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Litter retrieved by Clean Ocean Action volunteers during the 2018 Beach Sweeps.

By Chris Rotolo |

SEA BRIGHT – Councilman Charles H. Rooney is asking borough residents and establishments to “skip the straw.”

In an effort to maintain a healthy oceanic environment integral to the borough’s success, Rooney is working to establish a movement that would have restaurants and eateries within the municipality think twice about handing their customers single-use plastic straws and containers.

“The way I see it, as residents of Sea Bright, we have a relationship with the ocean,” Rooney said. “And if we can come together and make a more conscious effort to improve the health of our ocean, I think that will only improve the strength of our community.”

In April, the Sandy Hook-based environmental group Clean Ocean Action released its annual Beach Sweeps report, an analysis of the debris the organization’s volunteers collected from New Jersey beaches in 2017.

The report determined a record-setting 373,686 pieces of trash were collected from 60 individual sites and 53 towns around the state, with plastic accounting for nearly 85 percent of the items removed.

“The idea is finally starting to stick. People are finally beginning to realize the wasteful society we’ve become because of single-use plastics and the devastating toll it’s taking on the environment, marine life and public health,” said Clean Ocean Action Executive Director Cindy Zipf, whose group conducts beach sweeps twice a year in the spring and fall.

“We’re excited when our towns make an effort to reduce the use of plastic. Every effort is welcome, because it all adds up. We need to continue these efforts and conduct them in a way that is sustainable and forever,” said Zipf. “We need to give up these plastic items.”

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There are several options for customers and businesses to use straws and takeout containers without opting for plastic or foam products, including paper straws and boxes or stainless steel straws for personal use.

As a local business owner in his own right, Rooney – who operates Rooney Produce Company Inc. – understands that the cost of investing in alternative biodegradable products could be a deterrent for his fellow proprietors, but the councilman also believes it’s still a course of action that should be considered.

“I can’t say that it’s something everyone could do or afford, but I would hope it’s something business owners would at least think about,” Rooney said. “Visitors and residents of Sea Bright need to realize that we’re not the same town if the ocean is polluted. We all need to look to the future. We can’t continue to operate like we are for the next 20 years.”

2nd Jetty Seafood is one Sea Bright eatery that has already taken steps to protect the shore community and the marine life living off its coast from harmful plastic products, by transitioning to paper straws, among other methods.

The restaurant is also part of the Surfrider Foundation’s Ocean Friendly Restaurant Program, an initiative that recognizes establishments with no expanded styrofoam use, proper recycling practices, no plastic bags provided for takeout orders, reusable tableware only used on site and to-go utensils only issued upon request.

“Anything we can do to help the cause. We feel the responsibility to do our part,” executive chef Kyle Hopfensperger said. “As well living by the shore and owning a restaurant here, we’re all surfers and fishermen who love the ocean and what it means to our community. It’s important to us. And we want to use the platform we have to protect it.”

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From a local government point of view, Rooney believes implementing a law banning the use of plastic products would be difficult to enforce.

However, a grassroots movement may make a more immediate impact.

“I don’t see how we can enforce it, but I know some people would like to see it happen. What we do have is a thoughtful community of people and business owners,” said Rooney.

“I think if we keep this initiative in the front of our minds, we can make a real difference all over the Jersey Shore.”

This article was first published in the May 31-June 7, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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