Fork in the Road
Ecoagents are cutting back on our wasteful use of plastic-one spork at a time
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Interview by: Norm Clausen
Many years ago, scientists drew a line in the
sand separating man from the animals based
on our use of tools. Tools like the spear, the
torch, the mighty spork. Part spoon, part fork—
is there anything it can’t do? Then, of course, we
found out that all the primates, some rodents,
and even many birds use tools. So that theory
went out the window, and a new distinction
was drawn. It is our ability to hold onto these
tools separated us from the animals.
It makes sense. It would be counter productive
to find or make new tools every time one encountered
the same problem—a waste of energy
and a waste of resources. But this is what
the rest of the animal kingdom does. When Mr.
Otter finds the perfect rock to split clams, he
doesn’t put that rock in his back pocket for later
use—he drops it and finds another one later.
Same story goes for Mr. Chimp and his anthill
poker, and Mr. Crow and his crudely fashioned
nutcracker. No sporks, mind you. When apes
learn how to make sporks, we’re all in trouble.
So what does this have to do with us? Well, it
seems that in the pursuit of convenience, our
quest for disposable tools—forks, knives, plates,
bags, and yes, even sporks—has led us the opposite
way down the evolutionary path. We’re
now emulating behaviors that haven’t been
seen in a humanoid species for over 1.36 million
years. In the mean time, we’ve leveled over
half the world’s rainforests and wiped out thousands
of other species to produce enough paper
and petroleum for these products that are
the emblem of our own de-evolution. In fact, if
we travel further down the path of rainforest
destruction, these disposable products could
be the downfall of our species.
How can we re-evolve, save the rainforests, and
save ourselves? We speak with Anna Ayers of
Ecoagents—a nonprofit organization striving
to lessen our impact on the planet and our dependence
on rainforest resources. Her answer?
Just stop using disposable junk. So simple a
caveman could do it.
The Ecoagents are involved in
social and environmental issues
all around the world, but
tell us about your work that’s
most immediately relevant to
New Yorkers, and that’s your
Eco To Go program.
Eco To Go is a great way to use a
minimum amount of paper and
plastic when ordering delivery
and takeout. It’s an easy way to
tell the restaurant no extras—no
napkins, no plastic forks—just
make it Eco To Go. The restaurant or the
customer can initiate, so it’s an interactive
campaign, and it’s really taken off in New
York. Almost everybody that we approach
these days is already doing something to
conserve, but they’re very happy to have
a something for the customers to call it
now—“Just make it Eco To Go.”
It’s a great way to help the environment,
and we’ve gotten some new restaurants,
We got a new chain in Texas that just got
started with Eco To Go, so it’s picking up
some momentum all over the country, and
we’re really happy about that.
How many restaurants do you currently
have and what local neighborhoods are
big on the program right now?
We originally started on the Upper East Side,
and we’ve definitely spread. Now we’ve got
places in Brooklyn and the Chelsea area, and
we’re going to be teaming up with Reuters,
to do a Times Square Campaign. I’d say we
have right around 50 restaurants, so we’re
definitely spreading throughout the city.
And then like I said, we have interest from
some different states, like Texas, and we
even had inquiries from London. It’s been
spreading by word of mouth to different
places, so it’s very exciting. A lot of people
are looking for an easy way that they can
personally protect the environment.
Hopefully people will continue to spread
the word by encouraging their own favorite
restaurants to participate. Where
can the restaurants go if they want to be
part of the program?
All they have to do is send us an email at
email@example.com, and we can send
them an informational kit with everything
they need, and stickers to place in their
windows so that their clients know that
they’re participating in this program.
It’s really a win-win for customers and restaurants.
Not only are the customers happy
to be using less resources, but the restaurant
is also saving money—and I’m sure every
restaurant would love that. Plus, people
see the sticker on the window, and as a restaurant
owner, you’ll telling everyone that
you’re doing your part to help the environment.
It’s just a great way to minimize.
Definitely. Most of the time I’m taking
food back to my place or to work—either
way I’ll have utensils there. I have
a drawer full of plastic silverware, because
I hate to throw all that stuff away.
Most of the time you don’t need extra utensils
or a big plastic bag for your pack of gum.
It’s just awareness. You know you don’t
need it. Now it’s about realizing where all
of those resources come from. Creating Eco
To Go was something we wanted to do to
make a tangible link as to how our actions
here actually impact the Amazon Rainforest.
It’s hard to imagine sometimes, when
we’re so far away. But paper comes from
trees, and plastic comes from petroleum,
and those things come from the rainforest.
So, if we make that connection and realize
that we don’t need everything that we’re
using, that would be a great step.
And you know, I see it already—standing in
line at Duane Reade and people in front of
me are saying, “I don’t need a bag, I don’t
need a bag.” So people are already trying
to make a difference, and that’s great.
How will people know if a restaurant is
You can find the sticker with our logo on a
window near the front door, and at the register
I know that the Ecoagents are also part of
a much bigger picture in the global ecosystem.
Tell us a bit about your work in
the Amazon Rainforest.
Eco To Go is one of the programs put on by
Ecoagents, which is our nonprofit organization
working directly with the tribes of indigenous
people that live in the Amazon rainforest.
We teach them about their rights to their
land, so they’re not signing anything away to
different people and companies that come in
for their resources. A lot of times, they’re not
aware of the things going on in the outside
world, so the more information they have before
globalization comes to them, the more
prepared they are to protect themselves.
So, we started an institute for tribal rights,
and now we’re working with a group of very
empowered women to preserve their culture
and communities. A lot of times their teenagers
grow up and become influence by consumerism
and globalization, and they don’t
remember their culture. So these women
are working on preserving their culture and
teaching the children the dialects of the different
tribes. It’s a complex issue, but culture
has to be preserved, and they’re the last ones
to do so.
Ecoagents is a non profit organization,
but most of the funding has come out-of-pocket,
which is amazing. You’re really
putting the greater good of the world on
your own shoulders. But is there a way
that the people of New York can help,
whether it’s by donating time or funds?
Definitely. Go to our website or send us a direct
email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We do accept
donation of time and funding. We have
a grant-writer, but it is still mostly coming out-of-pocket, and we’re looking to change
that in order to grow our efforts. There are a
lot of things happening in South America, so
we have quite a bit more work to do.
As you expand your work in the rainforest
and at home, where do you see the Eco To
Go goals in the long term?
We’d definitely like to work on limiting the
waste in office space. So much waste goes
into overprinting when we have computers,
and we can just read the documents there.
And packaging is big—everything is overwrapped,
sealed, and stuffed with Styrofoam
So there are a lot of different possibilities, but
packaging and office resources are definitely
big ones. And we’re hoping that now that
we’ve put this idea out there, people will
continue to come up with creative ways to
apply it. There’s no end-all, final answer, but
once we all start being creative, there’s no
stopping the momentum. That’s what this is
all about. We just want to get more people
involved, and make it easier for those people
to save resources.
“Just make it Eco To Go!” That’s all you have
From the Jungle to Concrete Jungle
Our Wasteful Ways
For more information about the Ecoagents,
their Eco To Go program, and how you can help,
check out: ecoagents.org
For all inquiries, email: email@example.com