Tween to Pols: Disposable Straws Suck

Posted September 16, 2013 at 4:17pm

Milo Cress, the eco-minded 12-year-old who’s spent the past few years trying to convince restaurant-goers to pass on unneeded straws, is back in town this week to share his “offer first” strategy with lawmakers and District administrators.

The mission-driven youngster is scheduled to debrief Congress about his “green” plan at 3 p.m. Wednesday in Room 2456 of the Rayburn House Office Building; the meeting is being sponsored by Colorado Democrats Rep. Jared Polis and Sen. Mark Udall.

Cress founded his “Be Straw Free” campaign in 2011, after realizing that nearly every time he went out to eat, wait staff automatically tossed a disposable plastic straw into the mix — whether he wanted one or not.

“That seemed like a huge waste because I don’t usually need a straw,” Cress told HOH. The enormity of the problem only became more jarring once he researched straw usage trends and discovered that Americans use and discard 500 million straws per day, a figure that reflects our rising dependence on single-serving juice boxes and milk containers.

“I decided, ‘This is something I can do something about,’” Cress said of his newfound mission to curb mindless straw pushing.

He is not advocating for everyone to eschew straws entirely. He totally gets that some people need/prefer straws when imbibing beverages. But, at the very least, he’d like to have hospitality providers inquire if a patron desires one in the first place.

“I encourage restaurants and schools to offer straws instead of serving one with every drink automatically and invite customers to order their drinks without straws whenever they don’t need to use one,” he said.

As for reusable options — consumers today can choose slurping accessories ranging from custom glass numbers to stainless steel tubes — Cress is all for anything that helps keep the landfills from rising another inch.

“We need to think ‘reduce, reduce, reduce’ instead of ‘recycle, recycle, recycle,”’ he warned, declining to come down in favor of any one alternative or another.

The novel idea has helped Cress make some powerful friends. He got to meet the entire Vermont delegation (Cress is a Burlington, Vt., native) during his 2011 trip to the Capitol, and he’s also received the backing of the National Restaurant Association.

“Most ‘green initiatives’ cost money upfront, but this saves restaurants money from the first day they start to offer straws instead of serving them in every drink automatically,” Cress said of his cost-shearing suggestion. “Restaurants report back to me that 50 percent to 80 percent of customers choose not to take a straw when offered.”

Once done with Congress, Cress will head over to the District Department of the Environment Thursday to fill in D.C. on the program.

It sounds like he might, of course, be willing to tweak his schedule should someone from 1600 Penn come a-calling.

“I think this ‘Offer-First’ concept for straws really goes along well with many of President Obama’s environmental initiatives and policies, and I would love to meet with him to talk about that,” Cress said.

If not, the earth-obsessed youth knows just how he’d like to spend any available downtime.

“I will visit as many of the Smithsonian science museums as I can,” Cress said.

Clarification: 11:31 a.m., Sept. 17

An earlier version of this post cited Rep. Cory Gardner as a sponsor of a Wednesday briefing with Milo Cress. Aides to Gardner said the Colorado Republican is not formally involved with the meeting.