A Conversation with Tracy Mitchell

Tracy Mitchell

The executive director of Bay Street Theater shares the inspiration behind the theater’s challenge to the rest of Sag Harbor to eliminate their reliance on single-use plastic water bottles and straws.

What motivated Bay Street Theater to get involved in efforts to curtail usage of single-use plastic water bottles and straws?

The change for me happened when I was on a trip this fall to Canada. You always hear people say, ‘Ugh, you have to make a difference.’ I had been taking my Swell bottle with me, but on this particular trip I’d forgotten it. We were in a high-tourism area and I went into a small deli and I couldn’t find a water bottle anywhere. There was a water refill station. At first I was highly annoyed that I couldn’t get just a bottle of water, but then I realized this is what changes habits. It was an ‘aha moment.’ I said you know what, we have to start doing our part on Bay Street and on Main Street. We can’t just expect others to do it.

Have you already taken these products out of use at the theater?

We’re replacing the water fountain in our lobby with one that is a water fountain and a bottle filler. We will have Swell-type bottles for people to buy. We’ve taken straws out of the picture. Right now, I’m actually waiting for the delivery of the permanent cups that we’re getting. They’re going to be sippy-type cups so they’ll no longer need straws. For our plastic cups, we’re trying to get a different kind of plastic cup that people can keep and bring back and we’ll do a discount on the drink if they bring it back. It’s what they’re using on Broadway now. But our goal is not to make money on it; it’s to make a difference however we can.

Who else is involved in this particular effort?

I immediately got on the phone with Group for the East End and that’s obviously part of their direct mission. They were completely on board. … And then I was talking to Susan Lamontagne and she had just done a series of short shorts with Liz Joyce from Goat on a Boat Puppet Theatre, so we said let’s put all these films together in one night to kind of launch this. I hope it’s the start for everyone on Main Street.

To what degree are you finding this endeavor is taking a lot of extra focus, planning and effort — or is it easier than people might think?

I think it’s easier than people might think. The first thing is you have to be committed to it. The second thing is you have to invest a little in it because you have to buy the bottles and cups that people can reuse. Here at Bay Street, we can’t reuse them because we don’t have the ability like a restaurant would to wash and reuse. These are things that people can take with them and save them to use in their own home or bring back. It does take some investment. We’re also having to replace the big plastic delivery water bottles — we’re having them removed and we’re tapping into the water here so that takes investment in the people who can do it for us, and of course purchasing the new water fountain and the labor to put that in. But it really doesn’t take a lot and it’s not that hard.

What are you hoping comes out of this challenge?

I’m really hoping that Sag Harbor makes as many changes as we can make and the surrounding areas will do the same. We all started with the plastic bags and at first there was a big uproar. But we got used to it. It’s a small thing for just Bay Street but if everyone starts to do it, it will start to make a difference.

The kick-off event is Friday, February 1, at 8 p.m. at Bay Street Theater with short films addressing environmental issues presented in partnership with Group for the East End and Public Interest Media Group. Tickets are $12 and may be purchased at the box office, by calling (631) 725-9500 or by visiting baystreet.org.