Trivia time! What do the city of Seattle, Starbucks, and Ramunto’s Pizza all have in common?
Answer: All three places have recently joined the growing movement to eliminate plastic straws.
In 2015, after a cringe-worthy YouTube video of a straw stuck in a sea turtle’s nose went viral, a global movement began to grow around the problem of plastic pollution—single-use plastic straws, in particular.
Although straws don’t represent a significant portion of the trash stream, most recycling sorting facilities (including our own facility in Williston) are not equipped to sort straws and other small items. Because of their light weight, even when collected for disposal they can be easily windswept into lawns, storm drains, or beloved bodies of water (ahem, Lake Champlain).
In the last few years, more and more businesses,restaurants, and even cities have been taking a hard look at their consumption of single-use plastics, including straws. Ethan Hausman, our Business Outreach Coordinator, works regularly with local businesses to help them make more conscious choices about the packaging and serving utensils they provide to customers.
Of course, the inspiration for change can come from a variety of sources—and in a variety of sizes. For Jeffrey Paul, the owner of Ramunto’s Brick Oven Pizza in Williston, that inspiration came in the form of a local third grade student, Riordan Adams.
A local student inspired
Earlier this spring, Rhonda Mace, CSWD’s School Outreach Coordinator, paid a visit to Summit Street Elementary School, where she met with a group of kindergarten students who took the No Straw Challenge. Later on, the 3rd grade teachers there invited Rhonda to come in and meet with their class as well.
“We want the children to know that all it takes is one person and one action to make a difference in the world.”– Timiny Bergstrom, 3rd grade teacher at Summit Street Elementary School
While visiting, Rhonda learned that the third grade teachers at Summit Street Elementary—Timiny Bergstrom, Elizabeth Pacy, and Jeanne Cole—had designed and taught a lesson that included this infamous turtle video,which left a lasting impression with Riordan.
Riordan was so impacted after seeing that YouTube video that he wrote an adorable letter to Jeffrey, asking him to rethink the use of plastic straws at his pizzeria.
Jeffrey was touched. “I wrote him an email back thanking him for opening my eyes, and that I had never even thought about straws being an issue,” he said. “And that I love turtles too.”
Ramunto’s ditched landfill-bound plastic straws in favor of compostable ones. The compostable straws are available to customers that request one.
“This letter that he took the time to write meant the world to me. It made me realize we all have a footprint here and we’re here to do the best we can,” Jeffrey said.
The longer-lasting effect
For many like Jeffrey, understanding the long-term impacts of non-essential, single-use plastics that we use (and the “throwaway” culture that has grown out of our reliance on them) can lead to a “gateway decision.”Something as simple as purchasing more sustainable straws might just get you hooked.
Jeffrey has also decided to use reusable dishes and cups, and he found a local farm to take his food scraps.
All you have to do is ask
So what does a third grader’s handwritten letter to Ramunto’s have to do with you? If you want to see a change, ask for it! You maybe surprised at how many people are open to feedback on improving a problem –especially a problem that some may not have recognized before.
If you see an area for improvement, you’re probably not the only one. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Talk to a business owner directly, write a letter to your representative, or contact a CSWD staff member for help. In many cases, asking people to make even a small adjustment can lead to awareness and action on even bigger issues.
For other ideas and information on how to improve your waste reduction practices, call the CSWD Hotline at (802) 872-8111. We have outreach coordinators that specialize in helping everyone—businesses, schools, event planners and community organizations—rethink waste. They may just help you find a solution to an issue you never knew you cared so much about.