By Jill Higgins
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 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. Some have helped A Climate to Thrive (ACTT) to create community solar farms, while others are getting solar panels through the Solarize MDI initiative. Still other businesses in Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor and Tremont were solar pioneers before ACTT formed.
Businesses are experimenting with delivering products by bicycle or hybrid electric car.
Some have 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 with reduced electricity costs while protecting our climate and future.
Many of the environmental leaders I have talked with buy as much local and regional, sustainably grown or harvested food as they can. Some grow some of their own. Others have creative ways to freeze trimmings or unused portions of food items for later use.
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. Some restaurants here even “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.
Many have found ways to compost some waste as well. I was amazed to learn that even lobster, crab, oyster, clam and mussel shells are compostable. Harder shells are first broken down using a dedicated wood chipper.
Creative waste reduction ideas have been a big success with customers. Some takeout businesses sell reusable jars or encourage customers to bring their own, offering the food or beverage at a discount if it’s going in a reusable container.
For people who don’t bring containers, compostable food and drink packaging is on the rise. Even restaurants using plastic utensils are beginning to asking takeout customers whether they need utensils, a simple practice that prevents a lot of plastic waste.
Some businesses have food waste and compost picked up twice a week. It’s taken to Portland to an anaerobic digester.
Paper straws for beverages are a bit more expensive than the plastic ones, but this too can be offset by providing them only on request.
Restaurant owners are now on the lookout 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 super-busy restaurant kitchens.
What motivates these business owners to take the measures they’re taking to protect the environment? Love of nature, conscience and concern for our collective children’s and grandchildren’s futures.
As one said matter-of-factly, “It’s the only way we’re going to be able to run our business for the next 30 years.”
Jill Higgins is a resident of Tremont and member of A Climate to Thrive.