16-Year-Old California Girl Scout Wrote a Letter and Got Several Companies to Reduce Their Use of Plastic Straws


Last fall, the CEO of San Francisco-based Dignity Health received an email out of the blue. It was from a 16-year-old Girl Scout named Shelby O’Neil.

With all due respect, she wrote, the company’s “Human Kindness” commercial had a glaring flaw: It depicted the casual use of a disposable plastic straw to blow out a birthday candle.

“Did you know that straws are one of the top ocean polluters?” she wrote. “Scientists are predicting by the year 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish if we don’t start making drastic changes with our plastic pollution. I’m urging you to stop using this specific commercial.”

Shelby, now 17, lives in San Juan Bautista, Calif., a small city 14 miles from the beach. Learning about the dangers of plastic pollution in the ocean spurred her to focus her Girl Scout Gold Award project, the organization’s highest honor, on trying to do something about it. Items such as plastic straws, stirrers and cup lids are too small to be recycled and are made to break down more quickly than other plastics, she said. “That may sound good, but unfortunately they get broken down into small micro plastic that can be consumed by animals like fish, and then we end up eating the fish,” she said.

Shelby started a nonprofit, Jr Ocean Guardians, to help educate lower-grade level children about plastic and recycling, and has hosted beach cleanups with schoolchildren. Then she decided to take her campaign to the grown-ups.

She identified several companies that use plastic straws, stirrers and cup lids, and wrote them letters.

Not all the letters she wrote got traction. A California-based burger chain told her it had no intention of ceasing to use plastic. But to her surprise, the CEO of Dignity got back to her personally. So did the president and CEO of Farmer Brothers coffee and the sustainability manager at Alaska Airlines. After being in touch with Shelby, all three companies decided to reduce or eliminate the use of the items she objected to.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Tara Bahrampour