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Targeting plastic pollution, McHenry County environmental advocates screen 'Straws'

April 10 documentary showing at MCC to be followed by panel discussion

A scene from the documentary "Straws," to be shown at 7 p.m. April 10 at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake.
A scene from the documentary "Straws," to be shown at 7 p.m. April 10 at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake.

It’s the last straw for environmental advocates in McHenry County as they work to curb plastic pollution.

The Environmental Defenders of McHenry County and McHenry County College have teamed up to show “Straws,” a documentary by Linda Booker, narrated by Oscar-winner Tim Robbins, about the problems caused by the use of plastic straws. The free movie screening – at 7 p.m. April 10 in the college’s Conference Center – will be followed by a panel discussion with environmental advocates from McHenry County and beyond.

And the first 50 people who attend will be given metal straws. In all, MCC is handing out 500 straws, and all plastic straws have been removed from the cafeteria, student-run restaurant and throughout the campus for the month, said Kim Hankins, director of the college’s Sustainability Center.

Will plastic straws eventually return to MCC?

“I’m not really sure,” she said, adding she would like to see how the month-long effort to raise awareness of plastic pollution goes.

“I was not quite sure what people’s reaction would be,” she said. “Some people are into their routines, and they get bent out of shape if you mess with them.”

The film showing grew out of a discussion among members of the Environmental Defenders, who all separately were thinking about targeting straw use, said Cynthia Kanner, executive director of the organization.

“We realized we all wanted to do something with straws and bring more awareness to reducing the uses of straws, especially in McHenry County, but everywhere,” she said.

Member Bill Donato of the McHenry County Schools Environmental Education Program had heard about the 32-minute documentary and suggested it to the group. Robbins narrates a colorful and sometimes humorous straw history animation and empowers people to be part of the solution.

It’s estimated every day 500 million plastic straws are used once and tossed in the U.S. alone, according to the film, and the Ocean Conservancy ranks straws as the number five most found litter item on beaches.

They’re non-recyclable so they wind up in landfills, litter streets and add to the estimated 8.5 million metric tons of plastic debris in oceans annual, the movie states.

Eventually, Kanner said, the plastic ends up in the food stream because fish eat bits of plastic.

“It’s all connected. It comes back to us,” she said.

An MCC student actually calculated the number of straws used per person every year is the same as the population of Crystal Lake, Hankins said.

“I’d like to encourage our staff to use up their supply [after this month] and maybe go for something a little more green,” she said.

Among options are compostable and paper straws.

Others taking part in the April 10 panel include representatives from 1776 and Duke’s Alehouse & Kitchen, both in Crystal Lake – two McHenry County restaurants in which plastic straws no longer are used. The event also will include representatives from Bring Your Bag Chicago and the Joint Environment/Social & Cultural Awareness Commission in Woodstock.

The Environmental Defenders have sent draft ordinances to McHenry County towns asking them to charge for plastic and paper bags at stores, as well as information to area restaurants about plastic straw alternatives, Kanner said.

“We want to find out what the restaurants think, and if they’re not looking at the issue, we want to support them with different ideas,” she said. “It might be as simple as training wait staff to ask people if they need a straw.”

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