Monday, October 8, 2018

A Teenaged Beacon of Hope from California – Shelby O’Neil fight Single-Use Plastics

by Raakhee Suryaprakash

 So, who is Shelby O’Neil?
·     A teenager who started a non-profit to educate school kids about their impact on the Ocean.
·     A girl scout who wrote to CEOs and convinced a few of them to change their companies’ single-use plastic policy.
·       A high-schooler who testified before California’s Natural Resources Committee in support of AB 1884 – Straws Upon Request bill.
·       A young Californian who has had an impact of stopping the use of about 20 million plastic straws and stirrers with her action.
·       Sagittarius schoolgirl who launched #NoStrawNovember in 2017
·       Founder, Jr Ocean Guardians, which along with Monterey Bay Aquarium, co-sponsored SCR 139 – No Straw November with Senator Bill Monning.  
·       A high school senior who raised $2,050 with her Girls Scouts special edition patch for the Girl Scouts San Jacinto Council in Houston, TX, for Hurricane Harvey relief.
Yes to all of the above, but so much more. She is a beacon of hope that the next generation has many concerned nature-lovers who will work to ensure that their environment is cleaned up and stays clean.
Shelby also demonstrates the scope of the impact of just one individual, as well as the power of institutions like the Girl Scouts, the influence of “Young Women in Science” programmes such as the one hosted by Monterey Bay Aquarium that she was part of and above all the clout of a motivated teenager on social media.
At a time, when mainstream media highlights the ignorance of the general public in the US in being unable to point and name even one country on the map, we have first world teenagers like Shelby O’Neil and Boyan Slat whose work have international impact.
With No Straw November hosted by Shelby &Jr Ocean Guardians in Monterey, CA, she took her movement out of the classrooms and challenged people and businesses to give up single-use plastics for a month. By writing to company CEOs and influencers, Shelby reminded people that to be truly sustainable stopping the use of single-use plastics is essential. Her biggest wins from approaching company heads directly by mail were companies such as Alaska Airlines, Farmer Brothers Coffee as well as Dignity Health giving up the use of most or all their plastic straws and stirrers. Her online #NoStrawNovember challenge saw cities, counties, schools, restaurants, and everyday people participating and pledging to give up straws for the month and keep track of how much they were offered and how often they refused the ubiquitous plastic straw. In my opinion this was as much an informal audit as it was a challenge to combat plastic use. But as Shelby put it in her interview with me,
“It was definitely a team #NoStrawNovember movement with people all over the world supporting and spreading awareness, it is much bigger than one person.”
Preceding 2018’s Earth Day and World Environment Day themes calling to “End Plastic Pollution” and “Beat Plastic Pollution” respectively, No Straw November’s success in 2017 demonstrated that people and businesses were willing to go the extra mile to help counter the plastic menace. Getting the No Straw November Proclamation passed by the government of California paved the way for an influential legislation that ensures that straws and stirrers are only provided in restaurants on-demand and not as a matter of course.

A high-school senior and a girl scout having an impact on state policy and corporations shows what just one motivated person is capable of doing to change the world for the better. Shelby credits her awareness of the issue of Ocean Plastic to her two-year association with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Young Women in Science” programme. The right after school and extracurricular activities and volunteering with committed institutions and individuals can channel young people into change-makers extraordinaire.
The school children she interacted with as part of Jr Ocean Guardians’ beach clean-ups and awareness building programmes also showed her that they were interested in doing something concrete to tackle the Ocean Plastic problem beyond the classrooms and activity books.
Plastic pollution an all-pervasive existential threat, that’s characteristic of the over-consumerist, use-and-throw times we live in. De-plastic-ing and Re-plastic-ing our lives is a continuous process that needs to start now, start small and build up in a step by step process, and young change-makers like Shelby O’Neil show us that even one person can have a massive effect on the plastic problem.
When asked about her plans for the future, this young change-maker who has already had such a powerful influence on the world kept it simple,
“Right now, I'm a senior in high school so I'm really focused on graduating and then going to a university!”
Here’s wishing her all the best for her future and world-changing activities.
Read the full interview of the first Re-Plastic Change-Maker at:
And follow her initiatives at:
Twitter:  @nostrawnovember
Instagram:  jr.ocean.guardians