With their iconic green vests decorated with an assortment of bright badges, this group of fifth grade Girl Scouts (and one seventh grader) is on their last straw. Junior Girl Scouts Troop No. 60016 from Palo Alto are on a mission to reduce plastic pollution, help keep our waterways clean and prevent harm to marine animals. In pursuit of creating a lasting change in the community, this troop has developed an awareness campaign, The Last Straw, to rid Palo Alto, and eventually the Bay Area, of plastic straws.
About half a billion single-use plastic straws are used and discarded every day in the United States. The Girls Scouts’ research found a majority of them sneak into storm drains, plaguing our creeks and traveling to the ocean where they are mistaken for food by marine animals, causing deadly harm. According to the Ocean Conservancy, eating plastic is a death sentence. Animals can face a swift death by choking, or die slowly from clogged digestive tracks. Some animals can starve because the ingested plastic leaves them feeling full and they stop eating entirely. Over 260 species have been impacted by plastic pollution, and this troop wants to prevent that number from growing.
The Junior Scouts created this campaign when brainstorming a service project for their Bronze Award, the highest award which requires at least 20 hours of service and is given to projects that create social change. In partnership with the City of Palo Alto, the troop is working on various events and efforts to raise awareness about the damaging effects of plastic straws. These ambitious Junior Scouts have also developed an array of materials that restaurants, schools and community members can use to spread awareness, including a website, educational posters, and a very neat and professionally produced public service announcement, filmed by the MidPen Media Center.
Aligning with the Earth Day 2018 theme of ending plastic pollution, the troop began their outreach in April with a booth at the Palo Alto Earth Day 5K run. Since then, they have presented their project to the Palo Alto City Council to proclaim May as Drinking Straw Awareness Month, and partnered up with the city to encourage restaurants to stop using plastic straws and other single-use plastic materials.
Restaurants can register online to the take the Girl Scout pledge to provide straws by request only and display informational posters on their tables. The troop and city have also worked to provide restaurants sustainable options such as paper straws (including a discount with a particular distributor) and a grant opportunity for switching to reusable service ware. More information is available on the City of Palo Alto website. Over three dozen restaurants took the pledge to support Drinking Straw Awareness Month. One challenge the girls encountered was managing to convert boba tea houses, which rely heavily on plastic straws. Big fans of boba tea, the troop worked hard on a pilot solution with the help of Teaspoon, a local boba tea house. Teaspoon will be retailing a reusable straw and rewarding customers who return the reusable straw with loyalty points.
With the tremendous success of Drinking Straw Awareness Month in May, the city is working on a resolution to make permanent changes and continue supporting local businesses and encouraging the public to abandon single-use straws. In June, the Junior Scouts will expand their outreach to schools, providing educational posters, sharing their video and providing a straw recycling box.
With help from the city and their parents, the girls want to spread the word far and wide. The troop plans on creating a training video for Girl Scouts to teach other troops around the country how to run an awareness campaign and host their own awareness month event. They welcome as many partners that would like to join the effort in protecting marine life and our waterways from plastic pollution, by sharing their presentation, printed materials and website.
If you would like to share resources with the troop, or join the effort, contact troop leader Karen Fitzpatrick at email@example.com.