America uses an estimated 500 million straws per day, which is enough to fill 125 school buses. Such an extreme amount of trash takes a massive environmental toll, and though the outlook may seem bleak, youths around the nation are taking action. In our very own community, students are taking matters into their own hands by demanding the use of straws to be a thing of the past.

Straws are just one example of the single-use items we use that create a large environmental impact; another ecological hazard is the take-out container. For both, determined students are displaying just how big of an impact kids can have, and their ability to change our community and world for the better.

Straws Suck Campaign

Truckee High School, North Tahoe, and Sierra Expeditionary Learning School (SELS) students have been reaching out to local businesses in the hopes of implementing a straws-on-request only policy, straws made of alternative materials, or stopping the use of straws altogether. The ultimate goal is to stop the use of straws entirely as they are a one-time use item, but if restaurants are not able to do that, they still have alternative options such as paper or bamboo straws that could be provided to customers requesting them.

The high school students have been distributing flyers with straw facts along with contact information and a proposal encouraging them to stop use of plastic straws. The three schools together were able to reach 25 total restaurants, and of these 25, Mountain Slice, Moe’s Original Bar B Que at Dockside, and West Shore Market have agreed to go plastic straw free. The students were inspired by the eight establishments that were already plastic straw free or on-request only, such as Jake’s, Northstar, and Sunnyside.

The students’ work did not go unrecognized by the community, and in fact, the SELS students were awarded third place in the Shane McConkey foundation Eco Challenge, a competition in which classes from all over the world create projects that focus on environmental advocacy.

Trouble With Truckee Take-out

To help further reduce the amount of waste we generate, students from Glenshire Elementary headed out into the community hoping to create a positive environmental impact. More specifically, Mrs. Scholl’s 5th grade class decided to take on Styrofoam takeout containers, a wasteful material that has a negative effect on our community. The children kicked off the project with an optimistic attitude, and one student named Indy Boye said, “kids are capable and can do things that adults can do, and we are in charge of our environment.”

The students began the process by researching the environmental ramifications of using Styrofoam containers and looked into how the material was banned in other towns to get an idea of what the process would look like.

They then developed and administered surveys to customers and emailed restaurants to find more out about public opinion. From these surveys, the students discovered that both customers and businesses are concerned about Styrofoam and are willing to pay to switch to eco-friendly containers. Of the 16 remaining restaurants that use Styrofoam take-out containers in Truckee, the students’ efforts convinced eight of them to consider switching. One business, Red Truck, already has a reusable system in which you buy a container once and use it to take your food home, then wash it before trading it in for the next container that you pick up your to-go food in.

Winning the Shane McConkey Eco Challenge competition came with an $8,000 prize, which the students plan to use to purchase a greenhouse for their school.

When asked why they were originally attracted to the project, student Kalie Nemeth responded, “I was interested in doing the Eco Challenge because even though this world is messed up, we have the ability to change it.”

~ Adrienne and Olivia are seniors at Truckee High School who enjoy spending their time diving for the Truckee High Diving Team and lounging at local lakes. Growing up in such a beautiful area, they feel very connected to the environment and believe it is their duty to protect it. They put this passion into action through Envirolution, a club they have been members of for four years and co-presidents of for two years, where they teach environmental advocacy to students. Both are currently continuing their environmental advocacy through an internship at Sierra Watershed Education Partnerships.