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Bag the plastic bags, baby
The BYOB project rallies restaurants to reduce waste

The BYOB Project

When: Noon-4 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 14

Where: Forsyth Park

Cost: Free admission; dodgeball tournament $10 adults/$5 students/$50 team


Oh, we how love "to go." Whether it's a burger or a beer, Savannahians take full advantage of the ability to take their food and beverages out the door of their original establishments.

The problem is that all those Solo cups, Styrofoam clamshells and plastic bags add up to a tremendous and tragic amount of waste. Overflowing landfills and the giant churning whirlpool of pollution in the Pacific Ocean are wake-up calls to cut down on those ubiquitous disposable containers.

But it is possible to turn the tide?

Ashley Workman believes you have to start somewhere.

The Molly McPherson's bartender and Tybee surfer girl has launched the BYOB Project, an awareness campaign to encourage patrons of Savannah restaurants to "bring your own bag." Though she admits the task sounds overwhelming, she is buoyed by her motto: "Saving the planet, one bag at a time."

A 14-year veteran of the downtown bar and restaurant scene, Workman has also rallied members of the tightknit service community around reducing plastic bag use. She and other servers now give out reusable ones emblazoned with restaurant logos to use for to-go orders — promoting environmental awareness with the added bonus of free marketing.

"I consider it a privilege to represent the Hostess City, and I think we can lead by example," explains the recent AASU Liberal Studies graduate, a festive flower tucked behind one ear. "We spend 12 million gallons of fossil fuels on plastic bags every year. That's disgusting."

What started as a "vigilante citizen rant" to county officials has blossomed into a movement. Customers who bring their own bags Dec. 14-22 will receive 10 percent off their to-go orders at participating restaurants, including Molly McPherson's, Congress Street Social Club and all three B&D Burgers locations. Tybee Island's Huc-a-Poo's and Sting Ray's have also joined the crusade.

"I would love more establishments to join in — even up until the last minute!" Workman urges. "Even just pledging a discount to encourage their customers to participate would be fantastic."

The point is to offer an alternative to what Workman calls "an alternative to the running tally of environmental mishaps in the realm of food and beverage." The commemorative bags sell for around $10, and she points out that customers pay a charge anyway for disposable packaging.

But the success of the project depends on folks bringing the bag back the next time they call in for takeout. To inspire diners to get in the habit of bringing their own bags not just to the grocery store, Workman has spearheaded a BYOB kickoff event in Forsyth Park this Saturday, Dec. 14.

"How do you make a loud roar? You throw a big party!" she laughs.

The festivities begin at noon in conjunction with the last hour of the Forsyth Farmers Market and continue into the afternoon. Restaurant vendors will offer merch and raffle tickets, and the City of Savannah will set up a RecycleRama collection point for old electronics. A slammin' dodgeball tournament is open to those 16 and older, and the Train Wrecks, the Accomplices and the Charlie Fog Band will serenade.

Hopefully, there won't be a plastic bag in sight.

Twenty years of surfing on Tybee Island have cultivated Workman's passion for ecological clean-up. She often spends time picking up trash off the beach and laments that the average plastic bag only gets 20 minutes of use but sticks around forever in the environment.

"I'd love for this to be a jumping-off point to address a whole spectrum of issues," says Workman, maintaining that the way for progress to be made is for each of us to make small efforts where we can.

"I want to show people that it is feasible to minimize waste. Just pick an area. This is just one."

Armed with that sunny attitude and community spirit, Workman has already made waves on the plastic bag front with the BYOB Project.

Her next target of consciousness-raising in the local restaurant industry? Those horrid Styrofoam clamshells.