Colorado boy sees and fixes a problem
I stared at the thing called a straw, poked into a giant glass on the table. Ice cubes clinked as I stirred with it, as if water needs to be stirred. Plastic, built to last, it sported red racing stripes, one along each side. This one was flexible, one of those articulating suckers that expands and compresses like an accordion. I pushed in, pulled out, fingertips feeling a micro-stutter as it stretched, over and over, in and out, in and out, like Mama’s Squeeze Box. But unlike Daddy in that famous song by The Who, my unrest was caused by guilt. It was my fault this straw would soon find its way to the local landfill, where it would live forever, failing to decompose for a thousand years, leaching toxins into the soil and groundwater.
Eleven-year-old Milo Cress is right. I should have asked for water without a straw.
“Five hundred million straws are discarded in the United States every day,” Milo says. “That’s 46,400 school buses full every year in the United States alone.” Such statistics are alarming, but hearing them in Milo’s articulate, matter-of-fact style, the numbers hit harder, like one of those very school buses careening into a wall, exploding, burying the world in a blizzard of straws.
“I noticed that if I didn’t order a drink without a straw, it would come with one anyway,” Milo says. “I thought, ‘I can do something about this.’”
Milo was nine then, sitting at a restaurant with his mom in Burlington, Vt. Today, he lives in Longmont, Colo. In two years, he’s become the founder and spokesman for Be Straw Free, and his simple idea is spreading like warm butter.
Milo’s mom, Odale Cress, was an artist-in-residence in Gunnison a few years back, doing sculpture with the 5th graders. They lived in Gunnison when Milo was a toddler then moved to Creede, went to the East Coast and have since moved back to the Boulder area.
To be clear, Milo is not anti-straw. “When you do need a straw, it’s fine to have one. I’m just trying to reduce the waste of straws. It’s not a waste if you’ve got a milk shake, or you’re disabled and you need a straw.”
Be Straw Free encourages restaurants to offer straws, but only if customers ask for them. Milo touts re-usable options too, like glass or stainless steel straws to carry with you wherever you go. Paper straws are better than plastic, says Milo, but they too are slow to compost. Ted’s Montana Grill is the biggest chain to have officially signed on to be straw-free, and others are following suit.
“It was just an idea. How many restaurants can we get to not automatically put straws in people’s drinks?” asks Milo. The no-straw wave started when a local Burlington, Vt. TV station heard of Milo’s campaign and featured him on the nightly news.
“It actually saves money,” notes Milo. “More people are happy. The restaurants, because they don’t have to spend so much money on straws, the customers who don’t want one and the people who want to see less waste.”
Milo won the Joint Nature Conservation Committee’s Blue Turtle Award, which recognizes environmental activists in the UK and internationally. “You pass it on,” he explained. “It was an honor to receive the Blue Turtle from the hands of Jean-Michel Cousteau, and an honor to pass it along to Trevor Keightley, an award-winning film producer and all-around terrific guy, for his important work for the environment.”
Yes, Milo is the kind of kid who would say “all-around terrific guy.” It takes one to know one.
Milo has been featured in USA Today, addressed the Vermont legislature, and interviewed with several news outlets. He’ll speak at the upcoming People Profits Planet conference in Texas and the Colorado Ocean Coalition Conference. His efforts encouraged the mayor of Burlington to declare his municipality the first-ever straw-free city.
Fundraising is under way to take the campaign global, with plans for a Pacific Rim speaking tour. Learn more—join the movement or donate via www.BeStrawFree.org. Or, just order your next beverage without a straw.