12-year-old Eco-Teen Takes on Plastic Straws

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Please allow me to introduce myself. I am 12 year old Milo Cress and I am now on my first International Speaking Tour.

My project, called Be Straw Free encourages restaurants and schools to offer straws instead of serving one with every drink automatically.

The National Restaurant Association as well as several Members of Congress, Governors, and Mayors have declared offering straws a Best Practice. I am also working toward ways the offer-first policy can be implemented without legislation- because I think it can become standard that straws are offered to customers instead of being served automatically, without any legislation or mandate, through education and information instead. (There are several precedents set for this – restaurants offering water instead of serving automatically, grocers offering shoppers the choice between paper and plastic bags and offering incentives to shoppers who bring their own bags, etc.)

I just returned from Australia, where I spoke to 1,500+ students and adults at various schools and events, and I am now headed to DC and on to Europe before going to Singapore, Malaysia, S. Korea, New Zealand and back to Australia. My presentation is called “Let’s Create the Future!” and I talk about how kids can find and get involved in projects and issues important to them, because this planet is not a place kids will inherit at some point far off in the distant future, we live here now, we share this planet already.

Change can happen through education and information – many changes do not have to be legislated.

My project has gained a lot of momentum from its first appearance on a TV news program, when I was 9, to now, two years later, with people and businesses in over 30 countries currently participating, and by winning various national and international awards and recognitions, including the coveted Blue Turtle Award from Jean-Michel Cousteau, the Everyday Young Hero Award, from Youth Service America, the Eco-Hero Award from Action for Nature, recognition from the National and Colorado Restaurant Associations, and several other awards and recognitions.

It might interest you to know that for Earth Day 2013, Xanterra (largest concessionaire in US Parks Service) asked me to team up with them to launch their new waste reduction initiative at all their Park properties. (Park employees report that straws are the #2 type of trash picked up in Park clean-ups – just behind bottle caps, they are also one of the most common types of trash recovered in beach clean-ups.) I would love to see this implemented (voluntarily) in all our National Parks. I don’t think there is a need for legislation on this – I think the Parks will do this voluntarily if encouraged.

This is a simple, easy change to make: This is one small step for each restaurant, one giant leap for the planet!

I have been invited to speak at universities, schools, events and conferences, including Boston University twice, LOHAS 2012, Colorado Oceans Coalition Symposium 2012, the 2012 National PRBBI Convention of Best Practices for the largest restaurant chains in the US, and other conferences, and schools around the US, 10 schools in the Sydney (Australia) metro area, Kimbriki event (Sydney Australia) and been featured in regional, national and international TV news stories, including CNN and many others.

Since this started I testified before the Vermont legislature, met with the entire Congressional delegation of Vermont in DC, and Governor Shumlin (VT). The Mayor of Burlington VT, Mayor Hancock, of Denver and Mayor Hay (Manly, NSW Australia) all declared offering straws to customers a Best Practice in their cities Governor Hickenlooper declared a Straw Free Day in Colorado last month, on July 11th. I am scheduled to meet with Congressman Polis, Senator Mark Udall and other Congressional Members and leaders of governmental and NGO environmental departments and organizations in DC.

Straws may seem small- but they really add up!

We use about 500 million straws per day in the US alone, which is enough to fill more than 46,400 large yellow school buses per year. Participating restaurants report back to me that 50-80% of customers choose not to take a straw when offered, so this is a very simple solution, with no need for legislation or mandate. People and businesses are joining in to participate voluntarily – with great results.

I am not trying to ban straws – anyone who wants or needs a straw should get one- but we can greatly reduce the number of straws we use to only the number we need to use, simply by encouraging restaurants, schools and others to offer straws instead of serving one with every drink automatically.

And that’s my goal. Please join me: http://ecocycle.org/bestrawfree

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