PORT ANGELES — State Rep. Mike Chapman visited some of his youngest constituents last week to discuss impacts of plastic straws on the environment.
Fourth-grade students at Jefferson Elementary School were assigned an opinion essay and have been researching the impacts of disposable straws on the environment — and they have made their opinions known to the Port Angeles Democrat.
Some are for banning plastic straws, some are against it and some want to strike a compromise. Teacher Wyndi Anderson said the conversation at times had “heated up,” which led to students writing to Chapman.
“My office did receive some emails from some of you and I really appreciate that,” Chapman said on Tuesday. “It might seem like you’re only in fourth grade … but you are taxpayers and that’s who I work for. I work for you.”
Chapman is one of three legislators representing District 24, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula.
Chapman told the class that as state lawmakers considered legislation this year that would have banned plastic straws and plastic bags, he heard from many who advocated banning straws and plastic bags and from many who opposed such a ban.
Chapman, who is in support of banning plastic bags and promoting paper bags, said he was frustrated at how close the plastic bag ban came to passing through the state Legislature.
The measure passed through the Senate but failed to get through the House.
Chapman told the class that some of his older constituents can get “grumpy” when the topic is discussed.
“Your letters will move me more because it is your generation going forward when we talk about things like climate change and what’s good for the environment,” Chapman said.
Students told Chapman that they learned that plastic straws are washing up on beaches, harming turtles and are polluting the environment.
Some students said an outright ban on plastic straws wouldn’t be good for people who may need straws.
Chapman said he has heard from people who are disabled and who may not be able to pick up a glass.
“They do need to use a straw,” he said. “There are other straws that are recyclable and washable.”
Student Josh Freeman showed Chapman a glass straw that he uses at home. He said he got it from Pike Place Market in Seattle.
As Freeman showed off his washable straw there were several “oohs” and “aahs” from his classmates and from Chapman.
“That’s really cool,” Chapman said.
Another student brought a paper straw, which isn’t reusable but is biodegradable.
“There’s a mill that sits out on our waterfront that’s empty right now … but their business model and their plan is to use 100 percent recycled paper, recycled bags and recycled items like paper straws,” Chapman said. “They are looking at creating like 200 jobs in our city at really good wages.”
Chapman told students that the fiber from paper can be used “over and over again.”
One student showed Chapman the silverware packages students get to use with their meals. Wrapped in plastic is their plastic silverware and a napkin.
“It’s a big waste because if you only want the napkin, you have to throw everything else away because you’re not going to use it,” the student said. “It’s not good for our environment because we’re taking away resources.”
Chapman told the students that there are a few ways to go about reducing the number of plastic straws that are thrown away.
He said the Legislature can do an outright ban, but he said companies also can be pressured to reduce their impact on the environment.
“Some of the big food corporations are looking at that,” Chapman said. “If your generation on up starts saying ‘we don’t want plastic straws,’ the business community will make paper straws affordable. They always have.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected] dailynews.com.