Strawless Oregon began from humble beginnings: a project for English class by current 8th grader Brennen Matherly. In researching topics to cover, Brennen began learning more about the issue of plastic pollution and how single-use plastics like straws are impacting the environment. During summer programs with the California Junior Lifeguards in San Diego, he developed a heightened awareness of the ocean and the issues it faces, and decided to continue working on the issue of plastic pollution after his class project concluded by encouraging restaurants and consumers in Eugene and beyond to skip the straw.
The campaign has had a letter to the editor published in the Register-Guard, met with Representative Nancy Nathanson and Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis, and hosted a movie screening about the environmental impacts of straws. With the help of a grant from the Captain Planet Foundation, Matherly is distributing stickers and posters at local restaurants encouraging them to offer straws only on request, and volunteers both with the Lane County Master Recyclers and the Materials Exchange Center for the Community Arts (MECCA) in Eugene. Though Eugene doesn’t border the ocean, Matherly argues that we’re all connected to the earth and thus are affected by what happens to it, and the nature of microplastics and Eugene’s proximity to the Willamette River means that pollution in Eugene doesn’t always stay there. As Matherly puts it, “not ruining our planet is a form of paying rent”. The campaign’s logo (designed by Matherly) features a Laysan Albatross, a bird native to the Marshall Islands that is particularly vulnerable to the plastic gathering in the Pacific while feeding.
Brennen and his mother Cindy work together on the campaign, and she says that despite Oregon’s stunning beauty and biodiversity, things can “slowly, without us noticing, turn very bad” if we don’t continue to take care of our state and limit our impact on the natural environment. Though many people and restaurants are concerned about the issue of plastic pollution, raising awareness is a constant process. At the end of the day, the Matherlys believe that we can’t be complacent about the natural wonder of our state and world: we need to fight for and protect our environment, by considering our impact and working to tread as lightly as we can.