This past spring, Sierra Watershed Education Partnerships (SWEP) Sustainability Club students began a mission to change the local mindset on plastic straw use. The goal was to raise awareness of the environmental impact of plastic straws and encourage local businesses and restaurants to make a change.  

Student research led to an action plan.  

As SWEP students began their campaign, they found other student groups with a similar mission. Students from SOS Outreach and Sierra Expeditionary Learning School were also working on an “Outlaw the Straw” campaign. Together, these student groups realized the potential for a regional straw free-movement that included unified messaging and outreach strategies.

Partners from Town of Truckee, Incline Village General Improvement District, UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center, League to Save Lake Tahoe, and Take Care joined the collaboration, providing data, resources, and more to enhance the campaign and truly make a positive impact in the region.

Students developed an informational flyer to educate local restaurants about the importance of going plastic straw free. Each student group took on a specific area of outreach within the Lake Tahoe Basin to share the campaign basin-wide. Students pounded the pavement, going from restaurant to restaurant and meeting with owners, managers, and staff. They shared information and asked restaurants to make the switch to straws by request, and when requested, to only offer plastic-free alternatives.  

The students were happy to report that all the businesses they approached were either very open to making the change, had already made the switch, or even made the switch on the spot.

Our collective efforts culminated in mini film fest at UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center where two environmental films — “Straws” and “Everything Connects” — were screened. Students hosted outreach tables and gave a presentation to a crowd of 200 community members, asking them to skip the straw.

It takes a collective effort to create change. Collaboration and support from partners allowed students to creatively come together to advocate for the environment. It truly does take partnership and a passionate community to create positive change.