My name is Miary Rasoanaivo, a recent graduate with an environmental science major. Thanks to Skidmore College’s Summer Experience Fund, this summer I have had the chance to intern at Earth’s Last Straw right here in Saratoga. Earth’s Last Straw (ELS) is a local environmental campaign that aims to reduce the use of single-use plastics in Saratoga Springs. The long-term goal is to tackle single-use plastics in general, but as a pilot initiative, ELS focused on plastic straws. I found out about this opportunity through a faculty in the Environmental Science Program.
I was attracted to this campaign simply because knowing that single-use plastics are generally bad for the environment, I used to use straws every other day without thinking about their dire consequences. Now, imagine how many people out there overlook the destructive effects of this small plastic item, which we only use for 1 hour at most, but stays 500 years in our oceans. To prepare myself for the interview, I stumbled upon the horrifying video of a sea turtle getting a straw pulled out of its nostril. It led me to feel that I must do something.
ELS only started around March of 2018. Since then, the founder, Jill Fecteau, has done a great job to mobilize media attention, meeting with local legislators, and meeting with businesses. With the realization that not much can be done in terms of legislation as of now, ELS’ strategy focused primarily on getting local businesses on board with our movement and building community traction. As an intern, I was involved in these two aspects.
I wanted to take on this opportunity because I have not had the chance yet to fully engage myself in environmental activism. As a science student I love doing research and such, I really appreciate the significance of that work. However, activism is the ultimate embodiment of that work at the community level. Activism remains by far the best force that drives environmentalism forward. This internship has enabled me to get a hands-on experience and learn about that force.
Through this summer, I was in charge of reaching out to more businesses in downtown Saratoga springs to interest them in our movement. We walked into restaurants, bars, and cafes during their down time and talked to managers about our movement. From there, we get a contact person, in most cases the owners, who can directly make the decisions. We then send emails to this contact person talking about ELS and asking for a meeting to discuss alternatives further. Although straws are most often an unnecessary inconvenience, we do not want to upset businesses by simply getting rid of them. Hence, we offer them alternatives such as paper, stainless steel, or glass straws. We proposed that the least and simplest thing they can do is provide straws only upon customers’ request. Throughout the summer, a few businesses downtown have made the transition away from plastic straws already by adopting one of these alternatives. To name a few: Hamlet and Ghost switched to stainless steel straws, Saratoga Gelato and Saratoga Tea and Honey are now using paper straws.
With the opening of the track season, business outreach has been slowing down so we focused on other things. I helped create and organized files to help us keep track of the businesses we reach out to and their responses. We also pursued to enhance the community outreach part of the project, by increasing our presence on social media, getting a table at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market, and my last project is to help create a PSA about single-use plastics. Overall, this has been a very enriching experience in all aspects, not only for professional reasons but also social. In sum, it has been an eye-opening hands-on experience of the applications of sustainability in the real-world.