Island Eats, the renewable dining pilot program that began in May, added four more restaurants to its lineup: Chilmark Tavern, Waterside Market in Vineyard Haven, Juice by the Sea MV and Aalia’s Coffee in Oak Bluffs. A total of nine restaurants are participating in the program now.
“We’ll have four restaurants in Oak Bluffs, which is nice because we’ll have a small cluster there,” Island Eats founder Jessica Mason said.
The pilot initially started with Bobby B’s in Vineyard Haven, MV Salads, and Pawnee House in Oak Bluffs, and Black Sheep and Katama General Store in Edgartown to provide takeout bowls made up of 75 percent recycled stainless steel during the summer season to combat the impact of single-use packaging on the environment. The pilot works through an exchange system of bowls and tokens. Participants use tokens, which cost $25 each, in exchange for the bowls to hold their food orders. The bowls can be returned to any of the participating restaurants in return for a token. The used bowls are cleaned and sanitized at Kitchen Porch’s commercial facility near Martha’s Vineyard Airport.
At first, the pilot was capped at 120 participants because Mason wanted to be sure it “had the capacity within the program.” However, Mason said the number grew to 170 members.
“Once we started rolling, I was really surprised to find things went incredibly smoothly, and we actually have a lot more capacity in the system than what we planned for,” she said.
Andrea Peraino, who owns Juice by the Sea, said Mason approached her about joining the program. Peraino is “super-excited” to be a part of Island Eats.
“I think it’s a brilliant program, and I think we’re going to do well with it,” Peraino said. “I actually hope it extends past September, because we have so many year-round customers, and we’re year-round.”
The program’s success and the support it has received were hopeful indicators for the Island to Mason. “It’s incredibly exciting to think about the way in which a small group of people can come together and think about alternative ways of doing things we’re really familiar with,” Mason said, referring to the traditional and more wasteful food takeout system. “I think it’s really encouraging to see when we want to think about creating an alternative here on the Island, we can step up and do so, and there’s sort of a community of people that have banded together or come around the initiative to support it, and to make it succeed.”
Mason said some of the earliest members are Island Eats’ biggest cheerleaders. One of these supporters is Monique Burr, one of the earliest members of Island Eats. “I think I had spot No. 5 when I registered. I was very excited,” Burr said. Using the reusable bowl system has been easy for her. Among the participating restaurants, Burr “gravitated” to Black Sheep since it’s somewhat “in the middle of everything.”
Meredith Danberg-Ficarelli, another Island Eats member and a zero-waste professional, described the program as “a trailblazing first step,” and is excited by the potential for it to potentially “leapfrog” other waste-reduction initiatives.
“We cannot expect individuals to be responsible for solving climate change — individual action and community motivation are the foundation upon which systemic change must occur, and individual action creates essential market signals that lead the way,” Danberg-Ficarelli said in an email. “Island Eats is proof that there is demand and support for environmentally responsible systems from both consumers and businesses, and presents a common-sense alternative to disposability in an island economy that pays to import products and also pays to export waste.”
Mason said she also needs to look to the future and think about what growth and scale will look like for Island Eats. The more immediate task is figuring out where the bowls can be washed after September. Island Eats’ usage of Kitchen Porch’s facilities is only until Sept. 30.
“The goal has always been to have this be a year-round program to serve both year-round residents and summer visitors alike,” she said. Three-quarters of members are year-round residents, according to Mason. “There’s certainly demand there to continue past the end of September, so if we’re able to solve the ‘where we wash’ question, we would love to find a way to keep it rolling.”
Sign-ups for the bowls can still be done online at islandeatsmv.com. More information can also be found on the Island Eats Instagram page at bit.ly/3srsGpy. The pilot program runs through the end of September.