Camas women hope to get people talking about plastic straws

Free film screening set for April 23 a chance to learn about pollution

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Two Camas women are on a campaign to raise awareness about a common source of environmental pollution: the ubiquitous plastic drinking straw.

“We are trying to start a dialogue about plastic straws,” says Alicia King. “How can we use less, eliminate them and come up with other options?”

King, founder of the nonprofit video blog (vlog) Just a Girl in Camas, is working with Geri Rubano, a paraeducator at Helen Baller Elementary School and local environmental activist, to bring awareness about plastic straws’ detrimental impact on the environment — particularly on oceans and marine life — to the greater Camas-Washougal community.

In between work and parenting, the two women have carved out time to walk through downtown Camas and talk to restaurant and cafe owners about plastic straws.

What they tell them is this: In the United States alone, there are 500 million single-use plastic straws being used and discarded daily. Laid end to end, that’s enough straws to circle the Earth two and a half times. Americans are adding 175 billion straws to landfills every year. According to StrawlessOcean.org, the majority of plastic straws eventually end up in our oceans, polluting the water and killing marine life — more than 70 percent of seabirds and 30 percent of sea turtles having been found to have ingested plastic, a cause of early mortality in marine animals.

Already, several Camas restaurant owners have said they want to figure out how to use sustainable alternatives. Others, including the owners of Feast and Nuestra Mesa, have agreed to also switch over to “straws upon request” instead of automatically adding a straw to every customer’s glass.

Rubano, who fell in love with environmental causes after meeting her husband, Dan, 15 years ago and camping under the giant sequoia and redwood trees along California’s Redwood Coast, says she has been working with her own family to reduce their plastics consumption.

“My son has really gotten into it,” she says. “He’s become very aware.”

Now, even if they swing by Burgerville or another fast-food restaurant on the way home, her husband and children know better than to bring plastic straws home with them. Of course, Rubano also likes to keep sustainable options like reusable, washable stainless steel or paper straws handy, so her family won’t have to use plastic straws. It’s an idea she passed along to King, who recently interviewed her for a recycling-themed Just a Girl in Camas vlog.

“I think that our culture has become very disposable and that we’re not truly considering how our consumption impacts our world,” Rubano says.

In honor of this year’s Earth Day campaign, “A World Without Plastic Pollution,” Rubano, King and the Camas Public Library have teamed up to present a free screening of the award-winning documentary STRAWS. Directed by Linda Booker and narrated by Oscar winning actor Tim Robbins, the 33-minute documentary highlights the environmental impact of plastic straws and seeks “a new path forward” with sustainable straw alternatives.

The free documentary screening is open to the public and begins at 6:30 p.m., Monday, April 23, at the Camas Library, 625 N.E. Fourth Ave. Safeway has donated free reusable bags to give to the first 50 people who attend the screening.

“I hope to get people thinking about how small habits can add up to huge impact. Removing plastic straws is a tangible, simple change people and businesses can do that truly makes a difference,” says filmmaker Linda Booker.

Rubano and King say they plan to keep the dialogue going even after the STRAWS screening. They will approach more Camas-Washougal restaurants and businesses about switching over to sustainable straw options, or moving toward a “by request only” situation if they need to keep their plastic straws due to cost considerations.

“My hope after the screening of STRAWS is for every viewer to think about their single-use plastic use and how they can choose a safer and more sustainable alternative. And, to be mindful and conscious of all of their purchases, big and small.” Rubano says.

For more information about the documentary, visit strawsfilm.com. To learn about plastic straw dangers, visit blueocean.net, strawlessocean.org or thelastplasticstraw.org. Some sustainable alternatives to plastic straws include aardvarkstraws.com and ukonserve.com.