It all started at a cookie booth sale.
As they were selling Girl Scout Cookies, Lauren and her fellow Girl Scouts were approached by a Mansfield resident requesting their help in reducing the high number of plastic straws being used in town. “She shared a link to a viral video of a sea turtle that had a plastic straw stuck up its nose,” says Lauren, “and after watching, I knew I had to do something.”
Lauren started researching this issue, and learned plastic straws are not easily recyclable because they are too lightweight to make it through mechanical recycling sorters. Additionally, toxins from plastic straws are harmful to humans, marine life, and the climate. Lauren decided to address this problem through community education and a legislative call to action.
Lauren developed a comprehensive educational campaign to raise public awareness, and get a bylaw passed enforcing local businesses to reduce their straw and stirrer distribution.
Lauren gathered and trained a team of volunteers, and together they hosted educational booths at community events such as Clean Up Mansfield, Family Fun Night, craft fairs, and Relay for Life, where Lauren spoke to hundreds of residents about the plastic pollution crisis. In total, they collected signatures of nearly 1,000 community members pledging to give up plastic straws! Lauren also created a Facebook page (@PlasticLessMansfieldMA) to educate others on how to go without plastic. The page has hundreds of followers and posts that have reached more than 2,000 people.
In order to receive endorsements on her proposed bylaw, Lauren presented it to the Select Board, Finance Committee, Board of Health Committee, Keep Mansfield Beautiful, Democratic Committee, Team Up Mansfield, Natural Resources Trust, and public school administrators. She also presented her proposed bylaw at a Town Meeting to more than 300 residents. She says public speaking has always been a skill that she’s struggled with. “At first I was very nervous about speaking to so many people,” Lauren says, “but after practice and many hours of research, I became more confident in myself and I was a lot less nervous because I knew my project so well.”
The bylaw passed unanimously. As of January 1st, 2021, plastic straws and stirrers may only be given out by request only at all Mansfield businesses and restaurants. The Town of Mansfield Health Agent will enforce the bylaw, fining businesses that do not distribute straws and stirrers by request only.
The Girl Scouts of the USA Gold Award Scholarship is awarded to Girl Scouts whose Gold Award projects demonstrate extraordinary leadership, have measurable and sustainable impact, and address an issue of national and/or global significance.
There’s no denying the long-term impact of Lauren’s Gold Award project.
Lauren says: “Each year, 100,000 marine animals die from plastic digestion and entanglement, and these are just the ones that are found.” According to Lauren’s research, approximately one million sea birds die every year from plastic as well. “When I started my Gold Project, Mansfield residents used 38,000 plastic straws each day, which equates to 22 garbage barrels of straws each week!”
Lauren also notes that studies have shown that when businesses and restaurants hand out straws by request only, they reduce the amount of straws and stirrers being used by at least 40% every day. The new bylaw helps local businesses save money while reducing the amount of plastic waste they produce.
“I was out of my comfort zone public speaking to all these adults,” Lauren says. “However, I was so knowledgeable on my project that it became easy for me to share with others, no matter their age or title.”
Watch out world, this Girl Scout’s a professional!