PORT TOWNSEND — A group of students at Port Townsend High School hopes to initiate a powerful environmental change.
While it may have statewide or national aspirations, the Students for Sustainability Club is focusing on something more practical — a ban on the use of plastic straws within the city.
Several students made a formal presentation earlier this month to the Port Townsend City Council, and Mayor Deborah Stinson said she was impressed.
“This helps us tremendously in helping us move forward with this,” Stinson told the students after their comments Dec. 2.
Movements to ban the use of plastic straws have gained momentum nationwide. Single-use plastic straws are so small they often aren’t recycled and end up polluting oceans and harming wildlife, advocates of the bans have said.
The club has roots in public activism, including a 2014 cross-country train trip to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness about global warming.
Five years later, and with a new core group, co-club presidents Melanie Bakin and Sarah Marx, both 16, led the group along with three advisers, Tim Behrenfeld, Lois Sherwood and Laura Tucker.
Bakin, a junior, said the club worked through organizational challenges last year and wanted to focus on specific goals in 2019.
“Late at night, we were talking and the straw ban came up,” she said Tuesday during the school lunch period, when the club regularly meets. “We wanted to get it done and get some change.”
Bakin went to work along with Oscar Levine, 15, a co-vice president along with Lochlan Krupa, 15.
Seven of the students spent the summer going to local events, promoting their plan to have plastic straws banned in Port Townsend.
Bakin said they attended farmers markets, the First Saturday Art Walk and also distributed pamphlets inside the alcove at the Food Co-op.
Levine did the same at Fort Worden during the Old School Fourth of July event, but they also knew the City Council would want more information.
“We went to almost all of the small businesses downtown to ask them if they would support it, and most of them did,” Levine said.
Anna Molotsky, 14, is in her first year in the club as a freshman, but she also took part in the process. She said speaking with local business owners was a key part of the plan.
“We wanted to see how that change could affect them, if it would affect them at all, so we could do more research on it,” she said.
Along the way, the students learned about different products — straws made of paper, bamboo or reusable metal — and found that some businesses, including Elevated Ice Cream, The Rose Theatre, Tommyknocker’s Cornish Pasty, the Manresa Castle and Lehani’s Deli and Coffee already have taken steps to reduce plastic waste.
It’s also been a learning experience with how legislation gets passed, even down to the local level.
The students secured 570 signatures on a petition in town to ban plastic straws, Levine said, adding that all were eligible registered voters.
They also had more than 700 people sign an online petition, although they were working to verify where people lived and whether they were older than 18.
During last month’s City Council presentation, students took turns at the microphone discussing the dangers of plastics, particularly in the ocean.
The students said plastic straws still would be available at area grocery stores and the cafeteria at Jefferson Healthcare as well as local retirement homes, and alternatives for individuals who have complex health needs could include reusable metal straws or those made from avocado seeds or silicone, Levine said.
Krupa told City Council members the club also wants to research bans on plastic to-go containers and single-use drink lids.
He said Seattle, Miami and Berkeley, Calif., have banned single-use plastics, and New York City has legislation pending.
“If those big cities can do it, then Port Townsend, as a small maritime community that is generally environmentally conscious, can do it,” he said. “We not only have the potential, we have the responsibility to enact this ban.”
Stinson applauded the students’ efforts, calling it “very smart and very well thought out.”
She suggested the students send council sample legislation from other cities so they can establish a good place to start.
The city may consider the ban in early 2020, Stinson said.
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].