Drawing attention to straws:

Students urge community to do away with plastic straws

T-SHIRT worn by Juan Castillo promotes end of plastic straw use. Council members Mark Zanmiller and Kate McBride listen Monday night as Castillo and classmates present their case.

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea
T-SHIRT worn by Juan Castillo promotes end of plastic straw use. Council members Mark Zanmiller and Kate McBride listen Monday night as Castillo and classmates present their case.

A mind-boggling 500 million plastic straws are produced around the world every day, and most are used for just a few minutes and then discarded.

Many of these straws end up in the waterways and oceans, adding to the mountains of trash already floating on the planet.

A group of Hood River students are trying to make a local difference with this problem.

Hood River Valley High School Leaders for Tomorrow students, all members of the Class of 2018, presented their ideas to Hood River City Council Monday night.

Cities and counties around the U.S., including Seattle, have banned or heavily restricted use of plastic straws, and Great Britain is enacting a ban on the objects.

“Straws aren’t biodegradable, which means they take thousands of years to break down, and most are single use,” said Kymberly Cuevas-Marquez, who spoke along with Juan Castillo, Esmeralda Manzo, Alden Gendreau and Maria Garcia-Toche.

“Straws can be discarded and washed down the drains to the river and the ocean, and all our rivers are connected, making Hood River much more connected to the ocean than we realize,” Manzo said.

The Leaders topped off their presentation by giving out to council and audience members 40 or so metal straws that can be used in place of disposable ones.

“We’d like local businesses to provide alternatives,” Castillo told the council.

“It’s important to bring awareness to the young generations of the effects on the public.”

“Everyday actions have real impacts. We ask people to follow these simple steps,” Manzo said. These include asking servers and baristas to “hold the straw,” and to encourage food and drink sellers to replace plastic with biodegradable, or go straw-less. Farm Stand, Twiggs and Solstice Café are three businesses that sell or use alternatives to plastic.

Gendreau said the goal of the Leaders’ service project is to bring awareness, including giving out stainless steel straws on Earth Day, at Farmers Markets, and at the high school.

The youths are also distributing a pledge for people to sign saying they will refrain from using plastic straws. Gendreau said another step will be to write letters to the editor and work with radio and other media.

Garcia-Toche said the group is embracing the concept of “Girlcotting,” as opposed to boycotting, in which businesses are praised for practices such as providing straw alternatives or doing away with plastic ones.

“Our goal is to have Mayor Paul Blackburn and the council sign the petition and bring more awareness of the problem to the community, and look into the options of further reducing plastic, including utensils and cups, including a county-wide ban,” Castillo said.

Blackburn and other councilors signed the petition and the mayor, who had previously met with the youths, told them, “We are glad you had the chance to share your message with the whole group.”

Leaders’ Adviser Kristen Reese said several of the youths will continue the project throughout the summer and make appearances at local events, and in 2018-19, she will suggest the Leos high school group take it on as a project.

Drawing from the website lessplastic.co.uk, the youngsters noted problems and solutions with the widespread use of plastic straws:

“Three reasons plastic straws suck”:

  1. Straws harm marine wildlife and ecosystems

  2. They expose humans to unhealthy chemicals

  3. Straws are used for minutes, and last for centuries.

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