Partnership Eyed To Lower Green To-Go Container Costs

OCEAN CITY – Officials with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP) and the owner of Mother’s Cantina are looking for restaurants to join an ongoing initiative to reduce Styrofoam usage and the costs associated with going green.

In a Coastal Resources Legislative Committee (Green Team) meeting this week, Ryan James, owner of Mother’s Cantina, and Sandi Smith of MCBP shared their ongoing efforts to incentivize resort restaurants to replace Styrofoam to-go boxes with compostable ones made from pressed sugarcane.

By partnering the restaurants, James said the buying power will essentially reduce the cost of going green.

“Right now what I am looking at is a 12-cent difference between this and its Styrofoam counterpart,” he told the committee. “That is substantial. So what we want to do is buy negotiation and buy this buying power from aligning everybody together, getting that cost down to maybe a three- or four-cent difference.”

Smith said an AmeriCorp intern working with MCBP is currently calling restaurants to form a larger partnership and collect data on each business’s Styrofoam and plastic usage.

“Under the Maryland Coastal Bays umbrella, we are working to identify what Styrofoam and plastic products they use,” she said.

The compiled list of participating businesses, she said, would then be sent to packers, who will give their best prices.

“We’re contacting them not to sell a product, but create a volume list so we can try to bring a 12-cent price down to an eight-cent price,” she said. “So that would be closer to the six-cent Styrofoam price.”

James said he was in contact with multiple packers over the weekend who he said would provide a cost once the volume list was sent to them.

If the restaurants agree to partake in the voluntary program, they will receive a reduced price per container and will be promoted as an environmentally friendly business, according to Smith.

Councilman Tony DeLuca acknowledged the price difference as being a contributing factor in choosing Styrofoam products over compostable ones and said selling the idea would be beneficial to the success of the program.

“The best thing you can do is sell it,” he said. “I was in the restaurant business for a long, long time and I am familiar with moving from Styrofoam to paper, and what that does to your paper cost is huge.”

He added, “That’s what matters to a restaurant person, when you talk about paper costs, food costs and labor.”

James said businesses could also offset the remaining price difference by adding a modifier on to-go orders, such as a three-cent fee.

“I think 99 percent of our customers aren’t going to be upset about it,” James said, adding that those who are have the option of bringing in their own containers.

James added that the sugarcane boxes themselves are structurally sound and eliminate the need for restaurants to line the containers with foil or wax paper.

“Once people start buying, Styrofoam will be more expensive,” DeLuca said. “That’s our goal.”

In the upcoming weeks, Smith said the team would be reaching out to other restaurants and will continue the initiative, which they started in the middle of last summer.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.