Bozeman youth initiative works to reduce plastic straw use

By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor

BIG SKY – This spring, the Bozeman-based nonprofit Ocean Media Institute completed a successful initiative to reduce the use of plastic straws in Gallatin Valley.

Funded in part by a Bozeman Area Community Foundation grant, this pilot program is called Mountain Mermaids and Mermen, and is designed as an ocean literacy curriculum for youth.

Eighth-grade students from Headwaters Academy worked with members of the Ocean Media Institute to enact the “One Less Straw” campaign. After the students provided educational material to business owners, 16 Bozeman restaurant and drink spots agreed to curb the use of plastic straws, ultimately promising to reduce single-use plastic.

The businesses involved are: Blackbird Kitchen, Bridger Brewing, Burger Bobs, Café M, Cateye Café, Coqui Mountain Coffee, Dave’s Sushi, Delicious Bakery, The Garage Soup Shack, Jam, Mackenzie River Pizza, Rockford Coffee, Sweet Peaks Ice Cream, Toro, The Western Café and Wild Joe’s Coffee Spot.

“Plastic seems to be the one thing that’s a universal problem, and every community can address it in their own way, with a plastic bag ban, plastic bottles, or a plastic straw ban,” said OMI Executive Director Gianna Savoie.

“Kids are consumers too,” she added. “It’s something that impacts them in their daily life and they can make decisions too.”

Savoie said she’s happy with the program’s first year of success, and looks forward to expanding the initiative to other parts of Montana.

“Big Sky is squarely on our radar for this as we have been hoping to launch an initiative called ‘Big Waves in Big Sky’ as part of our Plastic Pollution to Community Solution program,” she said, adding that they have also gotten calls from teachers in Idaho and Wyoming with requests to start Mermaids and Mermen chapters in their schools.

Big Sky artist Katelee McTaggart said that she’s excited to hear of a local initiative that reduces plastic. Originally from the Cayman Islands, where plastic straws have been banned, McTaggart said that plastic use is a really big problem.

“Plastic takes 400 to 1,000 years to biodegrade,” she said. “It either goes into a landfill or into the ocean and kills wildlife.

“It bothers me people don’t even think about it,” she added. “I think a lot of people don’t think so far into the future. In 400 to 1,000 years, we’ll all be gone, so people think, ‘Let’s let the next generation deal with it.’ That’s always been the mindset.”

According to McTaggart, affordability is a big factor for restaurants and plastic straws are cheap. But, she added that there are still affordable alternatives. One example includes the pasta straw, which is made of wheat and flour and doesn’t get soft like paper straws, McTaggart said.

“Starting small and getting bigger is a good way to start,” she said. “Hopefully in 50 years, there will be no more plastic straws.”

Visit oceanmediainstitute.org to learn more about the plastic straw ban.