“I think waste is very representative of how we interact with the world and think about the world. It is very symbolic. And unlike other problems that seem so enormous, it seems manageable.”
Nancy Nordman first got involved with the Portland chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to protecting the planet’s oceans and beaches, about 4 years ago as a volunteer. After watching two powerful documentaries about plastic pollution, The Clean Bin Project (2010) and Bag It (2010), and observing so much plastic litter on the streets of Portland, Nancy knew she wanted to take action on this issue but she wasn’t exactly sure how. Just as ideas of how to reduce single use plastics were floating around in Nancy’s mind, Widmer Brothers, a local Portland brewery, came to Surfrider to ask how they could partner in a project to implement a “straw upon request” policy in the brewery’s Northeast Portland pub. Out of this partnership, DitchTheStrawPDX was created by Surfrider in 2017, and Nancy was asked to take the lead. What began as a one-month pilot project, in which Surfrider presented to Widmer Brothers staff and provided materials and support for their efforts to move away from plastic straws, turned into an official Surfrider program that is now helping businesses and individuals all throughout the city of Portland to eliminate plastic straws. “I think waste is very representative of how we interact with the world and think about the world. It is very symbolic. And unlike other problems that seem so enormous, it seems manageable.”
Nancy came to Surfrider with a background working in the field of sustainability. She has just completed a graduate degree in sustainable education, and is really interested in waste as a subset of sustainability and in educating people about recycling, composting, and other ways to reduce their waste. When asked about why she is involved in fighting plastic pollution, Nancy said that a big reason is her love for the outdoors and for Oregon. “It’s important to me because I just really enjoy the outdoors and being in nature, and I think it’s really important to do our part in keeping it clean. Recycling is a great step, but not the answer to our problems. It’s important to think about waste production.” Nancy says she is always one to say that she is certainly not “anti-plastic.” She says she knows plastic has done amazing things for the world and we would not be where we are without it. The point is, Nancy points out, that we need to value this material and use it in more long-lasting, multi-use ways.
Nancy is happy to report the incredible support that DitchTheStrawPDX has seen so far. One of the reasons for this is because the program caters to the individual needs of each business it is working with, and they are all very different. “The program is testing everything out. From our perspective, we want to see a reduction in plastics and are open to a lot of different ways that could work.” From stories of Red Vines straws to middle schoolers marching to local businesses and asking them to ditch the straw, the Portland community has really embraced the movement to eliminate plastic straws.
“It’s important to thank people for doing the right thing, and encouraging them,” says Nancy. She wants everyone to know that Surfrider has a list of Portland businesses on their website that have committed to ditch the straw that anyone can check to see if their favorites restaurants have chosen to take a stand against plastic pollution.
Because a lot of Oregonians enjoy the outdoors and spend a lot of time in natural areas of the state, plastic pollution is a problem that is right in our faces. “Single-use plastics are not just something we find on the beaches, they also end up loose in parks. When I go hiking, I am randomly picking up trash, they affect you regardless of what type of outdoor outing you enjoy.” But we don’t have to sit by and do nothing, it is easy to get involved in this issue and to make a difference. “Oregon, like California, is in a good place to be a leader on this as well. We should care in the perspective of standing up for an issue that affects everyone and that we have the power to change.”