ATLANTA – Question: what do two teens, a bunch of students and disposable plastic straws equal? Answer: one large campaign to raise awareness about the danger that plastic straws bring to waterways and oceans.
Carter and Olivia Ries are no strangers to working on environmental issues. They started the nonprofit organization One More Generation (OMG) back in 2009 when they were 8.5 and 7 years old respectively. Their passion for educating fellow students has taken them around the world, and OMG has worked on protecting animals ranging from rhinos to sea turtles, as well as teaching children the importance of recycling and not polluting the planet.
“What first inspired me was when my aunt went to South Africa and was wondering what to get my brother and I as a gift, so she decided to adopt two cheetahs, and she brought us two certificates saying that we are now the adoptive parents of the cheetahs,” Olivia told Hispanic Outlook. “We were so excited. Later, we asked why animals needed to be adopted, and once my dad told me why, I realized that we need to protect these animals, so that they won’t go extinct.”
“The first cause we took-on was collecting money for the cheetah rescue center in South Africa,” Carter told Hispanic Outlook. “We did this by standing outside and asking people for money, and we explained what it was for. Being small (cute as my mom and dad would say) children, we got more attention. But the pros always come with the cons, and because we were children, we weren’t taken seriously. We did manage to collect over $1,000, and we used our mom’s airline miles and went to South Africa and hand delivered the check to the founder of the Ann Van Dyke Cheetah Center. It was amazing to see the work we had done be fulfilled.”
Despite being so young, Carter and Olivia’s efforts were noticed by the international environmental education organization the Captain Planet Foundation (CPF). Founded by media mogul Ted Turner and current chaired by his daughter, Laura Turner Seydel, CPF offers programs, lesson plans and grants to help teach children and teenagers about the environment, as well as encourage them to get involved with environmental issues. In the last 25 years, CPF has funded over 1,915 projects and directly benefitted over 10 million youth.
“My father, Ted Turner, and Barbara Pyle who co-founded CPF 25 years ago knew it was critically important to get kids outside and to be able to problem solve around issues that were being addressed in their schoolyards and communities,” Seydel told Hispanic Outlook.
Seydel explained that the Captain Planet Foundation and the Chattahoochee Nature Center have worked together for years to bring youth and the environmental community together for Earth Day Kids Fest. This is where she first saw the level of Carter and Olivia’s dedication to the environment.
“From the time they were 7 and 8 years old, Carter and Olivia were engaged,” Seydel said. “From the time the spark was ignited when they learned about the sad plight of endangered animals in Africa to the animals affected by the BP oil spill in the Gulf, they didn’t sit back and wait for others to solve the problem. They took action. They started a nonprofit started volunteering, built awareness and raised critical funds to do the work. They’ve done a great job of engaging youth on how they could make a difference in their own communities. Carter and Olivia have provided a road map for their peers when it comes to thinking globally and acting locally.”
Carter and Olivia have now set their sights on one of the most ubiquitous polluters that no one thinks about – disposable plastic straws. Americans use an estimated 500 million plastic straws every single day. That is like 1.6 straws for every man, woman and child living in this country every single day. If a person were to take an entire day’s worth of plastic straws used in one day, it would fill up over 127 school buses. Another way to illustrate this is to think about all those straws end on end; they would stretch around the world 2.5 times, each day.
“Yes, there are many pollutants out there. The main reason we chose straws was due to the fact that we see them more than we do some of the others,” Carter said. “My dad would go out to get a drink, and I would see up to 12-20 straws lying on the ground. I would pick them up, and next time we came, another load of straws. This eventually annoyed me, so we did research and saw that we are using over 500,000,000 straws every single day, and they are ending up in our landfill. This was disturbing, and we decided that this was the new project to do because all you had to do was ‘say no to a straw’, how hard is that?”
“It is so important that we educate the youth of the world about the problem,” Olivia said. “Unfortunately, we youth are being brought up in a society that blindly accepts all the needless plastic packaging and plastic bags, bottles, cutlery and yes, even plastic straws without even thinking about the consequences. The youth of today are very smart, and if we educate them about the issue, they will find a way to be the solution. We want our OneLessStraw Pledge Campaign to be used in every school around the world.”
The campaign consists of three targets for participation: individual students, schools and restaurants.
• Individual students can take a pledge to not use straws for 30 days.They ask one adult family member to do the same. If the student catches the adult using a straw during the 30 days, the adult pays a pre-determined dollar amount to the student. The student donates the collected funds to OMG at the end of month. OMG will use the funds to teach more students about plastic pollution.
• The second group is schools who will sign up students to charge a family member, but this time it becomes a fundraiser for the school. The school will use collected funds for environmental education in the school.
• The third target group is restaurants. During the 30 days, restaurants are asked to not hand out straws unless customers ask for them. Wait staff can wear buttons educating customers about the campaign. Restaurants save money on having to purchase less straws.
The One Less Straw campaign has over 120 partners to help spread the word. Carter and Olivia set a very ambitious target of 50,000 pledges for the entire campaign.
Schools interested in participating in the OneLessStraw campaign can download pledge forms in both English (http://onemoregeneration.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/School-Pledge-Form-30-days.pdf) and Spanish (http://onemoregeneration.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Spanish-School-Pledge-Pledge-Form-11-10-16.pdf). Business and individuals interested in participating can also download bilingual pledge forms at www.onelessstraw.org
The OneLessStraw pledge campaign is sponsored by One More Generation (OMG) and its partners. Information sheets on the OneLessStraw campaign are available in both English (http://onemoregeneration.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/OneLessStraw-Campaign-Assets-070617.pdf) and Spanish (http://onemoregeneration.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Spanish-One-Less-Straw-Info-Sheet-30-days.pdf).