Nora Valaass, Becky Hinckley, Kaileigh Peterson, Geneva Betnel and Megan O’Reilly smile with Pramila Jayapal and Nancy Pelosi at the March for Science in Seattle on April 14. The girls want their communities on the Eastside to ban plastic straws. Photo courtesy of Angela Pifer

Nora Valaass, Becky Hinckley, Kaileigh Peterson, Geneva Betnel and Megan O’Reilly smile with Pramila Jayapal and Nancy Pelosi at the March for Science in Seattle on April 14. The girls want their communities on the Eastside to ban plastic straws. Photo courtesy of Angela Pifer

Young environmentalists urge plastic straw ban

Kirkland students hope to take their message across the Eastside, then statewide.

Researchers predict that there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050. A group of local activists is urging elected officials to act now to prevent that from happening, by banning single-use plastic straws.

So far they’ve taken their idea to the city councils of Redmond, Shoreline and Kirkland, along with the Lake Washington School District (LWSD). They met Gov. Jay Inslee and spoke at the March for Science in Seattle.

Their message is particularly resonant, because they’re the ones who will have to live with plastic pollution. They’re only 8-10 years old now.

Megan O’Reilly, Becky Hinckley, Kaileigh Peterson, Cora Batterberry and Nora Valaas, who are in third and fourth grade at Community School in Kirkland, are concerned about the large amounts of plastic that end up in the ocean, polluting the water and killing wildlife. Americans use more than 500 million plastic straws every day, they said.

“Plastic never fully biodegrades. It only breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, until it gets into everything,” Nora told the Kirkland City Council at its May 15 meeting.

Third and fourth graders from Kirkland’s Community School address their city council on May 15, asking them to ban plastic straws. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Third and fourth graders from Kirkland’s Community School address their city council on May 15, asking them to ban plastic straws. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Council member Penny Sweet said she was “so excited” about the idea and asked if it could be studied by the city’s Public Works Committee.

The girls have received a generally positive response from most of the elected officials they’ve met. They said the governor thought it was a “great idea,” as did state Sen. Maralyn Chase and Rep. Shelley Kloba.

Local students Finn, Nora, Margaret, Lucia, Kaileigh, Megan and Becky meet with Gov. Jay Inslee, after some of them started a campaign to ban plastic bags. Photo courtesy of Angela Pifer

Local students Finn, Nora, Margaret, Lucia, Kaileigh, Megan and Becky meet with Gov. Jay Inslee, after some of them started a campaign to ban plastic bags. Photo courtesy of Angela Pifer

They also met Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at the March for Science, where their friend, 5-year-old Geneva Betnel of Shoreline, was invited to speak after recording a viral video about plastic straw pollution. Geneva later issued a challenge for people to change their habits and pledge to not use single-use straws for the month of April.

LWSD has already made a change. Through Sodexo and in cooperation with the school board, the Nutrition Services Department decided to eliminate all straws from its program, except at Lake Washington High School and Redmond High School. The district is sourcing paper straws for the fruit slushies sold at those two schools.

The young environmentalists said that some of their peers were confused by their plan. They don’t want to ban all straws, just single-use plastic ones. There are alternatives, including reusable, metal and even bamboo straws.

The girls meet with Rep. Shelley Kloba. Photo courtesy of Angela Pifer

The girls meet with Rep. Shelley Kloba. Photo courtesy of Angela Pifer

It was Megan’s idea at first to take the plastic straw ban to the Redmond City Council, after researching the issue.

“Even though we’re young, we can do a lot of things people don’t think we can,” she said.

Though public speaking can be intimidating, Megan is encouraging kids to not be afraid to speak out. The students want to take their proposal from city to city and eventually, statewide. It already has some momentum in the region.

Seattle recently became one of the first cities to ban plastic straws. An ordinance that will take effect in July prohibits eateries in the city from dispensing plastic straws or utensils, though they will be able to offer compostable or reusable versions.

Kirkland City Council member Dave Asher talks to the girls proposing a plastic bag ban before the May 15 meeting. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Kirkland City Council member Dave Asher talks to the girls proposing a plastic bag ban before the May 15 meeting. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Other cities, including Kirkland, Issaquah and Mercer Island, have banned disposable plastic bags. On May 2, the membership of the 45th District Democrats adopted a resolution in support of expanding the ban to the Eastside cities of Duvall, Redmond, Sammamish and Woodinville.

The Kirkland council heard from more than one group of young environmentalists at its last meeting. Students from International Community School suggested “green” projects to the city, including installing solar panels on the Kirkland Urban project and putting filters on storm drains.

See www.kirklandwa.gov for more.

Local students are asking city councils to ban plastic bags, recently attending the meeting in Kirkland on May 15. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Local students are asking city councils to ban plastic bags, recently attending the meeting in Kirkland on May 15. Katie Metzger/staff photo

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