Making A Difference One Restaurant At A Time – Straw Free MV – Martha’s Vineyard

A couple of years ago, my friend Nicole Cabot told me her daughter, Violet, was part of a group, from the West Tisbury School, called Straw Free MV. Straw Free MV is working to make a change on the Island by eliminating straw use.

Straw Free MVFast forward to last week, when I noticed a Straw Free MV sticker outside the door of Offshore Ale Company (I work there too). Eye-catching and cute, I was curious to learn more. Owner Colleen McAndrews told the staff that we were no longer putting straws in our soft drinks and water for customers. Rather, we would have straws available if requested.

Straws on the beachI thought heck yeah! Something so small can make such a big difference regarding plastic waste in our landfills and oceans. Think about it. A restaurant may have 10,000 customers in a week (all who drink something), times 52, times all the other restaurants. It’s staggering. That plastic straw is going nowhere fast once it’s thrown out.

Eliminating just straws can result in a significant impact.

Straw Free MV

As you can tell, I was clearly interested in Straw Free MV. Nicole put me in contact with the teacher, Annemarie Ralph, a science and ELA enrichment teacher. Annemarie also helps out during E periods (elective) with upper level kids.

Annemarie RalphA couple years ago, one group of 7th grade students wanted to do something for the community. They were aiming high, talks of eliminating plastic bags or water bottles. Though noble, the reality of that happening from a small group of kids was not good.

Annemarie arranged for a presentation on the impact of plastics on our world’s oceans, Athena Aicher from WHOI came over. The images are so sad. Beaches piled high with plastic, animals dead from eating plastic, animals malformed to do with plastic on their bodies. The images and research that the students themselves did lead to a call for action.

Learning about plasticsAlso, they learned that plastic does not biodegrade, it photo-degrades into smaller which often get ingested by marine and land animals, and into our food chain.

If it’s recycled, it is only a very small percentage. Essentially every piece of plastic ever made is still in our environment. (All from the student’s research).

So they thought and thought and they decided to work on eliminating straws. That was something people could live with out.

strawyankeemsg1200x486-1024x414The first year, the students wrote letters to restaurants, but a number were returned. Now with E periods, the students rotate, so it took a while for them to get back to Annemarie. They continued their work. Anita Smith, an assistant teacher at the school, created a logo for the cause — so cute.

Writing LettersAnother group soon added to the Straw MV cause. This time, when they were about to leave Annemarie, they decided to devote a study period to the cause.

Straw Free MVNow students go out on field trips to restaurants, ready with facts and all their research. And of course stickers, because their goal is to leave restaurants with a commitment to change how they use straws. Students even bring a sample of paper straws that are a great alternative if the need for straws is definite.

If you go to the Straw Free MV Facebook page or Instagram page, you can see the restaurants who are participating. Also, keep an eye out for the sticker on the doors of supporting businesses.

More Than ABC’s

Every time a restaurant agrees to participate, the students involved are empowered. The fact that they, grade school children in a small school, can ignite change and have a voice is a live lesson that cannot necessarily be taught in the classroom.

Every restaurant that commits makes our Island that much less of a burden in the world of plastic waste, and it’s because a child cares enough to make a change.

7aFrom the research they’ve done, and what they’ve learned, they know that this is something worth doing. Also, because they can make a difference, many are interested in working with town governments to try to make changes to better our environment. So, students are learning about political practices, red tape, and real world interaction.

All of which are valuable lessons to learn and carry through life!

How great that a few students from the West Tisbury School have the potential to change the Island on the whole for the better. I love this place — just one more reason it is so special.

Supporting Straw Free MV

A couple restaurants that have pledged their support, whether using paper, not including in every drink,  or perhaps eliminating, are Little House, Offshore, 7a, Back Door Doughnuts, Orange Peel Bakery Cafe, Porto Pizza, Art Cliff, Right Fork Diner, John’s Fish Market, the Net Result, and the list continues to grow. Cheers to those who have, continue, and hopefully will participate.

John's fish marketJust remember, you can support in your own way by choosing to not use a straw or BYOS – stainless steel straws are sleek enough to fit anywhere.

You’d be surprised to learn how much straws are doing to our waters. Here’s an example STRAWS: a documentary film for a sea of change, click here to watch.

A Little History

Annemarie recently came to the Island from LA. There she was instrumental in the creation of the Environmental Studies Magnet School in Los Angeles. Also, while in LA, she and her students created Straw Free Sunset, where you find a large number of restaurants. Students would see dozens and dozens of straws flowing down the street, going into the storm drains, where they would eventually end up in the ocean. Continuing to work with students who want to be the change is inspiring and a gift.

Thanks to Straw MV for all that you’re doing to make a difference and thank you for some of the great pics!

You can learn more about Straw Free MV on Facebook. And don’t forget to “Like” us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter, Linked In, Google+, Pinterest and Youtube.

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