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The Surfrider Foundation has named Mother's Cantina as Ocean City's first "ocean friendly restaurant."

In tandem with the Maryland Coastal Bay Program's sixth annual Earth Day beach cleanup, the foundation honored owner Ryan James at the restaurant for his dedication to sustainable practices. Launched earlier this year, the distinction falls in line with the foundation's broader "Rise Above Plastics" program. To meet the designation of ocean friendly, restaurants must meet four criteria, which include using no Styrofoam containers, following recycling protocol, using only reusable utensils for onsite dining and offering no plastic bags for takeout orders.

The Surfrider Foundation is a Malibu-based nonprofit dedicated to clean oceans and beaches, with chapters nationwide.

The move toward biodegradable materials and good recycling practices was a no-brainer for owner Ryan James.

"It's just the right thing to do," James said. "It's a logical decision and it's an ethical decision."

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John Weber, the foundation's Mid-Atlantic Regional director, said Styrofoam is a major pollution factor for coastal regions.

"Out in California when they do these cleanups, about 1 in 4 pieces of trash picked up is some kind of Styrofoam," Weber said.

James has served as the care keeper  for the 28th Street beach, working to keep it clean. Having participated in the cleanup for the past four years, he knows the amount of Styrofoam that washes up or is left on the shore.

"In this town, we have the bay and ocean; we have two things to keep charge of," James said. "The amount you find out there during the cleanups is staggering; one garbage bag is not enough to fix it."

In January, Senate Bill 186 aimed to ban the sale of polystyrene, or Styrofoam, products in the state of Maryland. While that bill ultimately failed, Weber sees a bright future for more environmentally conscious options.

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"Restaurants are starting to realize that there is no point in using Styrofoam when there are compostable options available," Weber said.

James also recycles all glass bottles and cans that go through the restaurant; a challenge given that Ocean City offers no curbside pick up for recycling.

"We actually bring all of our bottles and cans to the Wal-Mart on Route 50 to be recycled," James said. "We want to make sure that they are repurposed for something else, rather than just burned."

While Mother's Cantina met the four main criteria to be considered an ocean friendly restaurant, restaurants can achieve "platinum" status by reaching 10 other marks, including having low-energy LED lighting, low-flow toilets and sinks and only offering plastic straws upon request, among others.

"You'll notice that for half of these, these are things that actually save the restaurant money in the long run," said Malcolm Taylor, member of the Ocean City Chapter of the Surfrider's Foundation. "They're also things a lot of places are already beginning to do."

For Craig Sibal, chairman of the Ocean City Chapter, the purpose of these programs is simple: a better, cleaner coastal future.

"Surfriders need to be attentive, and they need to be watchers of the coast," Sibal said.

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