August 27, 2019 | Kayla Peale
I took a breath and the odor was overpowering. I saw an entangled mess of fishing line wrapped around the intestines. The discovery of a fishing hook and small fragments of plastic lodged into the turtle’s esophagus silenced us all. An innocent sea turtle’s life taken at the hands of humans. This moment was too powerful and sickening to stand by and let our society continue to destroy the beautiful oasis we are lucky to call home.
Last summer, I had the incredible opportunity to study in the Mediterranean and see first-hand the effects of plastic pollution on marine life. The experiences and knowledge I gained during this trip, left me feeling empowered and ready to make a difference in my own community upon my return home.
This past year, I have dedicated my efforts to start an organization, For A Strawless Sea, based out of Yorktown High School, Arlington, VA. There are now 35 young members, all committed to make our society more environmentally conscience. One of our main focuses for this past school year was to eliminate the plastic straw. Many people ignore small single-use items and say “it’s just ONE straw”. However, in reality, 500 million plastic straws are used EVERY DAY in America - enough to circle the Earth twice. We all need to change our behaviors to minimize our environmental footprint, and I feel that the plastic straw holds a symbolic position in the larger scheme of plastic pollution.
My leadership of For a Strawless Sea evolved into a partnership with our local environmental advocacy group, Eco-Action Arlington. We have worked together to launch the Straw Free Arlington Campaign over the past several months. This campaign aims to reduce the consumption of single-use plastics by enlisting restaurants to adopt more sustainable plastic policies. Our awareness in the community has begun to create change in restaurants and influence consumers to refuse and reconsider their demand for single-use items.
Although we are making progress, we have faced several setbacks following the launch of this campaign, due to the restrictions in Virginia’s local legislature and restaurants receptiveness to changing their withstanding practices. To help overcome these challenges, I connected with the founder of the Global Co Lab, Linda Staheli. She has developed a vast network that connects youth to experts and stakeholders to help incubate change. I have been working in conjunction with the Eco Teen Action Network Plastics Hub, a collaboration between Global Co-Lab and the Smithsonian’s Conservation Commons, to create a more widespread impact across the DC, Maryland, Virginia (DMV) area.
I am a leader of the Plastics Hub’s newest initiative, a reusable to-go box program at the National Landing, the home of Amazon’s new HQ2. We believe that the rising urban atmosphere provides the ideal framework for the implementation of an affordable, sustainable, zero-waste alternative to the traditional take-out container. To combat the roadblocks previously deterring the Straw Free Arlington Campaign, we have connected with the larger corporations in this area to help execute and support this program. We have already been in contact with representatives from Amazon, JBG Smith, Whole Foods, Eco-Action Arlington, OAR, BMS, and Crystal City Bid, who have expressed interest.
The truth is consumers cannot do it alone, I believe that in order to create a more extensive and significant impact, businesses are the ones who must be at the forefront of change. Our hope is that this reusable take-out container initiative expands into a more universal plastic-free substitute. It is up to my generation to try to shift our society into a more environmentally conscience mindset, or the world as we know it will disappear. The dedication of my mentors Miriam Gennari (President MetroMakeover® & environmental activist Styrofoam Mom) and Brian Coyle (Conservation Producer; Smithsonian Conservation Commons) have served as an inspiration to me, as they are so driven to make a change in a field they are passionate about.
In addition to the reusable to-go box system, this upcoming school year I hope to shift the current practices in my school cafeteria to eliminate plastic silverware wrapped in plastic packaging. I am additionally looking forward to providing input on and examples of youth leadership for the Global Goals curriculum to inspire and guide other young people to organize and take action.
In one short year, the efforts of a few motivated high schoolers created a foundation that will continue to grow to make a positive influence in our community. This is our future. We need to stand together to create change.
If you would like to learn more about or get involved with For A Strawless Sea, please email us at email@example.com or check out our Instagram @for_a_strawless_sea, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.Tags: Earth Optimism, Eco-Teen Action Network, Youth