Living in such close proximity to the beach, it is almost impossible to ignore the impact of pollution on our environment. Whether it’s seeing plastic washing up on our shores, or clicking on the most recent viral video of an animal consuming trash unnatural to its habitat, many of us are left wondering: What could I possibly do? The 2017 documentary, “STRAWS,” provides answers to the very question.
Sitting down with director, producer, editor and writer Linda Booker, she refers to herself as a “nature kid,” always curious about the environment. According to Booker, seeing nature so disrespected inspired her to take action. While the national conversation surrounding plastic focused more on bottles and bags, smaller objects, like straws, started appearing in the nostrils of turtles.
Booker began her research and found Jackie Nunez, founder of The Last Plastic Straw campaign. Nunez’s initiative to seek out more sustainable materials for straws sparked a global movement. In the film, Booker highlights Nunez’s efforts to encourage restaurant and bar owners to do their part in protecting the environment. She encourages people to speak up and ask local business owners to stop purchasing plastic straws.
“I think it’s always better if it comes from a customer, honestly,” she says. “In general, I think the restaurant and hospitality industry has been pretty open to the change.”
In the film Booker highlights efforts both locally and abroad. Right here on the Cape Fear, numerous restaurants and bars have made the change to only give out straws by request, such as The Blockade Runner Beach Resort in Wrightsville Beach, which appears in the documentary. Some have switched to paper straws, while others have gone as far as not offering them at all. Internationally, in places like Costa Rica, activists like Max Machum—who was only 11 years old during the filming of “STRAWS”—have successfully convinced small businesses to switch to stainless steel straws.
Everyday it is estimated that 500,000,000 plastic straws are used once and trashed. Although we who live on the coast may prioritize the issue, folks more inland may view it with less urgency. Nonetheless, proximity to the sea does not mean all people aren’t affected by polluting plastic straws.
“I think it might take a little bit more work on connecting the dots,” she says, “but almost everybody lives near water of some kind, whether it’s a creek in their neighborhood, or they live near a river or lake. I mean, those are everywhere—it’s not just coastal areas.”
In other words, the audience for this film is widespread. Any and everyone from school children in Dallas to college students at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, have been impacted by the message of the film. In fact, after a screening at Appalachian State University, plastic straw usage on campus decreased by 444,000 in 2018.
Today, Booker and her team are working to expand the STRAWS in Schools Impact Campaign to students in grades 5 through 12 through STEM and STEAM programs. “There’s sort of this domino effect,” she tells, “then that helps them reduce all their plastic in their household and community. It’s really inspiring.”
Booker’s advice to anyone who has a defeated attitude to sustainability: Start small. Of course, her recommendation is to begin with straws, even if it means toting reusable bottle to drink out of instead of using a plastic bottle, or bringing environmentally friendly bags to the grocery store. Every choice matters.
“There are so many people working on this issue right now, to try to come up with solutions,” she says. “Look at all the different straws coming onto the market right now. Also, realistically, people see an opportunity to make money. And that’s OK—because if it serves the greater good of replacing all the single-use plastic, that’s amazing.”
Booker’s main goal for the future is to bring her film and her message to all of North Carolina. She wants to see more outreach programming locally. “I would love to see Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach be a leader and show the example for other North Carolina cities,” she tells.
“STRAWS” has a run time of just over 30 minutes and can be found at www.strawsfilm.com. Additionally, contributions to the STRAWS in Schools Impact Campaign can be made through The Southern Documentary Fund.