USEFULL wins EPA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Grant for Block Island Pilot Project

Updated: Dec 14, 2021

We aim to leverage the SBIR grant to pilot a robust rollout of the USEFULL solution in a “closed-loop island community” - Block Island in Rhode Island. Due to the huge increase in consumption the island sees during the summer tourist season - a daily deluge of ~17x of the year-round residential population, the Island’s residents see a profound need for solutions that can help mitigate the environmental and financial burdens of waste.

USEFULL is partnering with the Block Island community, including the Chamber of Commerce, Block Island Conservancy, and town council members, to move towards a reduced waste future. USEFULL will enable the community to migrate from single-use packaging to a circular foodware solution, as a means to reduce the negative impact disposable products have on the ecosystem.

As one of Rhode Island’s most active tourist destinations, Block Island is at the forefront of marine and terrestrial conservation, and home to several protected fields, marshes, coastal shrublands and beaches that provide sanctuary to 70+ species of migratory songbirds, Fiddler crabs and the endangered American Burying Beetle. Block Island is an historic community listed on The Nature Conservancy’s “The Last Great Places'' list with ~40% of the island designated as conservation land and a wildlife refuge. The first off-shore wind farm in New England is visible from Block Island as well. The visibility of the island sustainability efforts combined with tourism can be leveraged into an opportunity to normalize the concept of a circular economy and help to educate tourists from around the world in sustainable practices while mitigating the harm waste causes to the natural environment.

The collaborative partnership with USEFULL will help the Block Island community restore, sustain, and benefit from a resilient ecosystem where single use packaging and plastics are no longer used day-to-day on island. By fully implementing USEFULL, we estimate that the community can eliminate up to 30 tons per year of disposable packaging that currently needs to be “imported” onto the island by ferry and then hauled off island as trash. This process of importing and exporting packaging is wasteful both in terms of financial and environmental impact.

Moving this island community towards zero waste is a great case study on how this can be done on a more regional, global scale. The USEFULL team sees the Block Island project as a testing ground for how communities, businesses, non-profit organizations, and local governments can come together to create a reduced waste future at various scales. Once more, the volume of tourists visiting the community provides an influential opportunity to educate and get people curious about implementing change in their communities.

In our six month-long pilot, we will initially serve the Island’s residential community with these key goals:

  1. Advance strategies and solutions to mitigate waste and reduce single use plastic packaging

  2. Measure environmental impact

  3. Demonstrate Block Island community’s focus on implementing long-term solutions to dramatically reduce waste and continue to be leaders in environmental sustainability

  4. Save the vendors money on single use packaging

  5. Prevent late/lost inventory

  6. Ensure to-go food integrity and safe packaging (e.g. no PFAS, plastic)

  7. Study the project to enhance the USEFULL offering to enable scaling

Read the EPA SBIR Press Release

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