San Diego is a popular vacation spot, seeing almost 35 million visitors every year. Along with the city's 1.4 million residents, a significant amount of trash can accumulate quickly.
The Surfrider Foundation, a non-profit organization, recognizes the environmental impact of all that waste and seeks to find a solution so tourists and locals can take full advantage of the sunny skies, placid seas and abundance of breweries.
Bethany Case, owner of Red House Kitchen, took over the 13th Street building in Imperial Beach (formerly known as Red House Cafe) and opened in December of 2017. With the transition came a new name, menu and a desire for healthier options for the community.
Case knew of the Surfrider Foundation from her previous work with the No Border Sewage Campaign and, at the urging of friends, she enrolled her restaurant in the Ocean Friendly Restaurant Program.
The goal of the program, originally started in San Diego and now rolled out nationwide, is to increase awareness, drive change in behavior and ultimately create scalable impact to reduce plastic waste, according to its website.
To become part of the program, restaurants must meet four mandatory criteria which include eliminating Styrofoam and plastic bags for take-out orders, providing reusable tableware for onsite dining and implementing proper recycling practices. Restaurants must also choose a minimum of three additional criteria from a separate list of six, such as installing energy efficient lighting and appliances, offering discounts for guests who bring reusable items and implementing a policy to provide plastic straws upon request only.
Restaurants who follow all 10 criteria are considered Platinum Level Ocean Friendly Restaurants. Red House Kitchen is the second in San Diego County to do so (LJ Crafted Wines being the other) and the first to do so in Imperial Beach.
Case believes restaurants can influence how consumers view their homes and future dining experiences.
"Restaurants make so much waste it’s astounding, but I think (the Ocean Friendly Restaurant Program) is important because we set the example for how (diners) go back to their kitchen," Case said.
The San Diego Chapter Surfrider Ocean Friendly Restaurant Lead, Vicki Conlon, found that the locally-sourced mentality of the food and drink industry in San Diego is harboring a generation of business owners who are more conscious of their carbon footprint.
"There's definitely a movement by restaurant owners to be aware that we are on the coastline and we depend on clean coastlines and clean water," Conlon said.
Case and Conlon both agreed that the program is not only a direct action to combating the restaurant industry’s environmental impact but also a way of informing consumers about those impacts through everyday practices.
Everyone can attest to eating out, whether it’s a sit-down restaurant, a brewery, a food truck, a coffee shop or fast food joint. All of these places, despite offering different items, use similar methods of preparation and serving. If each restaurant were to stop using plastic straws (or other similar practices), it would drastically cut down the city’s plastic consumption.
That, of course, is easier said than done.
Case thinks consumers and restaurants create a habit where consumers are expected to get plastic straws and utensils and restaurants are expected to provide them. She recalls a few customers complaining that the restaurant only offered paper straws. As Case put it, "some people just love plastic, no matter what."
The complaints are outnumbered by the praise, according to Conlon. At a larger scale, Conlon knows restaurant professionals talk to one another and she hopes as more restaurants enroll in the program, it will cause a chain reaction, leading to more change.
Since the program's launch in 2015, more than 100 restaurants are part of the San Diego County Ocean Friendly Restaurant Program. Two currently hold Platinum Level, with a few more on the way, according to Conlon.
If restaurants are interested in participating in the program, there is information online about the criteria to enroll. In addition, diners can find a list of environmentally-friendly restaurants on the site.
"The restaurants help to educate the consumer and vise versa, the consumer can help educate the restaurant," Conlon said.
775 13th St., Imperial Beach, 619.934.3133, redhouseib.com