It started with a cringe-worthy viral video: an endangered sea turtle struggling and wincing as two researchers worked to extract a four-inch plastic straw from its nostril. Now seen around the world more than 6 million times, just one viewing hit home for Allison Hushek ’95 and her family.
“Just that one straw made us aware of our plastic consumption,” says Hushek, a Marshall College political science major, now an attorney in Southern California. “We started packing our own utensils and cups when we went out and began making better choices at home to lower our single-use waste.” And while a single straw or plastic fork may seem trivial, that waste adds up: An estimated 500 million straws are used in the U.S. every day, and when factoring in the nearly 1,000 years it takes for plastics to break down, and the many animals who mistake those items for food, the time was right to make a change.
Along with her husband Steve ’95 and five-year-old son, Adrian, the Husheks took to the streets in their community to start the “Skip the Straw” campaign, an education program to raise awareness of waste and encourage restaurants to stop automatically serving straws in drinks.
“A lot of the effort is driven by the kids,” says Hushek. “The children are the ones going door to door, talking to restaurant owners and explaining the effects on wildlife and the environment. They learn what service means—how to speak up and articulate the difference you want to make in the community.”
Major companies like Starbucks and Disney have taken steps to eliminate the use of plastic straws due to concerns over ocean pollution, and the California legislature recently passed a bill requiring restaurants to only serve straws upon request.
Hushek wasn’t previously attuned to environmental issues, but just a few factors inspired a change. “When you have kids, you start to think about the planet you’ve inherited and what you want to pass on,” says Hushek. “If we can influence one person to not choose a straw, then we will have made a difference.”