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Surfrider’s Ocean Friendly Program: How Restaurants Are Reducing Single-Use Plastic

As the old saying goes “You are what you eat.” But marine wildlife like seabirds, dolphins, fish, and turtles should not be faced with swallowing the single-use plastic remnants of our meals. With now over 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean, one group decided to tackle this issue right at the source. The Surfrider Foundation’s Ocean Friendly Restaurants (OFR) program was set up to increase awareness, drive behavioral change, and reduce our single-use plastic footprint.

About Surfrider

For 30 years, the Surfrider Foundation has been dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s ocean, waves, and beaches through a powerful activist network. According to their website, they “ensure beaches are accessible, keep our water clean, protect our ocean, preserve our coasts and keep plastic from polluting our waterways.” They use an extended network of chapters and youth clubs to work with non-profit partners on a number of initiatives. Their programs include organizing beach clean ups, preventing new offshore drilling, helping coastal communities adapt to a changing climate, and now transforming how restaurants do business.

Why The Restaurant Industry?

If we stop to think about the single-use plastic that comes with eating out it can be quite overwhelming. From the plastic straws that appear in our drinks without our request, to the endless to go containers, it adds up. The restaurant industry generates huge amounts of plastic waste that often end up in our rivers, coastlines, and oceans as marine debris.

Fortunately, we are starting to see some progress with local governments passing legislative bans on single-use plastic products. But this is not the only option for changing the industry. The OFR Program was set up to encourage and recognize those restaurants that are voluntarily reducing plastic waste. With programs like OFR, we are now starting to see more and more restaurants and companies, such as Starbucks and Disney, moving away from single use plastics.

OFR is seen as a win-win-win solution for restaurants, customers, and those of us working hard to protect the environment. It was originally launched by Surfrider’s San Diego Chapter on Earth Day in 2016. It then spread to other coastal communities throughout the country. Now there are hundreds of OFR restaurants in California, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Washington, D.C.

How The Program Works

The program is set up so restaurants commit to following certain criteria to ensure that they are helping to reduce their impact on the ocean and other water bodies, and also involved in conservation practices.

Restaurants participating in the program must follow the first four criteria:

  • No expanded polystyrene use (aka Styrofoam).
  • Proper recycling practices are followed.
  • Only reusable tableware is used for onsite dining. Disposable utensils for takeout food are provided only upon request.
  • No plastic bags offered for takeout or to-go orders.

Then each restaurant is asked to choose at least three of these criteria as well:

  • Plastic straws are provided only upon request.
  • No beverages sold in plastic bottles.
  • Discount is offered for customers with reusable cup, mug, bag, etc.
  • Vegetarian/vegan food options are offered on a regular basis; and / or all seafood must be a ‘Best Choice’ or ‘Good Alternative’ as defined by Seafood Watch or certified as sustainable.
  • Water conservation efforts, such as low-flow faucets and toilets, are implemented.
  • Energy efficiency efforts such as LED lighting and Energy Star appliances, are in place.

Restaurants who meet all 10 of the criteria are recognized as a Platinum Level Ocean Friendly Restaurant.

Ocean Friendly Restaurants demonstrate to their customers and community that they are committed to protecting our precious environment and ocean. Each participating member receives the following benefits:

  • Ocean Friendly Restaurants marketing collateral including window stickers, brochures, table-tops, and bill inserts to show your membership to your customers.
  • Use of Ocean Friendly Restaurants logos for restaurant menu, website and other restaurant marketing materials.
  • Restaurant listed on Surfrider national and chapter websites.
  • Restaurant included in Ocean Friendly Restaurants national map on Surfrider national and chapter websites.
  • Launch parties and collaborative promotions with your nearest Surfrider chapter.
  • Surfrider chapter social media marketing promotions.
  • Access to national vendor discounts on sustainable restaurant and to-go products.
  • Tax-deductible contribution.
  • Association with a nationally recognized nonprofit with thousands of members and supporters working hard to keep our ocean healthy and protected!

What You Can Do To Help Reduce Single-Use Plastic

In order to really make a difference to protect our ocean, we need to support programs like OFR and spread the word. There are several ways that you can help make Ocean Friendly Restaurants a more common part of your community.

  • Search for Ocean Friendly Restaurants near you and enjoy them with your family and friends.
  • When you are traveling, seek out restaurants on the list. Remember to thank them for their commitment to the environment.
  • Help market these restaurants by writing positive reviews online. Suggest that the groups you are involved with book events there. Share information about them on social media.
  • If you are a restaurant owner, or want to encourage your favorite local restaurants, sign up here.


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