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Shooting for a Strawless September: Mtn. View woman aims to reduce plastic waste

Although Bobbi Wilmoth never considered herself an activist, the Mountain View resident is on a one-woman mission to rid her city of plastic straws – one restaurant at a time.

Her Strawless September campaign is just the beginning, said Wilmoth, who is undeterred by critics who question how much of an impact the elimination of straws would have on the amount of plastic contaminating the oceans. She tells naysayers that at least it’s somewhere to start.

“I’ve been concerned about plastic usage for a while, and I think that plastic straws are the low-hanging fruit,” she said. “(It could be) very easy to change.”

The national conversation on discarding plastic – lids and straws – has sparked corporations such as Hyatt, Marriott, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Starbucks to make changes.

Wilmoth became passionate about solving the problem while she was on the California coastline attending a presentation. Peering into a canister at the Monterey Bay Aquarium filled with bright pieces of plastic, she was told the items were pulled from the stomachs of birds and crustaceans who mistook them for prey. The image stuck with Wilmoth, who went home and researched hands-on approaches to effect change.

That’s when she discovered Strawless in Seattle, a campaign that led to the removal of 2 million plastic straws from businesess throughout the city in 2017. She also found free resources from organizations such as Save Our Shores and Strawless Ocean that could help her inform her community about alternatives to plastic straws.

A natural extrovert, Wilmoth thought that reaching out to local restaurants and convincing them to get onboard was feasible.

“It was a matter of sitting at home overwhelmed versus something I could actually do,” she said.

Businesses onboard

While some friends didn’t have time to help – and some restaurant managers talked to owners who never got back to her – Wilmoth has persuaded several Mountain View restaurants to participate in Strawless September, including Olympus Caffe and Bakery, Ephesus Mediterranean Cuisine, Red Rock Coffee, 1 Oz. Coffee, Doppio Zero and Oren’s Hummus. Many of them are only giving out plastic straws to those who ask for them, she said.

Wilmoth said Red Rock’s owner is looking into eliminating plastic straws and has used compostable straws, but that option is still risky for sea life if the straws are not disposed of in the compost and still end up in the ocean. Compostable straws are not marine biodegradable, she noted.

While preaching on the possibilities of using steel, glass and even silicone straws, Wilmoth said each participating restaurant should still keep a small stock of flexible plastic straws for those who need them. While most people can go without straws, those with disabilities cannot. The straws cannot be paper, either, because they do not fold, she added.

“While it would be a huge win to redo the concept of straws altogether, we need to be careful to represent the whole community,” Wilmoth said.

Wilmoth had a grander vision when she first researched how other cities in the country were eliminating plastic straws, but this year she is focused on the education aspect.

“It isn’t so much as getting restaurant owners to change their behaviors, although that is good, too,” she said. “It’s about raising community awareness.”

For more information on Mountain View’s Strawless September, visit mvstrawlessseptember.org.

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