CAPE MAY – Jacki D’Amato, the founder and owner of Good Deeds Market in Cape May, wants to make it easy for Cape May locals to get away from single-use plastics. “I’m trying to make it easy to do good. If you have a choice, go (elsewhere) for plastic-riddled detergent (containers) or come here, I think people will choose to ditch the plastic,” she told the Herald.
Good Deeds primarily sells home goods and personal care products that people use every day, like food bags, deodorant, razors and toothpaste. The versions sold at Good Deeds, D’Amato said, are “compostable, biodegradable, tested ethically and made ethically.”
Many of these items are more expensive than their mass-produced plastic counterparts, but Jacki said that many single-use plastic items are “cheap for a reason, and we are paying the price on a wider scale.”
According to a 2017 study, “Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made,” in the journal Science Advances, plastic, which was introduced in the 1950s, is now used more than any other consumer material on the planet, save for construction materials like steel.
The study says that “plastics’ largest market is packaging, an application whose growth was accelerated by a global shift from reusable to single-use containers. As a result, the share of plastics in municipal solid waste (by mass) increased from less than 1% in 1960 to more than 10% by 2005 in middle- and high-income countries.”
That study, and many others, say that 4 to 12 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year. And since the “only way to permanently eliminate plastic waste is by destructive thermal treatment,” that plastic is here to stay.
D’Amato, aware that one store is just a tiny fraction of a solution, is doing her part to encourage change by selling products without plastic packaging. She has found that Cape May locals are sympathetic to the cause.
“If you were to walk down the street and ask everybody, would you do one small thing for the planet, almost everyone would answer ‘Yes!’ But nobody does it or even knows how to do it,” she said. With her small store, she has made it a little bit easier for locals to buy products with a smaller eco-footprint.
Business has picked up significantly after a grand opening in April 2023; she said that many locals source their home goods from Good Deeds instead of a big-box store or, worse, online, where additional plastic packaging comes into play.
Good Deeds hosts monthly “Plogging,” which means jogging and picking up litter at beaches across the county. These meet-ups have gathered steam, and D’Amato says they “help remind me why I started this store.”
D’Amato is a transplant from New York City, where she worked in the fast-paced world of luxury fashion e-commerce. The demanding job forced her to examine the role of a corporate career in her life, especially as she longed to spend more time with her then-newborn daughter. She quit her job, and her family set eyes on the shore and on small business ownership.
When she was just 8 months old, her mother left the family for reasons unknown. But D’Amato’s father, a lifelong entrepreneur, taught her the basics of business management, skills she has used and sharpened her entire career. She felt ready to take on the challenges of business but wasn’t quite expecting her first hurdle: There was nowhere to open a business in Cape May.
The Washington Street Mall is jam-packed, and openings are rare. But she lucked out and found a spot in the Carpenter Street Mall – an aging building tucked beside Congress Hall and Washington Street – through word-of-mouth.
When she and her family first moved to Ocean City, the amount of plastic she picked up every day on her beach walk was “truly humbling,” she told the Herald.
“The stuff that I noticed getting spit back from the ocean is the same stuff I buy and have at home,” she said. “Things like floss picks, straws and deodorant sticks.” Very few people make the conscious choice to buy products like these that take centuries to decompose; buying plastic is the default choice for most products, she said.
The answers to mass pollution are complicated and will require systems-level change, but D’Amato said that changing purchasing habits can lead to a wider perspective shift.
“You can use 100 plastic sandwich bags a year for a family, or you can use one or two reusable ones, for example,” she said. “But everything we do throughout the day can be done in a way to make a smaller impact on the environment, like wrapping a Christmas present in paper you already have lying around the house, or just reusing something you already have instead of buying something new. At Good Deeds, all I want to do is encourage that kind of lifestyle.”
Good Deeds can be found on the Carpenter Street Mall in Cape May. Contact the author, Collin Hall, at firstname.lastname@example.org.