Go Strawless! Milo Sets out to Change the World

Go Strawless!  Milo Sets out to Change the World

Interview by Sarah Kadden

 Nine-year-old Milo Cress is a fourth grade student at the Sustainability Academy at Lawrence Barnes School in Burlington.  He’s also the founder of a non-profit organization committed to a sustainable  future.  Be Straw Free, which has “set out on a mission to reduce the use and waste of disposable plastic straws in our communities,” has Milo steeping out of Ms. Smith’s classroom on a fairly frequent basis. You may have seen him on the CBS evening news, in the Boston Globe, or perhaps at a restaurant in your neighborhood speaking with the manager. Milo estimates he's been interviewed at least 7 times since launching his project earlier this year, and has met with Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, Shelburne Farms President Alec Webb, and a group of Fulbright Japan Fellows, among others.

Milo’s always quick to point out that he isn’t the straw police, and he isn’t out to shut down the straw industry or keep people from using straws if they want them. He’s really hoping to eliminate needless waste.   Demonstrating his understanding of interdependence, he knows that making all the straws Americans use means jobs for many people. And he doesn’t want to put anyone out of a job.  So, he is working with the straw industry to support a transition to alternatives to disposable straws.  He’s also working with the restaurant industry to encourage an “ask first” policy, and he’s hoping all of us will consider going strawless. 

 Keep your eyes open: he’s got an NPR interview coming up and  he’s working on a new design for an alternative disposable drink lid, which would eliminate the need for a straw. SSP’s Sarah caught up with Milo at school and was able to ask this headline-making activist a few questions.

Sarah: How did your project get started, Milo?

 Milo: Well, we [my mother and I] were writing a food column for Kids Vermont and we noticed that if we didn't ask, we got a straw. When you order a drink, it just comes with a straw. And we looked around and saw people taking their straws out of their drinks and not even using them. So, we did the research, and found out that five hundred million straws are used in the United States everyday. We contacted environmental groups and straw companies and added it up. It just seemed like such a waste.


Sarah: So, what are you trying to do?

Milo: Well, really what we're trying to do is raise awareness. Every time you get a straw, whether you use it or not, it goes into the landfill. The average person, between the ages of 5-65, uses 40,000 plastic straws. They all go in the landfill.


Sarah: What do you hope will happen?

 Milo: We'll work ourselves out of a job! We hope it will become standard for restaurants to ask before offering a straw. It will be standard for customers to ask for a straw if they want one. That's the beauty of our project. If you want a straw, you can have a straw. If you want three straws, you can have three. If you want 7, have seven! But if you don't want one, please don't have one.


Sarah: Who has signed on so far?

Milo: We've got individuals from 30 countries, 800 individuals. Schools in Canada and Malaysia and a school teacher in Australia who would like to start a similar program, so we're going to try and help her with that. Leunig's (a bistro in Burlington) has an offer policy, where the server will offer a straw, which is different than an ask first policy, where the customer has to ask for a straw. That's the beauty of the project! The customers don't even really notice!


 This article appeared in the SSP Spring 2011 Newsletter.

Download a PDF of the article here.

Download the entire Spring 2011 Newsletter here.


Read other media coverage about Milo and his mission here:

Boston Globe - May 15, 2011

Burlington Free Press - May 13, 2011

USA Today - May 13, 2011

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