Dirty Bayou in Houston

Lila Mankad and Caoilin Krathaus – Bag-Free Bayous: Restaurant Radar

The average restaurant makes 100,000 pounds of waste a year. Our team of volunteers will engage restaurateurs with materials on alternatives to single-use plastic and styrofoam. In addition, we aim to make an easy-to-use mobile-friendly website that would evaluate restaurants on eco-friendly criteria like takeout policy, utensils, cups, straws, napkins, and of course, plastic bags. This would pressure restaurants to produce less waste and reward them with a front-door green incentive sticker. This project will be piloted in a single area, and using that information we’ll develop a system that can be applied to the rest of the city later and allow not just ourselves but the public to evaluate restaurants and create a sustainable cycle.

We live in Houston near Woodland Park along Little White Oak Bayou. Woodland Park has always been a large part of our childhood. We love darting through the trees, building stone bridges across the creek, and making forts out of sticks and leaves. The beautiful tree limbs stretching along the shores of our bayou we love are filled with birds, lizards, opossums, insects, and… thousands of plastic bags. They are strewn in the trees instead of the iconic Spanish Moss and packed into a layer of the Earth, making the ground spongy, like a mattress. One year, we had a teacher who encouraged the class to think of ways to change the world. Around that time, Caoilin had her birthday party at Woodland Park. It was there that Bag-Free Bayous began.

Being an activist means that something happens inside you, and instead of sitting around and complaining about something wrong, you decide to create solutions. You really need to believe in what you are fighting for. Being activists, we’ve also learned, means realizing something might not get done in three weeks or three months or even three years. We might have setbacks, and when we do, we change course, but we don’t give up.

We believe that small changes add up to big differences, one thing at a time. We have a vision that one day our park will thrive and we’ll swim in Little White Oak Bayou.

As part of their comprehensive campaign to reduce plastic bag waste in Houston’s parks, bayous, and bay, two girls in the sixth grade, Lila Mankad and Caoilin Krathaus, partnered with a former refugee from Afghanistan named Khatera Khorushan, through the Community Cloth microenterprise, to “upcycle” used clothing and vinyl banners into beautiful, sturdy reusable bags. By selling the bags and commissioning new ones, they are creating a virtuous cycle of employment, upcycling, and ecological health that ties in with their work on plastic bag policy.

In the last grant, we were working on keeping plastic bags and banners out of the landfill by upcycling banners into reusable bags and convincing people to use them instead of plastic bags. In this grant, we are continuing our mission of reducing single-use waste by using a “bottom-up” approach that will focus on businesses and inspire kids to take on their own issues. By approaching the plastic pollution problem from a variety of angles, we have a better opportunity to make a larger difference.

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