A young ocean advocate named Alina has inspired all of us here at Sanibel Sea School! After attending Coastal Keepers' screening of STRAWS, an educational film about plastic straw pollution, she wrote a letter to the vice president of a well-known restaurant in Washington, DC requesting to meet and discuss the restaurant’s use of disposable plastic straws. He agreed to meet with her, and her message was well-received. From now on, the restaurant will only provide straws upon request, cutting consumption by about half.
Alina’s efforts did not stop there. She broached the topic at her school and provided reusable, stainless-steel straws to her principal and some of her teachers. Alina was then recognized at her school’s assembly, and a group of older children are now starting a similar effort based on her success.
We interviewed Alina about her experience, and why keeping plastic out of the ocean is so important to her.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How old are you, where are you from, what are your hobbies?
I am eight years old. I am from Russia, but I live in Washington, DC. I was adopted when I was just about three. I lived in Sanibel for almost two years and visit every year to go to Sea School. My hobbies are drawing, taking care of animals, playing the piano, horseback riding, biking, scootering, and reading. I am on a swim team too. I joined my very first swim team on Sanibel, SWAT, when I was 5.
What's your favorite sea creature?
I don't have a favorite sea creature. I love them all.
Where did you learn about the impacts of straws on animals and the environment?
My mother first taught me not to use plastic straws and plastic bags when I came from Russia. I saw photos in the newspaper and at Sea School this year, I watched a documentary about how straws are bad for the planet. Divers hated seeing straws down in the sea. A turtle was found by divers. It had something in its nose. The divers tried to pull it out and it broke. One of the divers bit on it and it was plastic. The turtle was bleeding and I cried.
Why did you choose to work with this restaurant?
I noticed a lot, a lot of straws at this restaurant when I ate there.
Tell us about meeting with the vice president of the restaurant - were you nervous? What did you tell him? How did he respond?
I wasn't nervous - well, I was when I first saw him, but he turned out to be a really nice man. Once we sat down, I wasn't nervous anymore. I told him that straws are not good for the planet at all and animals get them stuck in their bodies, and I showed him pictures. I told him that he could use bamboo straws. I told him that people don't need straws for water and that the restaurant should wait for people to ask before giving them a straw. He said he feels the same way. He is going to stop putting straws in water automatically, which he said will cut the number of straws used in half. He said I should do this at other restaurants too.
How does it feel to know that you are making a difference?
I feel really good because I know I am helping animals. They need help. And I'm helping the ocean.
What advice would you give other kids who want to stand up for something that is important to them?
You have to let people know what you feel. You can't hide it. You don't have to be worried. If you meet an adult to talk about something, they will never be mean. Stand up for what you believe in. If nobody ever stood up, we wouldn't be able to make the world a better place.
Thank you so much, Alina!